1902 Encyclopedia > Aquarium



AQUARIUM. This word is used to denote a vessel, or collection of vessels, in which marine or fresh water animals may be kept, and in which marine or sweet water plants may be grown. The invention or rather growth of the modern aquarium cannot, in the absence of precise data, be accurately traced. The aquarium as we find it at Hamburg or Brighton, has like many other things now in daily use, been elaborated from small beginnings. It is known that more than two centuries ago marine animals were, for the purposes of study and observation, removed from the sea and kept in confinement; and there is extant a drawing, of the date of 1742, which represents the form of an aquarium containing zoophytes. Esper, a distinguished entomologist, a century ago kept aquatic insects in water for observation. Sir John Graham Dalyell, the author of Rare and Remarkable Animals of Scotland, 2 vols. 4to, 1847-48, The Power of the Creator displayed in the Creation, 3 volts, 4to, 1851-58, and numerous other works, was during his lifetime a keen student of marine animals; and, at his house in Edinburgh, he had constructed for the purposes of observation an aquarium of a very humble kind indeed, but quite sufficient for his purpose. It is well known that some of the animals which he kept for the purposes of study lived for a very long period in confinement: one sea anemone is mentioned on good authority as having been taken from the sea in the year 1828, and being alive and well in 1873 (W. A. Lloyd). Sir John’s tanks, as has been stated, were of the humblest description, and never contained any of that vegetation which forms so beautiful and interesting a feature of the modern aquarium, and which, as Priestley had discovered long before, purifies the water in which it is kept growing. About the year 1839 a movement was made towards the construction of aquariums of a more elaborate description, which lasted for more than twenty years, during which time a large number were made, and many descriptive works published on the subject. Agencies were during that period established in London and elsewhere for the supply of animals; and some at the same time made it a business to purvey sea-water -- the obtaining of this, and keeping it fresh, with many persons who lived far from the sea a great difficulty. Indeed the difficulty was so great that an artificial compound was in numerous instances resorted to for lack of genuine sea-water. A solution of this difficulty came tardily, in 1841. Mr. Ward at that time constructed in London a fresh-water aquarium, in which aquatic plants were very successfully grown for the purpose of keeping the water pure and the animals healthy; and a year later, Dr. George Johnston of Berwick-on-Tweed accidentally discovered, in the course of making an experiment for another purpose, that the animals and plant life of the sea could also be made to support each other. For a period of sixty days he kept some animals in a jar without once changing the water, and thus solved the problem. Early in 1847 Mrs. Thynne of London successfully investigated the problem, whether it was possible to keep the animals in good condition of health without changing the water. In 1849 Mr. R. Warington, also of London, and afterwards Mr P.H. Gosse, conducted successful experiments having for their object the balancing of vegetable and animal life, which afterwards came to be thoroughly recognized. Sea-weeds, however, do not bear transplanting, but sea-water is so impregnated with the seed or germs of vegetable life, that when a few stones or fragments of rock are taken from the ocean, marine vegetation speedily commences and proceeds. Mr. Price, Mr. Lankester, Mr. Bowerbank, and others, also made experiments in the same direction; and in 1853 a fish-house or aquarium of considerable size was constructed by the Zoological Society of London in their garden in the Regent’s Park. This erection gave such an impetus to the popular aquarium movement as rendered it almost a mania, and for a year or two these scientific toys, some of them of large size, became much appreciated household ornaments. The movement was further accelerated by Mr. Gosse and Mr. Warington, who published formulae for the manufacture of artificial salt water, in which sea animals would thrive as well as in their native element. Many large public aquariums have been erected since the example was set by the Zoological Society of London. A great aquarium has been usually a popular feature of the numerous Continental fishery-exhibitions held since 1860, particularly at those of Amsterdam, Boulogne, Havre, Arcachon, and the Hague. These, of course, were temporary aquariums, ending when the exhibition of which they formed a part came to a close; but permanent aquariums are now a feature of several large towns and cities. In England there is a very large aquarium at Brighton; while at the Crystal Palace there is one on a smaller scale, as also at Manchester and Southport, and preparations are being made [1874] for the erection of similar edifices in other towns and cities of Great Britain. The aquarium at Hamburg has already been mentioned; there are others at Berlin and Vienna; and the aquarium at Naples affords special accommodation and opportunity for skilled naturalists pursuing delicate scientific investigation.

The modern aquarium is essentially different from the vivaria or fish-stews of ancient times. These were constructed for every-day kitchen use, for the purpose of supplying the tables of their wealthy possessors with various kinds of fish; some of those kept being of great value. Wonderful stories are told by ancient authors of the pains taken to procure fine breeds of fish, and the care with which they were fed and fattened for use. Fish were borrowed and returned; the keeping of them became a fashion, and extravagant sums of money were expended on the purchase of rare kinds. The remains of vivaria and fish-stews are still to be found in the neighbourhood of Naples, and at other places in Italy.

Ground Plan of Bright Aquarium

Ground Plan of Brighton Aquarium

The dimensions of the great aquarium at Brighton are as follows: - Its area is 715 feet in length by 100 feet in breadth. It contains many tanks, some of them being of vast capacity; there is one in particular (No. 6) which contains 110,000 gallons of water, and has a plate-glass front 130 feet long, through which the habits of very large fish may be studied. The rock-work of the tanks is entirely artificial, and admirably adapted to afford shelter to the fish and crustaceans which disport in them. The management of a large aquarium, such as that at the Crystal Palace or at Brighton, involves constant anxiety and daily trouble: the fish must of course be fed so that they may enjoy good health, and to ensure this they must live under conditions as nearly as possible the same as they have been accustomed to in the waters from which they have been taken. At one time much difficulty was experienced in keeping the inhabitants of sweet-water tanks in good health; in numerous instances the fish died in a day or two after their places of residence had been changed; and it was not till after many different plans had been tried, that safe modes of keeping them in a healthy state were found out. Thousands of fish died in ornamental fresh-water tanks from-over attention, from a too frequent changing of the water, and from lack of a supply of those elements of growth which are essential to all animated nature.

The aquariums at Brighton and the Crystal Palace exemplify two distinct systems of construction and management. At the former there is no actual circulation of water from one tank to another-but it can, if necessary, be renewed from the sea; the mass of the water in the reserve cisters is small as compared with that in the show tanks, and aeration is effected by pumping air into the tanks, through tubes of large diameter. Purification of the water is also assisted by the presence of large bivalve molluscs in the tanks. At the Crystal Palace aquarium, a constant circulation is maintained from one tank to another; the bulk of water in the reservoir is five times as much as that in the show tanks, while aeration is accomplished by carrying a main over their entire length, from which, under pressure, a small stream of water pours a tap into each, breaking the surface of the water, and carrying down to the bottom of the tanks, and distributing over the body of their contents, myriads of minute bubbles of air, which present an enormous oxidizing surface to the water, rendering it bright and sparkling.

It does not answer very well, even when an aquarium is at the sea-side, to be constantly changing the water, as the new supply is so disturbed and impregnated with impurities as to be fatal to delicate animals, besides not being in a proper state for exhibition. Some of the inhabitants of an aquarium foul the water very much more than others, notably the flat fish family, and provision has to be made for this by putting such other animals in the same tank as will aid in purifying the water. Various small animals have of course to be provided as food for the larger marine specimens; others of them act as scavengers, helping to keep the water constantly sweet and clean. The light admitted to the fish in the tanks is also a matter of careful adjustment. As the animal life and vegetable life mutually support each other, the kind of material necessary for maintaining the "compensating system" must be watchfully supplied. Mr. W.R. Hughes of Birmingham recommends the growth of sea-lecttuce (Ulva latissima) in tanks, as suitable both for oxygenating the water and for food for the fishes; the stock plants being introduced in the autumn months, when they are loaded with spores. Now that such excellent aquariums as those at Brighton, Manchester, Southport, and Sydenham are in full working order, the construction of others will not be difficult, even when projected on a larger scale. Distance from the sea is of no consequence, as sea-water may be obtained by railway, and can be kept stored as already suggested.

Scientific discovery, or the promotion of experiments in natural history, is usually no direct part of the plan of modern aquariums, except in so far as this may be incidental to the daily conduct of the collection. Neverless, it is not too much to expect that the aquariums already in existence, and those which are projected, may be made useful in determining many questions connected with the life and growth of our food fishes, in regard to which naturalists and economists are alike ignorant. The fish of which we know most is the salmon, and our knowledge of that "monarch of the brook" arises from the fact of its being accessible to constant observation. It would tend to the better regulation of our fisheries, and to the augmentation of our food supplies, if we knew as much about the herring or the haddock as we know about the salmon. Were a large marine observatory erected by the State, say at Brighton, or were the present aquarium there considerably extended, the best results might follow. Precise information might be obtained as to the period of spawning of the common herring, the length of time which the ova require to come to life, and the age at which the fish becomes reproductive. The conditions under which fish grow and remain in good health, the best kinds of food on which to feed them, the best methods of protecting them from their numerous enemies, are all questions which a properly conducted aquarium would aid our naturalists to study. It is well known that very uneconomical modes of fishing are at present resorted to, and that the largest portion of our fish is captured at a time when fish ought not to be captured -- at a time, indeed, when they are most unfit for use. It is only by studying the habits of these denizens of the ocean, in some place where they can be constantly under observation, -- such as a great aquarium, where the conditions of their captivity should resemble as much as possible their native habitat, -- that we can ever hope to fathom the mysteries of the great deep, and ultimately have at our command the treasures of the sea.

See Gosse, The Aquarium, 1856; the Guide-Books of the Crystal Palace and Brighton Aquariums; Hugles, On the Principles and Management of the Marine Aquarium, 1874. (J. G. B.)

The above article was written by James G. Bertram, author of The Harvest of the Sea and The Unappreciated Fisher Folk.

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