Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/February 1901/The New York Aquarium
|THE NEW YORK AQUARIUM.|
By Professor CHARLES L. BRISTOL,
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY.
WHEN the municipality of New York transformed Castle Garden from an immigrant station to a public Aquarium, its location alone solved two problems incident to the usefulness and maintenance of such an institution. Its position, at the end of the Island of Manhattan, at the confluence of two great rivers and the harbor, in close proximity to all the lines of communication with all the boroughs, makes it equally accessible to all portions of the population, and provides for an abundant supply of salt water.
The Aquarium has well repaid the labors of those who conceived and wrought out the idea, and has justified the care and personal interest bestowed upon it by President George C. Clausen, of the Park Commission, if one may judge by the delight expressed by the great number of people, young and old, rich and poor alike, who daily enjoy the marvelous exhibition of fishes and other aquatic animals there set before them. Col. James E. Jones—the director—takes great pride, and justly, too, in the unbroken record of an 'open house,' and the general well-being and contentment of his finny charges.
The doors of the Aquarium are open free to all comers every day between the hours of nine and four, and, at this writing, the average daily attendance is more than fifty-one hundred people, while on Sunday this number rises to eleven thousand.
A word about the building before we enter it. It was built just before the war of 1812, and named Castle Clinton. It was then two hundred feet away from the shore, and was connected with it by a bridge; later the shore line was extended to its present location so as to include the building within it. Never very useful, the Federal Government gave it to the city in 1822. As a public hall the city welcomed in it many prominent persons, among whom were La Fayette, whose landing was commemorated in the blue and white pottery of those days; Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, and the present Prince of Wales. Jenny Lind made her debut there under the management of Phineas T. Barnum, at that time a youth unknown to fame. Then its halcyon days passed, and it became the reception hall for the vast numbers of immigrants who yearly passed through it into the life of the republic. In 1896, it was restored to the people as a place of amusement, and entered upon its second and, let us hope, its permanent career as an Aquarium. As we approach, before passing into the dim light of the Aquarium, it is well to linger for a moment in the park, and gaze upon the wonderful scene spread out before our eyes—the commodious harbor, alive with the craft of all nations, the hills of Staten Island and the Narrows beyond.
Its circular fort form is admirably adapted to its present use, as the plans and illustrations show, and but few changes were necessary to make it available. Upon entering, the visitor's attention is attracted to the seven great pools on the floor. A second glance reveals the wall tanks, arranged in two tiers. These have glass fronts, and, at a
distance, look like beautiful pictures in great frames. They are lighted from behind and above, and the spaces immediately in front of the main and gallery tiers are thrown into deep shade by the gallery floor and the ceiling. The light coming through the tanks being the only source of illumination, the colors and markings of the fishes are brilliantly displayed to the spectator, who might easily imagine himself wandering in some submarine gallery.
In the great central pool there is, ordinarily, a collection of sharks and the common fishes of the coast, but when a whale or other large specimen is secured it occupies this place of honor. The three pools on the north side of the floor contain, respectively, salmon raised from the fry, harbor seals and sturgeon. The harbor seals are always surrounded by an admiring throng, who watch the graceful manœuvres of 'Nelly' and her companion, the 'Babe.' 'Nelly' has occupied her quarters since the Aquarium was opened, and is a great pet with her keepers. The pools on the south side contain striped bass, the West Indian seal and sea turtles. The specimen of the West Indian seal—Monachus tropicalis (Gray)—is unique among zoological collections. It was captured at the Triangles, off the coast of Yucatan, in 1897, and has thriven in captivity at the Aquarium. It has developed into a humorist, and a favorite trick is to sit upright in the pool and look innocently
around until someone attracts its attention. Then, without a gesture of warning, it spurts a mouthful of water at him and dives away to swim for some time as fast as it can about the pool.
These pools, and the wall tanks to the left of the entrance, are devoted to salt-water animals, while the wall tanks on the other side are stocked with fresh water animals, as shown in the plan of the floor (Fig. 2).
In the display of fresh-water fishes, the trout family holds first place, occupying more tank room than any other family, and comprising eleven species. This is largely due to the interest taken by the fishing fraternity in this family and to the generous contributions of the Fish Commissioners of several States.
The sunfishes make a brilliant display, as do the pearl roaches caught in Harlem Mere at Central Park. For downright homeliness the great eighty-pound channel catfish from the Mississippi takes the first place. The bow fin (Amia) and the gar (Lepidosteus) always attract attention, together with the carp and the whitefish that come from the Great Lakes.
Along with the fresh-water fishes are three groups of amphibians: great bullfrogs from New York State, the mud puppy (Necturus) from the great lakes, and the hellbender (Cryptobranchiis) from the Ohio River. There is always a group of visitors in front of the tanks of the two latter animals, watching the beautiful gills of the mud puppy and commenting on the loose suit of clothes worn by the hellbender.
On the salt-water side, the tropical fishes furnish by far the greatest beauty and attraction. Their gaudy colors and strange forms are in strong contrast to the somewhat monotonous hues of most of our coast-wise fishes, but both are harmonious with their surroundings. In the clear, limpid waters of Bermuda and the West Indies, under a tropic sun, the 'sea gardens' flourish, and great purple sea-fans, bright saffron sea-rods, large clumps of bright red and vivid green sea-weeds make a brilliant setting for the higher forms of life.
The world below the brine.
Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and leaves,
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds—the thick tangle, the openings and the pink turf,
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white and gold—the play of light through the water,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks—coral, gluten, grass, rushes—and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existence grazing there, suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom.
In such environment the beautiful Angel-fish, with its long, streaming, yellow fins and sky-blue body, is no longer conspicuous as in the tanks. The ruddy Hind conceals itself easily at the bottom, while the little Four-eyed-fish (so called), brilliant in golden livery with jetblack markings, vanishes from sight by merely shifting its position. On the other hand, the Parrot fishes—which range in color from bright grass green through blues and browns—are boldly conspicuous in their warning colors, for their flesh is poisonous to other animals, including man. The Squirrel-fish, in his brilliant scarlet coat, is equally conspicuous; for woe to the unwary captor that attempts to swallow him! His strong, sharp spine and rough scales would lacerate the maw of the hardiest carnivore, and he swims about among them free from any fear.
These tropical fishes exhibit the function of changing their color in a high degree. The great Groupers are worth watching as they move about in the tanks. Now they are a dirty brown, now they change to alternating blotches of black and white, and presto, they are pure white. The Red-snappers and Yellow-tails change in the twinkling of an eye so as to be almost unrecognizable. Nearly all these fishes may emit flashes of light apparently at will.
The Cow-fish and its relative the Trunk-fish always excite the interest of the visitors, who are amused at their triangular, box-like bodies and odd manœuvres. Equally attractive are the Morays, of which two varieties are shown; the beautiful Speckled Moray and the great Green Moray. The specimens of the latter now in the Aquarium measure, respectively, seven and one-half feet and six feet long.
The collection of coastwise fishes is excellent, and it contains many rare and little-known varieties, such as the weird Moon-fish, the Spadefish, the Crevallé, the Orange file-fish and the Barracuda, as well as the common food fishes of the markets.
The first requisite of an Aquarium is water, and, while very small aquaria may be, and are, successfully maintained without changing the water, by the use of plants to supply oxygen, this system would not answer at all for large tanks. In England and on the Continent many of the large aquaria store great quantities of water, both fresh and salt, in dark reservoirs, and use it over and over again, filtering and aerating it each time.
In the New York Aquarium this system is not used. Fresh and salt water are supplied to the tanks but once and carried away to the sewer. The fresh water is furnished from the city water mains. The salt-water supply was originally taken direct from the harbor, but, while digging in the cellar to lay a foundation, the workmen pierced a layer of hardpan clay, and water rushed into the excavation. Pumping did not lower it, and tasting proved it to be salt. It was at once utilized as a source of supply and proves to be excellent. The layer of sand underneath the clay is an immense filter bed that removes all suspended matter and furnishes clear, limpid water in unlimited quantity.
Both kinds of water are pumped into large reservoirs and flow thence by gravity to the tanks. Some of the piping is gutta-percha, but practice has demonstrated that first-quality galvanized iron pipe is entirely satisfactory, and it is largely used. Between the reservoirs and the tanks are devices for regulating the temperature, and these are necessitated by the extreme diversity of the collection.
In the summer, the fresh water supplied to the salmon family must be kept down to 55° F., while in winter the tropical salt-water fishes demand 70° F. The former is maintained by an ordinary refrigerating machine, the latter by utilizing the waste steam from the radiators and the pumps.
The exhibition tank, like much of the plant, is the outgrowth of experience and failure. The front is made of plate glass nearly an inch thick, and this is fastened into a strong frame of iron, which, in turn, is firmly secured to the building. The joint between the glass and the iron must be water-tight, of course, but it must also be somewhat flexible, to accommodate the changes due to temperature and the bulging due to pressure. It is made by wedging the glass into a rebate with strips of dry basswood as firmly as possible; when these become water-soaked they swell, so as to make the joint perfect, and. yet to allow the necessary play. To the rear side of the iron frame is bolted a wooden tank, narrower at the bottom than the top, and when this is in place it is given a coat of Portland cement for a lining. This lining gives a pleasing neutral tint for a background, is very clean, and,
should occasion demand, it may be readily replaced. The largest glass used is ninety by forty-eight inches for a single tank, but in some cases two tanks are thrown into one by cutting the partition walls, as shown in the shark tank (Fig. 3).
Between the exhibition tanks and the outer wall of the building is an annular corridor devoted to the purposes of administration, and to this the public is not admitted. Here the keepers and their helpers are occupied almost constantly in the multifarious duties that the conditions of maintenance impose; here the pumping machinery and the temperature-regulating apparatus are located, and here are the tanks that hold the reserve stock and those used for hospital purposes.
Cleanliness equal to that found on a private yacht is maintained, as a matter of course, and lies at the foundation of the uninterrupted success of the institution. Subdivision of the work makes possible a routine of duties that proceeds as regularly and orderly as on board a man-of-war, and this is necessary, for now and then the sinuous eel plays his pranks and stops some outlet, threatening the institution with flooding.
No less important is an intimate knowledge of the fishes themselves. When fishes of different kinds are put together in a tank, they often war with each other until one kind is exterminated, and sometimes fishes of the same kind will not tolerate certain individuals. In one of the gallery tanks may be seen a single angel-fish brought from Bermuda four years ago. It is of surpassing beauty, but it kills every other angel that is put in the tank with it. No matter how
many of the curious, triangular, hard-bodied trunk-fishes are put together, one is always made the butt of the rest, and worried by them until it dies, and then another is pestered, until but one is left. In many of the tanks where the fishes dwell in harmony together, there will be one that dominates all the others. It seems to demand a certain deportment and procedure from the others, and is always on the alert to exact compliance. The familiar story of the Mexican shepherds who know each individual in their vast flocks finds its parallel in the intimate knowledge of their charges possessed by the men who care for the tanks at the Aquarium, and this enables them to keep a delicate touch on the daily life in the tanks that contributes largely to the success recognized by the public. For instance, a slight uneasiness in one of the fishes in a certain tank was noticed one day; it continued, and the next day the fish was removed and carefully examined. It was found to have a few parasites upon it, and these were killed. Every fish in that tank was then examined and cleaned, the tank was thoroughly cleansed, and finally the reserve tank from which it came was similarly treated, with the result that no deaths resulted from that cause.
Besides animal parasites, they are always on the lookout for fungus growths, for some of these would decimate the tanks in short order if they were not destroyed. Fortunately, most of these yield readily to the treatment of a change of water. The salt-water fish is put for a short time in brackish or fresh water, or vice versa, and the plant is killed before the fish is injured. Sometimes one eye or both will bulge out of its socket, giving rise to what the Aquarium people graphically call 'bung-eye.' This is regularly treated in the hospital tanks and usually with success. Wounds and abrasions, mopishness and other troubles are recognized and treated in aquatic animals quite successfully.
Fully as exacting as questions of disease are the conditions surrounding the matter of feeding. The food must be fresh, much of it needs preparation, and it must be fed at proper intervals. Some fishes require feeding every day, others take it at intervals of three or four days or a week. The small fishes take their tiny meals of chopped clam every day, the larger fishes at varying intervals.
The dietary is varied, as the following list of some of the foods will show: Quahaugs or hard clams, soft clams, live shrimps, sand fleas, killifish (salt-water minnows), minnows, earthworms, sandworms (both white and red), fresh dead fish from which the bones are removed, salted codfish and beef's liver. Some of these are staples, some are tid-bits to tempt the appetite of moping or sick fishes, and of this latter sort salted codfish is far and away the most tempting.
The death rate among the inhabitants is surprisingly low; some forms will not endure captivity for any considerable time, as might be expected, but among those kinds that will live and thrive in confinement, there are many individuals that were put into the tanks when the Aquarium was opened in 1896.
The area from which the supply for exhibition is drawn is very large, exceeding, probably, that of any other aquarium in the world, and in this respect the collection in the New York Aquarium differs widely from those of the great aquariums of Europe, which rely upon the fauna of the immediately adjacent waters. The Gulf of St. Lawrence furnishes white whale; the Gulf of Mexico the West Indian seal. The cold streams of Maine supply the salmon, while from Bermuda come the tropical fishes of the West Indies. The great lakes contribute the whitefish and others, while the Mississippi Valley sends the catfish. Besides these, the fishes of the neighboring waters are well represented.