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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac/Watching Fish

Air Date: Week of May 16, 2003

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This week, we have facts about the first modern public aquarium. Back in 1853, the Marine and Fresh Water Vivarium opened its doors in London and the underwater world it displayed behind glass captured its visitors' imaginations.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: The Beatles “Octopus’s Garden” Abbey Road Capitol (1969)]

CURWOOD: Fork over a fin to focus on a flounder? That's just what people started doing 150 years ago this week with the opening of the world's first aquarium. Called The Marine and Freshwater Vivarium, it was meant to be a research facility for scientists in London. Tickets were sold only to cover expenses. But the aquarium proved to be a popular attraction, and it quickly spawned imitators across Europe and the U.S. Early attempts at indoor fish tanks were often deadly for oxygen-starved fish, but Victorian scientists learned to replenish the oxygen with underwater plants.

The invention of plate glass in the late 18th century helped make fish more visible to spectators. Most of the fish at the London Aquarium were caught in nearby rivers and ponds. When more colorful, tropical fish came a decade later, they presented new challenges. Primitive tank heaters would sometimes cook the fish. Today's modern aquaria use flowing water and species diversity to provide healthier habitats for their denizens. And there's more than fin fish to see.

On the sites these days are an amazing kelp forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the friendly Beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium, and a stunning exhibit of jellyfish at the Chattanooga Aquarium. And if you go, you'll be among the 35 million people in the U.S. who visit aquaria each year.

And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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