Portland Aquarium Deaths: Why Have 200 Animals Died In Just 9 Months?

By Josh Lieberman on August 20, 2013 12:31 PM EDT

seahorse
Over 200 marine animals have allegedly died at the Portland Aquarium in the first nine months of its operation. (Photo: Flickr: pldms)

Over 200 animals have died in the Portland Aquarium in Oregon this spring, according to a "death log" obtained by The Oregonian, and now the Oregon Humane Society is investigating.

The Milwaukie, Ore., aquarium, which opened in December 2012, has allegedly seen the deaths of a whole host of animals in just nine months, including bamboo sharks, garden eels and many fish varieties. In the handwritten death log (PDF), reasons for death include starvation, "stuck to drain screen" and, in the case of one poor butter sole, "no power overnight." Several animals died after being attacked by other animals.   

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During the period of February 18 through May 16, the Portland Aquarium's owners admitted that their marine animals did not receive regular veterinary services. A veterinarian under contract with the aquarium told The Oregonian that his veterinary advice went unheeded, such as properly quarantining the animals, leading him to quit the job.

"I feel those animals were subject to undue pain and suffering to save money," said veterinarian Mike Corcoran, who called the number of deaths "excessive."

Corcoran wasn't the only one to observe animal mistreatment at the Portland Aquarium. Carolyn Emch-Wei, a marine biologist, was employed by the aquarium, but left when she couldn't take it anymore.

"I left because there was a trend of mistreatment of the animals in ways that could be prevented," said ex-employee Carolyn Emch-Wei, a marine biologist who started feeling "worse and worse" about the way the animals were treated at the Portland Aquarium.

A co-owner of the Portland Aquarium, a private, for-profit facility, said that the death log, which was provided to The Oregonian by a former employee, was "fictitious." The co-owner, Vincent Covino, also said that reports about the excessive death toll at his aquarium were "defamatory to our highly qualified team of marine biologists, who do an excellent job of caring for our animals."

After commenters on Facebook criticized the reports of the death log, the Portland Aquarium linked to a 2009 article on the site Advanced Aquarist about marine mortality rates, in an effort to show that their death rates weren't higher than usual.

This isn't the first time the Covino family has been in hot water over their aquarium practices. In February, Ammon Covino, brother to Vincent and co-owner of the Portland Aquarium, was charged with one count of conspiracy and four counts of unlawful sale or purchase of marine animals. Covino pled not guilty to the illegal purchases of several eagle rays and sharks in Florida, animals to be placed in an aquarium the Convino brothers run in Idaho.

Covino's nephew, Peter C. Covino IV, was found guilty of obstruction of justice in the purchase of the Florida animals after he asked the business to destroy evidence that they sold animals to his uncle. Peter Covino faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Covino brothers are planning to open a new aquarium in Austin, Texas, later this year.

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