The majority of the exhibits at the Orkney Marine-Life Aquarium are a by-catch of Orkney’s commercial fishing effort. Normally this by-catch would be used for bait or discarded with an extended swim bladder preventing it from escaping the attention of seagulls when thrown back into the sea.
When we ask them, Orkney fishermen go to a great amount of trouble to look after some of this by-catch, in already difficult working conditions, keeping it alive to ensure that the aquarium can provide visitors with the opportunity to view some of the species that inhabit our waters.
We can tell within a few days if a new resident in the Aquarium is going to settle in and be happy. Any that constantly hide away or are obviously continually stressed are returned to the sea.
Although we have a relatively large recirculating seawater system of approx 20,000 litres, this services many smaller separate tanks that allow us to display a wider range of species than would be possible with a single large tank.
Most of the fish that come to the aquarium are juveniles only a few inches long but they grow quite quickly and we return them to the sea after a couple of years and they are replaced by other smaller specimens brought in by the fishermen.
The Orkney Marine-Life Aquarium takes exhibits that would not have survived, and uses these exhibits to educate and enlighten many visitors and children before returning them to the marine environment.
When you visit the aquarium look out for several examples of recycling, an aspect of existence that nature has excelled at - and mankind has yet to perfect!
Lobsters in the Living room /Classroom/Office
The Aquarium works closely with the Orkney Lobster Hatchery informing visitors about the hatchery and displaying the different stages of live lobsters that are present at the hatchery. The Orkney Lobster Hatchery has been producing juvenile lobsters and returning them to the sea for decades. It is the biggest Lobster Hatchery in Europe producing some 70,000 baby lobsters every year.
After hatching and growing through six to eight stages, the baby lobsters reach about 20mm in length and are returned to the sea bed to continue their growth in the wild.
It is not economically viable to keep the baby lobsters to grow any larger as each lobster has to be kept in a separate container to avoid their cannibalistic tendencies!
Unfortunately, at this size, the baby lobsters provide a very tasty snack for a multitude of other sea creatures and it is regrettable that only a very few survive to become adults.
In fact, very little is known about the early stages of a lobsters life from the time that they are released from the Hatchery to adulthood when they are able to breed.
Throughout its operation, the work of the hatchery has been financially supported by Orkney Fishermen but the staged reduction in the fishing fleet to meet EU targets has reduced the number of vessels able to support the hatchery.
The situation is becoming critical and other forms of finance are required to keep the Hatchery in operation.
In addition to levies being introduced on the lobsters purchased by Shellfish Merchants some of the baby lobsters are sold to Fisheries Associations in Ireland to help meet operating costs.
At the Aquarium over the last 5 years, we have developed a small easily maintained seawater system that can be use to grow on baby lobsters in living room temperatures for a year, accelerating their growth rate and giving them a greater chance of survival when returned to the sea.
It is hoped that the sale of these small lobster ongrowing systems to schools, businesses and individuals will also help to financially support the Lobster Hatchery’s continued operation.