Feed The Fishes
Aquarists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are ready for the new millennium.
Thursday, March 4, 1999
In the event of a major earthquake, officials often warn citizens to store extra water and food--enough for several days--and if you have pets, don''t forget their food and water too.
But imagine if you need to prepare food and water for 300,000 marine creatures in case of a millennial disaster.
That''s exactly the problem being considered at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the largest in the U.S. (http://www.mbayaq.org) Although it would appear to be a huge job, the aquarium staff has been preparing for possible Y2K problems since last June, according to spokesperson Ken Peterson.
"We have plans in place and we feel confident that they''ll work," he says. "The only thing that could be a problem is [losing] the power grid but we have a generator on-site. And if there''s a major social crisis, we won''t be open for business as usual, anyway."
The main reason Peterson and Mark Ferguson, the associate curator of husbandry at the aquarium, aren''t overly concerned is that the fish, sharks, rays, and other marine animals are fed by hand. The Y2K glitch could technically present a problem if feedings were computer-controlled, but only the water pumps, filters and lighting systems are automated to a degree.
"The system is pretty much manually run," says Ferguson, who has worked at the aquarium for 15 years, starting just before it opened. "We have 20 biologists who do the feedings, and that''s pretty much their job." Ferguson estimates that the 14 biologists on hand each day spend one-fifth of their time feeding the aquatic animals; altogether about 30 hours a day.
There is a freezer for food storage on-site, with enough supplies to last for "a few weeks," according to Ferguson. Such marine food includes around 2,000 pounds per week of frozen squid, clams, abalone and krill, live baby brine shrimp and mealworms, and processed flake food for various aquatic diets.
"We''re in the process of getting a food supply to additional freezer space we''ve rented in Castroville," Ferguson says. "It''s about 200-300 pounds a day for the main collection. The Outer Bay gets fed four times a week. We have live food delivered, and we culture our own food, like phytoplankton. It gets really intricate, each diet is tailored to each tank. We''ll stockpile some things but I don''t expect to have a big problem.
"The otters get fed four times a day. Some animals get really ''alive'' and beautiful right after a feeding, so we try to do that so people see. The jellies get fed a ''live soup'' of about 10,000 baby brine shrimp."
The aquarium''s generator can power all the operations in the buildings, says Ferguson. "We''ve been told by the systems operations department that on a full tank of diesel, the generator could run for eight days." The aquarium''s diesel distributor has also guaranteed them extra fuel if necessary.
As for the water, which is essential to keeping most aquarium creatures healthy and happy, recirculating pumps keep a constant flow of water to the tanks--if all goes well.
"We''re just finishing writing new software for some computers which monitor the sea water and air systems," explains Ferguson. "We''ll be testing it soon. Most pumps aren''t complicated. Plus, we''re basically connected to the bay, and some tanks need to be like that environment. They need certain temps, so water is added at different rates."
Some exhibits, such as the two-year-old, million-gallon Outer Bay tank, could take more work to maintain. "The Outer Bay has a turnover of 150 gpm [gallons per minute]. That''s pretty good for a tank of its size," says Ferguson.
All the tanks and exhibits are manually cleaned and maintained each day by Ferguson''s husbandry staff. "It''s an important part of their day, as much as the feeding," he says.
Both Ferguson and Peterson say that the aquarium won''t need extra staff if there is a problem on Jan. 1, 2000. "There is a contingency plan and the staff is anticipating any scenario. Internally, our systems don''t need more staff," explains Peterson.
"There are people in our education department available also," adds Ferguson. "The biologists and systems operations team will be on hand to deal with any Y2K problems."