From fish school to the National Aquarium

Animal Care Center preps fish for the big tank

BALTIMORE - For nearly a year and a half, 20 Blacktip Reef sharks have called Baltimore’s National Aquarium Animal Care Center home.

“Any animals that are going to go on display to the National Aquarium come here first. And for a quarantine period, their health is assessed; any treatments that are necessary are done,” said National Aquarium’s Ashleigh Clews.

“We get to know the animals, we make sure they’re comfortable and make sure they’re eating well before we actually move them to the exhibit for the public to see and this is very important for the adjustment of the animals,” Ashleigh added.

The national aquarium is the only facility in the country to house 20 Blacktip reef sharks. That’s why it’s important for the staff to monitor their behavior before they make their grand debut.

In a few weeks, the Indo-Pacific-inspired ocean exhibit opens to the public.

“For Black Tip Reef, we have over 1,200 animals going into the exhibit; we’re looking at about 1000 fish, 3 different types of sharks, two different types of sting rays, and all those animals came through this facility first,” Ashleigh said.

“It’s a huge environmental change for them; we’ve tried to think of everything they’ll encounter once on exhibit. They’re going to see a lot of visitors, there’s going to be a lot of banging on the windows, we’ve started taking flashlights into the tank because people are going to start taking pictures like crazy,” said Ashleigh.

“We’ve started putting pieces of habitat in the tank now, to get them used to that. So just like people when you’re making a big change, you try to think ahead what you need to do to get prepared for that change and we kind of have to think for them,” she added.

It’s not just prepping the animals for exhibit, the Animal Care Center does a lot more than that.

“We do a number of treatments on these animals, if any injuries occur, we can absolutely do surgeries, even on the smallest of fish. We’ve done all kinds of eye surgeries, we’ve removed masses – anything we can do to make these fish as healthy as can be,” said Ashleigh.

“It’s my job every day to pay attention to my animal’s behavior and what’s going on with the dynamics, what’s going on socially, and make sure that everybody is staying healthy – and I love that job.”

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