1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aquarium

AQUARIUM (plural aquaria), the name given to a receptacle for a marine flora and fauna. Until comparatively recently, aquaria were little more than domestic toys, or show-places of a popular character, but they have now not only assumed a profound scientific importance for the convenient study of anatomical and physiological problems in marine botany and zoology, but have also attained an economic value, as offering the best opportunities for that study of the habits and environment of marketable food-fish without which no steps for the improvement of sea-fisheries can be safely taken. The numerous “zoological stations” which have sprung up, chiefly in Europe and the United States, but also in the British colonies and Japan, often endeavour to unite these two aims, and have in many cases become centres of experimental work in problems relating to fisheries, as well as in less directly practical subjects. Of these stations, the oldest and the most important is that at Naples, which, though designed for purely scientific objects, also encourages popular study by means of a public aquarium. The following account (1902) of this station by Dr W. Giesbrecht, a member of the staff, will serve to show the methods and aims, and the complex and expensive equipment, of a modern aquarium:—

“The zoological station at Naples is an institution for the advancement of biological science—that is, of comparative anatomy, zoology, botany, physiology. It serves this end by providing the biologist with the various objects of his study and the necessary appliances; it is not a teaching institution. The station was founded by Dr Anton Dohrn, and opened in the spring of 1874; it is the oldest and largest of all biological stations, of which there are now about thirty in existence. Its two buildings are situated near the seashore in the western town park (Villa Nazionale) of Naples. The older and larger one, 33 metres long, 24 m. deep, 16 m. high, contains on the ground floor the aquarium, which is open to the public. On the first floor there is, facing south, the principal library, ornamented with fresco paintings, and, facing north, a large hall containing twelve working tables, several smaller rooms and the secretarial offices. On the second floor is the physiological laboratory, and on the third floor the small library, a hall with several working tables, and the dark rooms used in developing photographs. The ground floor of the smaller building, which was finished in 1887, contains the rooms in which the animals are delivered, sorted and preserved, and the fishing tackle kept, together with the workshop of the engineer; on the first and second floors are workrooms, amongst others the botanical laboratory; on the third floor are store-rooms. In the basement of both buildings, which is continued underneath the court, there are sea-water cisterns and filters, engines and store-rooms. The materials for study which the station offers to the biologist are specimens of marine animals and plants which abound in the western part of the Mediterranean, and especially in the Gulf of Naples. To obtain these, two screw-steamers and several rowing boats are required, which are moored in the harbour of Mergellina, situated close by. The larger steamer, ‘Johannes Müller’ (15 m. long, 2½ m. wide, 1 m. draught), which can steam eight to ten English miles per hour, is provided with a steam dredge working to a depth of eighty fathoms. From the small steamer, ‘Frank Balfour,’ and the rowing boats, the fishing is done by means of tow-nets. Besides these there are fishermen and others who daily supply living material for study. The plankton (small floating animals) is distributed in the morning, other animals as required. The animals brought in by the fishermen are at once distributed amongst the biologists, whereas the material brought up by the dredges is placed in flat revolving wooden vessels, so as to give the smaller animals time to come out of their hiding-places. The students who work in the station have the first claim on specimens of plants and animals; but specimens are also supplied to museums, laboratories and schools, and to individuals engaged in original research elsewhere. Up to the present time about 4000 such parcels have been despatched, and not infrequently live specimens of animals are sent to distant places. This side of the work has been of very great value to science. The principal appliances for study with which the station provides the biologist are workrooms furnished with the apparatus and chemicals necessary for anatomical research and physiological experiments and tanks. Every student receives a tank for his own special use. The large tanks of the principal aquarium are also at his disposal for purposes of observation and experiment if necessary.

“The water in the tanks is kept fresh by continual circulation, and is thus charged with the oxygen necessary to the life of the organisms. It is not pumped into the tanks directly from the sea, but from three large cisterns (containing 300 cubic metres), to which it again returns from the tanks. The water wasted or evaporated during this process is replaced by new water pumped into the cisterns directly from the sea. The water flows from the large cisterns into a smaller cistern, from which it is distributed by means of an electric pump through vulcanite or lead pipes to the various tanks. The water with which the tanks on the upper floors are filled is first pumped into large wooden tanks placed beneath the roof, thence it flows, under almost constant pressure, into the tanks. The water circulated in this manner contains by far the largest number of such animals as are capable of living in captivity in good condition. Some of them even increase at an undesirable rate, and it sometimes happens that young Mytilus or Ciona stop up the pipes; in laying these, therefore, due regard must be had to the arrangements for cleaning. For the cultivation of very delicate animals it is necessary to keep the water absolutely free from harmful bacteria; for this purpose large sand-filters have lately been placed in the system, through which the water passes after leaving the cisterns. Each of the smaller cisterns, which are fixed in the workrooms, consist of two water-tanks, placed one above the other; their frames are of wrought iron and the walls generally of glass. Vessels containing minute animals can be placed between these two tanks, receiving their water through a siphon from the upper tank; the water afterwards flows away into the lower tank.

“The twenty-six tanks of the public aquarium (the largest of which contains 112 cubic metres of water) have stone walls, the front portion alone being made of glass. As the tanks hold a very large number of animals in proportion to the quantity of water, they require to be well aerated. The pipes through which the water is conducted are therefore placed above the surface of the water, and the fresh supply is driven through them under strong pressure. A large quantity of air in the form of fine bubbles is thus taken to the bottom of the tank and distributed through the entire mass of water. Should the organisms which it is desired to keep alive be very minute, there is a danger of their being washed away by the circulating water. To obviate this, either the water which flows away is passed through a strainer, or the water is not changed at all, air being driven through it by means of an apparatus put into motion by the drinking-water supply.

“The library contains about 9000 volumes, which students use with the help of a slip catalogue, arranged according to authors. The station has published at intervals since 1879 two periodicals treating of the organisms of the Mediterranean. One is Fauna und Flora des Golfes von Neapel, the other Mittheilungen aus der zoologischen Station zu Neapel. The former consists of monographs in which special groups of animals and plants are most exhaustively treated and the Mediterranean species portrayed according to life in natural colours; up to the present time twenty-one zoological and five botanical monographs have appeared, making altogether 1200 4to sheets with about 400 plates. Of the Mittheilungen, which contain smaller articles on organisms of the Mediterranean, fourteen volumes in 8vo have been published. The station also publishes a Zoologischer Jahresbericht, which at first treated of the entire field of zoology, but since 1886 has been confined principally to comparative anatomy and ontogeny; it appears eight to nine months after the end of the year reported. The Guide to the Aquarium, with its descriptions and numerous pictures, is meant to give the lay visitor an idea of the marine animal world.

“There are about forty officials, amongst them six zoologists, one physiologist, one secretary, two draughtsmen, one engineer. The station is a private institution, open to biologists of all nations under the following conditions: there are agreements with the governments of Austria, Baden, Bavaria, Belgium, Hamburg, Holland, Hesse, Italy, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Switzerland, Hungary, Württemberg, the province of Naples, and the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Strassburg, Columbia College (New York), and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Smithsonian Institution, and a society of women in the United States of North America (formerly also with Bulgaria, Rumania, Spain, the Academy of Sciences in Berlin, Williams College, University of Pennsylvania), by virtue of which the governments and corporate bodies named have the right, on payment of £100 per annum, to send a worker to the station; this places at his disposal a ‘table’ or workplace, furnished with all the necessary appliances and materials as set down in the agreement. At present there are agreements for thirty-three tables, and since the foundation of the station nearly 1200 biologists have worked there. The current expenses are paid out of the table-rents, the entrance fees to the public aquarium, and an annual subvention paid by the German empire.”

In England a station on similar lines, but on a smaller scale, is maintained at Plymouth by the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, with the help of subsidies from the government and the Fishmongers’ Company.

Little difficulty is experienced in maintaining, breeding and rearing fresh-water animals in captivity, but for many various reasons it is only by unremitting attention and foresight that most marine animals can be kept even alive in aquaria, and very few indeed can be maintained in a condition healthy enough to breed. Much experience, however, has been gained of late years at considerable expense, both in England and abroad. In starting a marine aquarium of whatever size, it should be obvious that the first consideration must be a supply of the purest possible water, as free as may be, not only from land-drainage and sewage, but also from such suspended matters as chalk, fine sand or mud. This is most ideally and economically secured by placing the station a few feet above high-water mark, in as sheltered a position as possible, on a rocky coast, pumping from the sea to a large reservoir above the station, and allowing the water to circulate gently thence through the tanks by gravity (Banyuls). At an inland aquarium (Berlin, Hamburg), given pure water in the first instance, excellent if less complete results may nevertheless, be obtained. The next consideration is the method by which oxygen is to be supplied to the organisms in the aquarium. Of the two methods hitherto in use, that of pumping a jet of air into tanks otherwise stagnant or nearly so (Brighton), while supplying sufficient oxygen, has so many other disadvantages, that it has not been employed regularly in any of the more modern aquaria. It is, however, still useful in aerating quite small bodies of water in which hardy and minute organisms can be isolated and kept under control. In the other method, now in general use, a fine jet of water under pressure falls on to the surface of the tank; this carries down with it a more than sufficient air-supply, analysis showing in some cases a higher percentage of oxygen in aquarium water than in the open sea.

The water supply is best effected by gravity from reservoirs placed above the tanks, but may be also achieved by direct pumping from low reservoirs or from the sea to the tanks. Provided that an unlimited supply of pure water can be obtained cheaply, the overflow from the tanks is best run to waste; but in aquaria less fortunately placed, it returns to a storage low-level reservoir, from which it is again pumped, thus circulating round and round (Naples, Plymouth). The storage reservoirs should be in all cases very large in comparison with the bulk of water in circulation; if practicable, they should be excavated in rock, and lined with the best cement. Thera is no reason why they should not be shallow, exposed to light and air, and cultivated as rock-pools by the introduction of seaweeds and small animals, but they must then be screened from rain, cold and dust. The pumps used in circulation will be less likely to kill minute animals if of the plunger or ram type, rather than rotary, and should be of gun-metal or one of the new bronze-alloys which take a patina in salt water. For the circulating pipes many materials have been tried. Vulcanite is not only expensive and brittle, but has other disadvantages; common iron pipes, coated internally with cement or asphalt or glazed internally, with all unions and joints cemented, have been used with more or less success. Probably best of all is common lead piping, the joints being served with red-lead; water should be circulated through such pipes till they become coated with insoluble carbonate, for some time before animals are put into the tanks. For small installations glass may be used, the joints being made with marine glue or other suitable cement.

In building the tanks themselves, regard must be had to their special purposes. If intended for show-tanks for popular admiration, or for the study of large animals, they must be large with a plate-glass front; for ordinary scientific work small tanks with all sides opaque are preferable from every point of view. According to their character, size and position, fixed tanks may be of brickwork, masonry or rock, coated in each case with cement; asphalting the sides offers no particular advantages, and often gives rise to great trouble and expense. All materials, and especially the cements, must be of the finest quality procurable. For smaller and movable tanks, slate slabs bolted or screwed together have some disadvantages, notably those of expense, weight and brittleness, but are often used. Better, cheaper and lighter, if less permanent, are tanks of wood bolted together, pitched internally. Glass bell-jars, useful in particular cases, should generally have their sides darkened, except when required for observation. Provision should always be made for cleaning every part of the tanks, pipes and reservoirs; all rock-work in tanks should therefore be removable. As regards the lighting of fixed tanks, it should always be directly from above. In all tanks with glass sides, whether large or small, as much light as possible should be kept from entering through the glass; otherwise, with a side-light, many animals become restless, and wear themselves out against the glass, affected by even so little light as comes through an opposite tank.

In cases where distance from the sea or other causes make it impracticable to allow the overflow from the tanks to run to waste, special precautions must be taken to keep the water pure. Chemically speaking, the chief character of the water in an aquarium circulation, when compared with that of the open sea, lies in the excessive quantity of nitrogen present in various forms, and the reduced alkalinity; these two being probably connected. The excess of nitrogen is referable to dead animals, to waste food and to the excreta of the living organisms. The first two of these sources of contamination may be reduced by care and cleanliness, and by the maintenance of a flow of water sufficient to prevent the excessive accumulation of sediment in the tanks. The following experiment shows the rapid rise of nitrogen if unchecked. A tank with a considerable fauna was isolated from the general circulation and aerated by four air-jets, except during hours 124–166 of the experiment; column I. shows per 100,000 the nitrogen estimated as ammonia, column II. the total inorganic nitrogen:—

I.         II.
Sea-water at source of original supply 0.001         0.003
Aquarium water in tank at commencement of experiment         0.012         0.400
After 22½ hours 0.020         · ·
 ”    75  ” 0.025         1.200
 ”    93  ” 0.019         · ·
 ”  121½  ” 0.012         · ·
 ”   141  ” 0.015         2.200
 ”   165  ” 0.025         · ·
 ”   169  ” 0.025         · ·
 ”   189  ” 0.012         · ·

During this time the alkalinity was reduced to the equivalent of 30 mg. CaCO3 per litre, ocean water having an alkalinity equivalent to 50–55 mg. per litre. It has been suggested that the organic nitrogen becomes oxidized into nitrous, then into nitric acid, which lowers the carbonate values. A great deal of reduction of this nitrogenous contamination can be effected by filtration, a method first introduced successfully at Hamburg, where a most thriving aquarium has been maintained by the local Zoological Society for many years on the circulation principle, new water being added only to compensate for waste and evaporation. The filters consist of open double boxes, the inner having a bottom of perforated slate on which rests rough gravel; on the latter is fine gravel, then coarse, and finally fine sand. Filtration may be either upwards or downwards through the inner box to the outer. Such filters, intercalated between tanks and reservoir, have been shown by analysis to stop a very large proportion of nitrogenous matter. It is doubtful whether aquarium water will not always show an excess of nitrogenous compounds, but they must be kept down in every way possible. In small tanks, well lighted, seaweeds can be got to flourish in a way that has not been found practicable in large tanks with a circulation; these, with Lamellibranchs and small Crustacea as scavengers, will be found useful in this connexion. Slight or occasional circulation should be employed here also, to remove the film of dust and other matters, which otherwise covers the surface of the water and prevents due oxygenation.

In such small tanks for domestic use the fauna must be practically limited to bottom-living animals, but for purposes of research it is often desired to keep alive larval and other surface-swimming animals (plankton). In this case a further difficulty is presented, that of helping to suspend the animals in the water, and thus to avoid the exhaustion and death which soon follow their unaided efforts to keep off the bottom; this duty is effected in nature by specific gravity, tide and surface current. In order to deal with this difficulty a simple but efficient apparatus has been devised by Mr E. T. Browne; a “plunger,” generally a glass plate or filter funnel, moves slowly up and down in a bell-jar or other small tank, with a period of rest between each stroke; the motive power is obtained through a simple bucket-and-siphon arrangement worked by the overflow from other tanks. This apparatus (first used at the Plymouth Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association in 1897, and since introduced into similar institutions), by causing slight eddies in the water, keeps the floating fauna in suspension, and has proved very successful in rearing larvae and in similar work.  (G. H. Fo.)