Visit an underwater world of wonder at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium

Endangered Powder-blue panchax at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium
Endangered Powder-blue panchax at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo has opened the UK's first Aquarium dedicated to conserving the world's most astonishing and endangered freshwater fish.

The Aquarium opened on Friday, July 26, and visitors will be able to go on a round-the-world journey through ten of the planet's most extreme and fascinating aquatic habitats, from a vibrant flooded forest in Brazil, to an African puddle.

Critically Endangered Pinstripe damba shows its toothy grin at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium.

Critically Endangered Pinstripe damba shows its toothy grin at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium.

Visitors to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will now be able to see the dusky narrow hatchetfish, Caribbean mangrove killifish, Omani blind cave fish, endangered Chinese crocodile lizards, and Mexican red-kneed tarantulas.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Aquarium Team Leader Alex Cliffe said: “It will be the first Aquarium in the Zoo’s almost 90-year history, and it will be an incredibly vibrant, colourful, sensory experience that not only reveals the secret life of fish, but gives an insight into the conservation work underway to rescue some of the world’s most incredible fish from the brink of extinction.

“As well as making their way around the world, through Caribbean mangroves, Middle-Eastern caves and Vietnamese streams; visitors will be able to look into the ‘engine room’ of the breeding centre and see whole life cycles of threatened species.”

Last week, before the official opening of the Aquarium, Zookeepers faced the task of moving two large stingrays, nicknamed ‘Polka’ and ‘Dot’, 33 miles across land to their new home.

A keeper cleans a tank at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium ahead of the opening.

A keeper cleans a tank at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's new Aquarium ahead of the opening.

Before keepers could introduce the two female white-blotched river stingrays (Potamotrygon leopoldi) to their specially designed, new Brazilian flooded forest habitat at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, they had to move the 65cm long creatures, which have venomous stingers, from ZSL London Zoo and up the M1 motorway to their new digs.

Alex Cliffe added: “We have to prepare very thoroughly for a move like this. The animals’ welfare throughout the process is our priority, and we’re also working with large creatures that could sting us.

“A key element in the process is ensuring the make-up of the water in their new habitat matches the water in the rays’ old tank as perfectly as possible, so they feel immediately at home. If there is any discrepancy at all, we gradually add small amounts of water from the new tank to the transport container, so they can adjust to changes in the water.

“The stingrays love their new home at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s new Aquarium. We created the Brazilian Flooded Forest Habitat to meet the precise needs of this species. White-blotched river stingrays need a freshwater environment with a sandy bed, a strong current, and temperature that ranges from 22⁰C to 28⁰C depending on the season and a specific water PH level, all of which we have provided.”

Award winning photographer and BBC Countryfile expert Jack Perks visited the new Aquarium ahead of it's opening, he worked closely with the Aquarium leaders and expert aquarists to capture the fascinating behaviours and evolutionary adaptations of the remarkable species at Whipsnade, such as a Spotted hillstream loach using its suckers to grip onto rocks in the Zoo’s fast-flowing Vietnamese stream, or a male Madagascan Kotsovato fish changing colour to attract females.

Jack said: “Being able to capture, up-close, the secret life of some of the world’s most fascinating and endangered underwater creatures was an experience I couldn’t turn down – I’ve read about many of these fish, but nothing compares to seeing them first-hand.

“Seeing the critically endangered Pinstripe damba using their teeth to crunch through shells (as well as my underwater cameras) was wonderful, as was watching a male Forktail blue-eye put on a dazzling display by turning its fins bright yellow to impress the females.

“As early as I can remember I was out with a net and an ice cream tub, looking for creatures in local rivers and streams. I’m sure the amazing animals and exhibits at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s new Aquarium will inspire a new wave of wildlife enthusiasts.”

Entry into the new Aquarium is included in the Zoo entry price, to book tickets visit: www.zsl.org.