Humane Society Investigates Ore. Aquarium Over Excessive Deaths

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The Oregon Humane Society is investigating the Portland Aquarium following an alarming number of reported deaths. More than 200 animals died at the aquarium this spring, from a range of causes including starvation, infection, high temperatures, animal-on-animal attacks and other unknown issues, according to The Oregonian.

In a log covering Feb. 18 to May 16, the aquarium reported animal deaths almost every day, accounting for about 200 deaths over the three months. The figure equals 2 percent of the facility's 10,000 animals dead in three months. Another facility, the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport has a mortality rate of "significantly less than 1 percent" annually, for comparison.

The aquarium says during that time, there were no regular veterinary services available. But a former vet for the facility says that even when he was under contract there, the aquarium gave its animals inadequate care.

Mike Corcoran, an exotic animals veterinarian who left the aquarium in February, visited the facility weekly. He said that on many of these occasions, he encountered animals who clearly had been suffering for several days. He said that when he asked staff why emergency care was not ordered, they told him the aquarium didn't want to pay for extra care.

"I feel those animals were subject to undue pain and suffering to save money," Corcoran said. He claims that his repeatedly recommended requests for new procedures were ignored, and has called the deaths at the aquarium excessive.

Caroline Emch-Wei, a marine biologist who used to work at the aquarium, said that while loss is normal, much of the loss at the Portland Aquarium was preventable. "They were cutting corners to save money," she said. Emch-Wei finally quit because of the arrest of the aquarium's owner, Ammon Covino, for illegally obtaining eagle rays and lemon sharks for his first aquarium in Boise, Idaho.

Ammon Covino and his brother, Vince Covino, opened their Boise aquarium in 2011, and the Portland facility in December. Aquariums are typically not as strictly regulated as other animal-exhibiting facilities, and like many other aquariums, those that the Covino brothers run operate without marine aquarium licenses, inspections or accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Neither of the Covino brothers holds a degree in marine biology.

In an email to The Oregonian, Vince Covino said the Portland Aquarium's mortality rate was consistent with other aquariums. Covino added, "We spare no expense in ensuring our animals have the best health care possible."


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