Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/November 1896/Public Aquariums in Europe




THE life of the sea has ever had a peculiar interest to people of every class and calling—the strange and bright-colored fishes, the sea stars and anemones, the rich forests of seaweeds, the ghostly and luminous jellyfishes introduce to their observers a submerged world which bears with it every charm of the unreal and the unknown. A feeling of awe is not absent in the long, dusky corridor of an aquarium, as with hushed voices the visitors are gazing through the bright-colored windows; through each they may see the depths of a miniature ocean. Here a common interest brings together visitors of every class, and in the changing crowd are strangely mingled types of faces—refined, illiterate, scholarly, rustic—all fixed and earnest, absorbed with the brilliance and variety of the ever-changing scenes. Within the entrance of a gallery a number of sailors have long stood motionless before one of the larger tanks, watching the undulating movements of the swimming ray and the feeding of a dull-looking shark, with perhaps none the less interest that they have seen these fishes many times before. A few yards away a group of children are visiting the aquarium for the first time; they stand spellbound, gazing open-mouthed at the graceful movements of a sea horse; or if that they have discovered the large eight-armed cuttlefish which is slowly writhing itself into a less conspicuous corner of its rocky den? And yonder a gray-bearded Russian zoölogist—noted enough if one were to give his name—is taking the opportunity of examining for the first time a clump of living crinoids.

The aquarium is altogether a modern institution, dating back scarcely more than a third of a century. Its practicability appears to have first been prominently brought before the public by an Englishman, Mr. W. Alford Lloyd, who during the sixties took an active part in the founding of the aquariums of Paris (that of the Jardin d'Acclimation), Hamburg, Hanover, and of the Crystal Palace, then the most famous of all. In fact, it was notably due to his efforts that throughout Europe aquariums became fashionable,

The Naples Aquarium.

to a degree indeed which caused the great cities to vie with each other in their prompt efforts to build and equip them. In those early days the style of the buildings was prevalently grotto-like. To see the fishes one was to be given the impression of actually going deep into the sea by descending first into a cavern, down rock-cut steps to the murmur of trickling (if very artificial) brooks. These early aquariums, of great interest from the standpoint of naturalism, were at first exceedingly popular, amply remunerating their stockholders when organized by private capital. Some of these, however, owing in nearly every instance to injudicious management, came later to deteriorate, and after becoming concert halls, or adding circuslike attractions, have ultimately failed.

The Amsterdam Aquarium.

At the present day it has become a difficult matter to classify the various aquariums of Europe, since they present so wide a range in size, quality, and purpose. Some are destined solely for the public use and can not be said to be of aid to scientific studies; others are devoted almost entirely to the advancement of biological research; and others still vary widely between these extremes, with an equally wide range in the character of their financial support. Many of the aquariums of the orthodox biological stations, however, have been situated in out-of-the-way places, convenient for the purposes of the student, but inaccessible to the general visitor. These may be admirably arranged and maintained—among them, for example, the aquarium room of the French station at Banyuls, on the Mediterranean, near Spain—yet they can not be strictly regarded as belonging to the class of public aquariums. For this reason, partly, more than a score of biological laboratories might at once be omitted from discussion. On the other hand, the Stazione Zoologica of Naples, while devoted to the highest type of research work, must be given the foremost rank among popular aquariums. And the Amsterdam Aquarium, holding rank on the popular side probably second to Naples, is also of value as a purely scientific station, although lower in caste than the Stazione. So, too, should the Plymouth Biological Laboratory be mentioned as of interest in its well-equipped aquarium. Together with those that have just been mentioned, the more strictly popular aquariums of Europe should include those of Paris, Berlin, and Brighton.

These aquariums are so widely separated from each other that they have come to differ not a little in the details of their equipment and management. And it is, indeed, only when the visitor has examined a number of these institutions that he begins to realize that there is a common principle underlying their general construction. Thus, for example, he would find in each the great darkened corridor, from which on every side, as through large windows, he may look into the brightly lighted tanks. Through these he may peer to a distance of twenty feet before his view is stopped by the rough, rock-cut background; nor does the line showing the surface of the water appear against the glass to destroy his illusion of ocean depth. The cunning builders have taken pains to have this line higher than the windowlike opening of the tank, so that the water surface, instead of marring the effect, in reality aids it, for the eye of the visitor, at a lower plane than the surface, sees upward but the totally reflected images of the forms below. Not that the glass fronts of the aquaria are exceedingly large—their height is rarely more than four or five feet in view of the danger of breakage through water pressure—although the idea of water depth is certainly not sacrificed on this account, for the concreted bottom of the tank may be made to slope downward from the base of the glass plate till the needed depth is reached. Nor does the similarity in the various aquariums extend only to the corridor to which the general visitor is admitted. In their internal arrangements an even more strikingly similar ground plan is found to prevail. In all cases the attempt has been made to keep from the mind of the visitor the idea that water pipes, pumping engines, and blouse-wearing attendants—none of which withal are oppressively tidy—are necessary to the well-being of the tanks. And it is for this reason especially that the region behind the tanks is usually kept from profane eyes. Dark passageways lead to it, shielded

Amsterdam Aquarium—Service of the Basins.

by hidden doors, and one who enters, coming from the dusky corridor, is at first blinded with a flood of light. Above him is the glass roofing of a conservatory, and sunshine is pouring down upon the rock work of the tanks, thence to be reflected into the public hall. At his feet extends a concreted pathway; on either side are the tanks, or more strictly rock-lined pools, at whose farther ends can be seen the glass plates through which, in the corridor, the visitors are gazing. Above and around are serpent-like pipes, stretching at full length, abruptly coiling as they dip to the water surface or pass downward below the floor, a confusing maze, bubbling and hissing with steaming water. The system in the management of the water supply becomes, however, clearly understood when the mystery of strangeness has passed away. It has merely to conform to the hygienic law of its inmates in providing that the water of each pool shall be clean and well aërated. To attain the former end, the water is constantly drained from the aquaria and replaced by fresh and filtered water; and to insure proper aëration, the incoming stream is usually passed into the tank in such a way that it draws downward with it in its current a cloud of air-bubbles—these to subdivide finely and to be in part absorbed. In the sea-water basins the "reservoir system" has been found most effective in securing the healthfulness of the water, and is at present in general use. It has certainly an advantage from the standpoint of economy, since by its means a given bulk of water may be used and re-used for months and even years, with better results, indeed, than if a fresh supply of sea water had been employed, for the latter, it is claimed, introduces a constant stream of impurities which can not be removed by filtration. The reservoir system is certainly an easy one to understand. In the basement or cellar of the aquarium building is situated a concreted cistern, whose capacity is ten to fifty times as great as that of the sum of the sea-water tanks throughout the building. In this cool, dark, and uniformly temperatured cistern the water seems to have the power, even in the course of a few days, to purify and "rest," its sediment settling and its air-drinking power becoming restored. It is into this cistern, accordingly, that the water drained from all parts of the building is returned after it has been roughly filtered; and it is directly from this cistern again that the water is pumped upward as the resupply. By this plan of circulation it is usually arranged that the water of each tank may become changed several times during the day.

From this review of the general subject we may next pass to the examination of the various aquariums of Europe.

Naples.—First in importance, as has already been noted, stands the aquarium at Naples, highest in rank, also, as a station of marine biological research. Its situation and surroundings are eminently attractive; it stands in a public garden on the side of the gulf, amid fashionable driveways, surrounded by bright-colored lawns and a wealth of century plants and cactus; in front are the outlines of distant Capri and the blue waters of the gulf; in full view is Vesuvius. The building itself is like a huge white palace, conspicuous from nearly every higher part of the city. Its main wing, shown in the foreground in the adjoining picture, is the older, dating from 1875, when the station was founded by Prof. Anton Dohrn; the wing immediately behind it is the newly built physiological laboratory. The aquarium occupies the basement of the main structure, and is open to the public daily, although to the rest of the building, including the laboratories, library, and rooms of investigators, strangers are not generally admitted. The doorway leading to the aquarium is shown in the illustration; through it one passes into the main corridor, a long, dark, concreted room, lighted only through wall-tanks, displaying admirably the showy fauna of the gulf, to which, indeed, the aquarium is largely indebted for its high rank. Imbedded in the walls of the sides and of the main partition of the room there are in all about two dozen large aquaria. In these the water appears clear and blue; their background of rough rock work has been

Amsterdam Aquarium—The Tanks.

so arranged that contrasts of bright lights and deep shadows throw in clear relief the colors of the marine life. In the first tank the visitor may find a collection of starfishes and sea urchins, some brilliant in color, clustering on the glass, each with a dim halo of pale, threadlike feet. In the background will be a living clump of crinoids, which flower out like a garden of stately and bright-colored lilies. A neighboring tank will be rich in dark seaweeds, and in its foreground a group of flying gurnards, reddish and brightly spotted, are feeling cautiously along the bottom with the fingerlike rays of their wing-shaped fins. Here, too, a small school of squid is swimming timidly to and fro like delicate and quick-moving fishes, and below them will perhaps be a series of huge triton snails and the clustered eggs of cuttlefish. In another tank a bank of sea anemones exemplifies the large and gaudy forms common to southern waters—buff, orange, yellow, and vermilion—and there may be corals in the background, and a spectral forest of sea fans in white and violet, with a precious fringe of pink coral flowering out in yellow, starlike polyps. There may, again, be in a neighboring tank a host of ascidians, those curiously degenerate vertebrates whose stock could not have been widely unlike the ancestral stem of the fishes. Delicate, transparent, solitary forms, like the lanky Ciona, contrast with the deeply crimson Cynthia and the huge and mottled masses of many compound forms. Swimming about them may be chains of Salpa, and occasionally a number of Amphioxus, the latter to be seen only from time to time as they burrow out of the sandy bottom, flurry about as if in sudden fright, and quickly disappear. Variety is one of the striking characters of the arrangement of neighboring tanks. In one, brilliant forms outvie the colors of their neighbors. In another are examples of the closest mimicry of animals to their surroundings, where the stranger has often to examine long before in the seemingly empty tank he can determine on every side the hidden forms. Thus one by one will come into his view the rays and flounders, whose colors render them almost indistinguishable from the gravelly bottom; next he will see the upturned eyes of the curious stargazer, which lies almost buried in the sand; then a series of mottled crustaceans, wedged about in the rocky background, or an occasional crab which wanders cautiously about, carrying a protective garden of seaweeds on his broad, flattened back. Near by will be odd-looking pipefishes and the sea horses, poised motionless in mimicry of the rough stems of the seaweeds. In a larger tank, sea turtles float sluggishly about, and coiling amid broken earthen jars are the fierce-looking, snakelike, sharp-jawed murries, to suggest Roman dinners and the slave-eating experiments of the lordly Pollio.

The aëration of the aquaria is secured effectively by streams of air which are forced in at the water surface and subdivided into bright clouds of minute silvery bubbles. The tanks are cared for from the rear passageways, and the attendants are rarely seen, although it is the constant attention in the arrangement and the restocking of the tanks that has gained the aquarium its well-earned success. Illustrated catalogues in French, German, English, and Italian enable the stranger better to appreciate his visit.

Amsterdam.—The Amsterdam Aquarium is the most recent of the larger aquariums in Europe, dating from 1880. It was then opened, under the directorship of Dr. G. F. Westerman, as an

Brighton Aquarium

adjunct of the famous Zoölogical Society of Amsterdam, Natura Artis Magistra. The building itself is situated on the broad avenue margining the Zoölogical Garden, and is decidedly an attractive one, although outwardly as cold and dignified as the typical municipal building, with its Roman architecture and its central temple-like structure. Its large size, about a hundred yards in length, has been of great advantage in the arrangement of the details of the interior, permitting the decorative use of columns, arches, and cornices without noticeable sacrifice of space or the appearance of overcrowding. The main corridor, which the visitor enters after he has ascended a broad white stairway, is wide and stately, its marble walls and floor diffusing the light entering from the large glass faces of the aquaria. The corridor is about fifty yards in length, and the aquaria, twenty in all, are arranged on either side, the largest measuring about thirty feet. They have been admirably designed to display their collections of living forms; fishes are notably present, and on every hand their movement is incessant, with gleams of color and changes of outline as they sweep to and fro. The critical observer is particularly impressed with the great number of fishes which have been kept successfully in a single tank; among them he recognizes the prominent forms occurring along the North Sea coasts turbot and sole, ling, cod, rays, and flounders—even the herring and mackerel, to which confinement is usually most fatal. A collection of fresh-water fishes is not lacking, including a number of American forms, for which the director has been indebted to Mr. E. G. Blackford, of New York city—black bass, amia, and catfish—the latter strongly contrasting in size with their European cousin in an adjoining tank, the giant Wels of the Danube. From the extreme end of the aquarium room the visitor passes into a smaller hall, circular in outline, which contains over a score of table tanks displaying forms of attractive fresh-water fishes and salamanders; it is brightly lighted and pleasingly decorated with a marble-tiled floor, fringed by palms and ferns. From this room an entrance leads, on the one hand, into a spacious auditorium, which is made of use in courses of popular lectures, and, on the other hand, by a few marble steps, into a well-lighted museum containing in several rooms a collection of dried or alcoholic preparations of the typical forms of invertebrates and lower vertebrates.

The operative portion of the aquarium includes well-lighted corridors extending on either side of the main hall; the pathway along which the visitor passes has been sunken below the walls of the tanks, whose shelving sides can thus be more conveniently reached by the attendants. A series of darkened corridors next lead into the vaulted basement containing the large storage tanks. The administration of the aquarium appears throughout an especially painstaking and energetic one, due in no small degree to the labors of its present director, Dr. C. Kerbert.

Brighton Aquarium—Main Corridor.

Plymouth.—On the Devonshire coast of England the need of a public aquarium has been supplied by the Marine Biological Association. In its laboratory building at Plymouth the entire basement floor has been devoted to the interests of the general visitor, and a well-chosen collection representing the Channel fauna can be studied in its well-arranged tanks. The important work of the station in connection with the British fisheries, added to its exceptional advantages in collecting material, gives Plymouth an important rank among marine aquariums.

Paris.—At Paris the Aquarium of the Trocadero was in its day—for it stands among the oldest—regarded as the foremost of Europe. At present, however, its condition is somewhat degenerate, and it is apt, partly on this account, to give the critical observer an unfavorable if not disappointing impression upon his first visit. It is ill kept, wet, and untidy; its tanks are poorly cared for and very imperfectly stocked; and the general absence of attendants has permitted many attempts at diamond writing on the costly glass plates of the tanks. These defects, however, do not prevent the visitor from finally recognizing the interesting

Berlin Aquarium—The Three Grottoes.

features of the aquarium. Its plan of construction, as in the earlier designs, is typically grottolike. Its main hall is subterranean, and the tanks appear at the surface amid a thicket of overhanging bushes, like a ring of natural pools. The public entrance is cavernous—a descent of rough-hewn rock steps, margined by clumps of ferns and a small but noisy waterfall. The main corridor seems particularly dark and cool, none the less so when the eye comes to note the row of tank outlines and sees in their bluish water the chilly movements of trout. The corridor is ring-shaped, its side walls consisting of the faces of large aquaria, nine in the peripheral margin and two in the central, the latter separated by an alleyway in the line of the diameter of the ring. The great height of the tanks is particularly noteworthy; in some the water measures over twelve feet, giving a depth which results in an enormous pressure upon the glass fronts of the aquaria. This dangerous strain, however, has been cleverly counterbalanced: instead of attempting to employ a large plate of glass to resist the water pressure, the designers have prudently broken the front of the tank into a series of stouter panes, whose outlines are larger above, smaller below, framed massively by log-shaped beams of iron. Rockwork has been largely employed as the background of the aquaria, and the great water depth has favored the use of delicate strings of vertically growing water plants. At present the tanks are almost entirely stocked with fresh-water forms. Adjoining the main corridor has been added a laboratory devoted to experiments in fish culture. Here the hatching troughs are arranged in vertical banks to give the cascadelike waterflow recommended by the earlier culturists.

Berlin.—Like that of the Trocadero, the Berlin Aquarium, next to be mentioned, ranks among the earliest in Europe, it having been opened, under the directorship of Dr. Brehm, in 1869. From that time onward its success has been remarkable—none the less so that its foundation and management have been due to private enterprise, in the form of a stock company. And to its credit it may safely be said that there has been no other aquarium in Europe which has appealed to a greater number of people and has accomplished its object with greater tact or at the cost of greater efforts.

A visit to the aquarium has come to be one of the interesting sights of Berlin, and the stranger has but little difficulty in finding its tall, stuccoed, buff-colored building at the corner of one of the streets crossing Unter den Linden, although he may feel at first, perhaps, inward qualms at finding the grotto-planned aquarium, of which he has so often heard, incased by a building which differs in no way outwardly from its apartment-house-looking neighbors. He is apt, therefore, to look about him somewhat suspiciously when he discovers that its entrance is strangely theaterlike: there are the box office, the flight of marble steps, the walls over-frescoed with mermaids, the lines of posters, to carry him to its threshold. The serpent gallery is the first to be entered—a long, iron-arched, well-lighted corridor, with glass or wire-fronted cases on either side. This seems to be intended as the vestibule of the aquarium proper, where the curious visitor can whet his appetite on the sight of tarantulas, land turtles, and lizards before he descends into what seems like the mouth of a huge cavern; for from here onward the walls are of rough stone-work, and there are rock-cut steins and darkened stone-arched passageways to lead the visitor from grotto to grotto as he wanders along, gazing at the aquaria on either side. The grotto which is first entered, however, might best be described as a circular, dome-roofed hall, whose rocky walls are broken by pools and basins to harbor turtles and crocodiles. Here in the middle stands the huge aviary, well stocked with bright-colored birds, and adjoining are the cages of the orang and chimpanzee—non-aquatic attractions, for which, strangely enough, the aquarium has always been noted. From this hall a long, dark gallery, whose walls are pitted with aquaria, leads to a second grotto, domed above, pitlike below, down which the visitor passes to a lower series of corridors which twist and turn, descend and rise, but continue to exhibit aquaria on every side till the exit is reached. Thus have been passed the geological and basalt grottoes and the beaver pool, near which a small descending rill has been made of service for hatching fish eggs. One of the curious features of the aquarium is the idea of distance which impresses the visitor as he wanders on and on; and it is even difficult to convince him that the corridors, grottoes, and twisting passageways can be contained within so small a surface area as that of the residence-looking building he has seen at the corner of the street; and he can not fail to wonder at the ingenuity of the architect, not merely in this regard, but in the arrangement of vistas which occur on every hand, and in the deftness with which the working-day side of the aquarium has been concealed.

Such in brief is the general visitor's idea of the Berlin Aquarium; to the adept its internal organization seems even more ingenious and interesting when it comes to be examined. The tanks are cared for by means of a labyrinth of concealed passageways; the storage reservoir is hidden away below the concrete floor of the lowest gallery, and most remarkable of all is the use of an artificial mixture as an economical substitute for sea water. As long used by Dr. Hermes, the present director, this mixture has been found of great practical value, and it certainly enables many fishes to live in spite of the adverse conditions of their confinement for months and even for years. The variety of living forms which one sees in the various tanks is a striking feature of the aquarium, and one is strongly impressed with the range in marine fauna which is thus kept in a district remote from the sea. The arrangement of the aquaria, it may be further added, is often regional; there will thus be grouped in one tank the forms of the North Sea, in another those of the Mediterranean, in a third those of the Baltic.

Brighton.—A brief description of the Brighton Aquarium must not be omitted, finally, from the present discussion; it is certainly the most typical, if not the largest, of the newer aquariums of Europe. From the architectural standpoint, moreover, its interior must unquestionably be given a foremost rank. Brighton will be remembered as admirably adapted to the needs of a public aquarium; its position on the shore of the Channel brings it directly in contact with rich fishing grounds, while, as a seaside resort, its closeness to London affords it an unfailing stream of visitors.

The aquarium has been situated in one of the most conspicuous points of the town—the most convenient for aquarial purposes on account of its nearness to the water; the chain bridge is close by, and the two most fashionable driveways, the Madeira Road and the Marine Parade, intersect at its very door posts.

It must be confessed that the exterior of the aquarium is not prepossessing; it suggests the roofed-over foundations of a house; nor is this appearance bettered by the presence of signs and posters. In fact, one is first led to believe that its success is altogether dependent upon the restaurant and small theater which it largely advertises. To enter the aquarium the visitor must descend a long, broad staircase, then pass through an entrance hall and reading room. The main corridor which he thus reaches extends directly in front a distance of four hundred feet; its appearance is, to say the least, an attractive one; it might even be called stately, with its groined arches of brick and terra cotta, and its aisles and row of central columns; it suggests, perhaps, the gallery of an early Italian palace in the shape of its columns and in the height and varied carvings of their capitals. The corridor shows on either side the large, windowlike fronts of the aquaria. These, however, do not appear to be especially brightly lighted; they number in all over fifty, the largest one a hundred feet in length, bending around a space in the central part of the hall. At the present day the stocking of the aquaria is not perhaps as carefully attended to as in earlier years, when the profits of the stockholders were doubtless greater. An effort appears to be made on the part of the management to keep one or two of the small cetaceans, dolphins and porpoises, in the largest tank; and judging from the throng of visitors around the neighboring seals and sea lions, one may reasonably conclude that these pseudo-inhabitants of the aquarium are by no means unpopular. In every season, however, the visitor may find at Brighton an interesting collection of Channel fauna, especially fishes. The general working conditions of the aquarium do not appear widely different from those of Amsterdam.

The Tibetans whom Mr. St. George R. Littledale met in his journey across their country were men sometimes of strange notions. One of them asked if it was true that there was a big tree near Calcutta, out of the branches of which came all the heat of India; and whether the telescopes of the English party would allow them to see right through the mountains.