Jerusalem aquarium yet to open amid acclimation setbacks
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Jerusalem aquarium yet to open amid acclimation setbacks

A wave of fish and shark deaths has postponed the unveiling of the landlocked capital's first-ever sea center

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A scuba diver in one of the tanks of the Jerusalem aquarium, which is still experiencing adjustment problems with its sea creatures (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
A scuba diver in one of the tanks of the Jerusalem aquarium, which is still experiencing adjustment problems with its sea creatures (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The opening of the new Jerusalem aquarium is being postponed indefinitely, lacking enough viable sea creatures to ensure a good visitor experience.

The still-unopened aquarium has experienced the loss of dozens of fish as well as two sharks, an aquarium representative confirmed.

“There is a long process of acclimatization and adaptation for sensitive creatures such as sharks, all of which remain behind-the-scenes in our quarantine area,” she said.

There are no shortcuts in the process of populating a new aquarium, said the aquarium in a statement to the press.

“It’s a long, challenging process, and it takes time,” said the aquarium.

A scuba diver in one of the tanks of the still-unopened Jerusalem aquarium (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
A scuba diver in one of the tanks of the still-unopened Jerusalem aquarium (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The Israel Aquarium, like its parent organization, the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem — popularly known as the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo — concentrates on the country’s natural niches, with a focus on the marine life of Israeli waters, including the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, the Sea of Galilee and even the Dead Sea (despite its name, some living microorganisms can be found there).

The aquarium’s tanks mimic the various sea systems in Israel, whether showing schools of fish in the shallow waters of the Dor Beach at the Mediterranean Sea, or St. Peter’s fish in the Sea of Galilee swimming their freshwater tank that includes the black basilica stone of the Tiberias region.

Unfortunately, some of the fish that represent these systems haven’t survived the transfer to their new home.

“The reasons for losing fish can be due to a technical failure, such as a short-circuit, or acclimation difficulties,” said the aquarium. “We’ve also spent a lot of staff time and effort trying to save fish caught as bycatch by fisherman that are not suitable for eating and brought to us.”

Dozens of clown fish populate one of the tanks in the Jerusalem aquarium (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Dozens of clown fish populate one of the tanks in the Jerusalem aquarium (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

“Anyone who is involved in the field knows the difficulty of acclimating fish that sometimes leads to loss of fish during the process,” reported the aquarium.

At the same time, the aquarium has also had breeding successes with many endangered species, such as various species of rays and guitarfish.

The aquarium's tanks mimic the habitats of the Mediterranean and Red Sea, including this tank tunnel within the facility (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
The aquarium’s tanks mimic the habitats of the Mediterranean and Red Sea, including this tank tunnel within the facility (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

 

The Jerusalem Zoo spent much of the last 10 years working on the aquarium, with an investment of NIS 100 million ($28.5 million) from donors and local authorities.

But it won’t be opened until it can guarantee standards that offer an excellent visitor experience. The aquarium’s standards must be high in order to offer a great visitor experience, said the aquarium. Unfortunately, the as-yet unopened facility has experienced a significant financial loss by missing the busy summer season.

It’s a reminder of how quixotic this major endeavor was, recreating marine life in landlocked, hilly Jerusalem, as part of the Biblical Zoo complex, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea and even farther from the Red Sea.

“It’s a challenge to bring this to Jerusalem,” said Shai Doron, CEO of Jerusalem’s Tisch Family Zoo, when he guided a group of journalists through the unopened aquarium in July. “We had to do it all from scratch. We’re bringing the sea to Jerusalem.”

The aquarium is the first of its kind in Israel, and the first public, inland aquarium in the Middle East.

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