The boxes are picked up at the air cargo facility near Sea-Tac airport and driven back to the Aquarium. Once the boxes arrive at the Aquarium, they’re carefully unloaded and unpacked by a team of staff and volunteers. The unpacking process is more than just opening boxes and putting the fish and invertebrates into tanks. First we have to figure out where all of the animals will stay while in holding. Some animals can’t be in the same tank as others because of diet, size, behavior, or sensitivities to medication. So a scorpionfish can’t be in the same tank as a small damselfish. Otherwise, we’d be missing a damselfish and have a very fat scorpionfish (You don’t make that mistake more than once)! Once we know where everyone will be staying, we slowly convert them from their shipping water to the Aquarium’s water in a process called acclimation. We do this so that we don’t shock the animals by transferring them directly into water that they’re not used to. This involves first floating the individual bags in the designated holding tank. This allows the temperature in the bag to slowly rise or fall to match the temperature in the tank. We then slowly add tank water into the bags so that the other different qualities of the water, such as salinity, pH, gas levels, other values can mix and equalize. We also take samples of the shipping water from some of the bags so that our lab staff can check the water quality. This helps us make sure that our shipping procedures are top notch and the trip from Hawaii to Washington involves as little stress as possible.
Once the new animals have been acclimated to Aquarium water, they are released into our various quarantine holding tanks behind the scenes. All the tropical fish that arrive at the Aquarium must be quarantined away from the current animals for a minimum of 21 days. This time in holding allows the animals to get used to their new surroundings and diet. It also allows us to make sure that they’re healthy and that they won’t introduce any diseases and parasites to our healthy animals. We can watch the animals more closely and treat them with medication quickly if anyone gets sick. Some of the new fish may be ready to go out on display a month after they arrive back at the Aquarium. Others may need a little extra time to get used to their new homes, so we’ll keep them behind the scenes for as long as it takes for them to be healthy and happy. So keep an eye out for new Hawaiian animals the next time you’re visiting the Pacific Coral Reef and Ocean Oddities exhibits at the Aquarium!