“Something Fishy is Going On”

By Dr. Rob Jones, “The Aquarium Vet”

The Aquarium Vet LogoI recently spoke at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Annual Conference, on incorporating the Five Domains into aquatic animal welfare. David Mellor from New Zealand developed the Five Domains Welfare Model, with a focus on welfare enhancement.

The Five Domains are:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Environmental
  3. Health
  4. Behavior
  5. Mental or Affective State.

The first four domains work together to produce the fifth domain (the mental or affective state). Each domain could be either the absence of a negative experience or the presence of a positive experience or sensation. Gradually, the interpretation is moving toward the animal’s quality of life (see David Mellor’s 2016 article “Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the ‘Five Freedoms’ towards ‘A Life Worth Living’ [Animals, 6, 21] and 2017 article “Operational Details of the Five Domains Model and Its Key Applications to the Assessment and Management of Animal Welfare” [Animals Aug; 7(8): 60]).

With fish and aquatic invertebrates, good husbandry will in most cases promote good welfare. The following are essential parts of good husbandry:

  • Maintaining excellent water quality parameters that match the environment the fish or aquatic invertebrates would experience in their natural environment
  • Natural photoperiod and light intensity
  • Quality nutrition at the correct quantities
  • Gentle handling, when required
  • Number of fish and fish species in a display does not create any negative interactions
  • Ensuring adequate space and theming for the fish to exhibit normal behaviors.

We must increasingly be thinking of animals thriving, rather than just surviving.

One recommendation I have is to review each individual display in your aquarium or zoo with these Five Domains in mind, not only at AZA inspection time, but as an ongoing practice. Discussion within the husbandry/curatorial team is essential, as many ideas and suggestions to enhance welfare are tabled. Look at doing a full review, with a report on one display each week. Announce which display will be reviewed the following week (in a different gallery). Once the team has started, the ideas will pour in, and each display welfare assessment will become easier, because the team members will now always be thinking about the Five Domains. Always aim to raise the standard and not accept the status quo. One of the worst statements you can ever hear is “We have done it this way for the past 10 years and…”.

Another suggestion is to include the non-husbandry team, such as education staff, office staff, food and beverage staff, docents, and volunteers. By canvassing their opinions, you show that the welfare of all animals on display is paramount. They may also alert the husbandry team to welfare issues that are more of their perceptions than a reality, but still need to be addressed.

E-quarist™ Courses—Academy Subscriber Special!

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Academy is excited to share an additional Academy subscriber benefit regarding our collaboration with The Aquarium Vet. As an Academy subscriber, you are now entitled to a 10 percent discount on the E-quarist™ courses. We are also happy to offer one of our regular webinars for free.

The Aquarium Vet has a free Aquatic Animal Welfare Module (focusing on fish and aquatic invertebrates), designed for aquariums and zoos. It is a resource that has been recognized by the AZA Animal Welfare committee. To register for this Aquatic Animal Welfare Module, visit our website.

For more information about the SDZWA Academy discount, or anything about the E-quarist™ course, including our next webinar series, please contact katrina@theaquariumvet.com.