Heartbroken staff at the Texas State Aquarium were trying to assess the damage Wednesday after a treatment designed to exterminate a parasite ended up killing many fish in a pair of large exhibits.
Workers removed fish one by one from two large indoor tanks and worked throughout the night to try to save the animals after a chemical designed to combat parasitic flatworms began killing fish, a spokesman for the Corpus Christi institution said.
"For the staff, this has been devastating," Richard E. Glover Jr., chief marketing officer for the aquarium, said Wednesday.
The aquarium lost its sand tiger shark and all of its nurse sharks, as well as most of the other fish in the 125,000-gallon Islands of Steel exhibit and the 40,000-gallon Flower Gardens tank, Glover said. The two exhibits are the largest indoor exhibits in the Gulf of Mexico building.
Among the fish in the exhibits are tarpon and grouper, green moray eels, French angelfish and stingrays. The Islands of Steel is designed to show the underwater habitat around an oil platform, while the Flower Gardens exhibit replicates a coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico. The aquarium also lost all of its lionfish, known for their bright colors and venomous spines.
The aquarium did not say what kind of chemical it used, but it said it was "a new treatment that is commonly used by many other aquariums in treating similar issues" and that staffers tested it on a smaller exhibit first to make sure it was safe. None of the other exhibits were affected, the aquarium said.
The fish began dying about two hours after the treatment began, Glover said, sparking a night-long effort to remove and save them. A final count has not been done, but he said dozens of animals were lost.
The aquarium said it tried the treatment after struggling to eliminate the parasites, which were described as part of the Trematoda class of parasitic flatworms.
"Our husbandry staff puts their hearts and souls into the care given to all of the animals in our collection, and this has been an extremely difficult night and day for the people responsible for the day-to-day care of our animals, as well as all of our staff and volunteers," Glover said in a statement.
Water samples were sent for analysis to try to determine what went wrong, Glover said.
"These animals mean so much to us all, and this is not something any of us will get over easily," Glover said.