Bolton Public Aquarium is conveniently situated in the centre of the town. It is housed in the basement of an impressive building which also contains the museum and the library.
As you enter the aquarium along a corridor of small tanks, you realise it isn't all big tanks, huge fish and conservation of threatened, rare species. The rare fish do help to emphasise how important conservation is, particularly in countries like Madagascar. However at "grass roots" level, younger visitors are made aware of conservation by using two consecutive, contrasting tanks. The first tank showing the effect of dumping rubbish and causing pollution, the second one showing what is possible by caring for the environment and not tipping junk into our waterways.
More smaller tanks follow, housing a variety of smaller fish, including Celestial Pearl Danio and the extremely tiny Danionella sp. translucida, which Bolton hit the aquatic headlines with, by being the first to breed this particular Danionella species.
The next tank along houses an Ornate Bichir , a West and Central African fish which has an interesting characteristic;- its large pectoral fins, which are not only used to rest on but are adapted as "foot stumps" to crawl on the water bed.
The largest aquarium is a huge three windowed one which has species from the Amazon and the large fish housed here certainly need this volume of water to move around in.
The Red Hook Myleus which, although looking a little "Piranha-like", is surprisingly very much a vegetarian. (Look closely and the "half smile" seems to remove any vicious possibilities!)
Nile species tank....
Here can be seen these imposing Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)
In the same tank can be seen the Giant Upsidedown Catfish (Brachysynodontis batensoda)
In some tanks, it is just a pleasure to see some beautiful fish such as the Tapajos Red Head, (an "eartheater" of the Geophagus species) which, rather unusually, started up from a pair donated to the Museum Aquarium.
A nearby tank houses huge numbers of colourful Malawi Cichlids or "Mbuna" as they are known. A constant source of activity of Labidochromis caeruleus, with some young fish moving in and out of the rockwork.
A Madagascan tank containing Cichlids follows, housing some Paretroplus damii. (A fish on the critically endangered list)
This tank also includes the beautifully marked fish Paratilapia sp. andapa which were acquired as babies from a friend of the aquarium staff in Athens.
Behind the scenes , (apart from a network of cables and pipes!), is a room stacked with tanks where Pete Liptrot (Aquarium Development Officer) and Paul Dixon (Aquarist) are co-workers responsible for the set up and running of a breeding programme. Many of the fish are in the endangered category and are consequently very rare fish, including some recent additions, which are as yet un-named.
Congratulations are in order to both of them for breeding successes. They are the first in the world to successfully spawn and rear the tiny Danionella species, (temporarily named Danionella cf translucida). This 10-12 mm long fish from Myanmar was only recently discovered. (I've seen them and they are indeed an attractive tiny fish!)
Students are also regularly involved with the day to day upkeep, while some university students are involved in more advanced studies, perhaps of a particular species. During my visit, Sam Lambert from Salford Community College, (who was a good help to me) was involved there with a work experience placement.
What of the future?....
Public aquariums in our towns and cities have been established for many years. Over a long period of time, many have probably changed very little whilst others have closed!
It's therefore pleasing to see that Bolton is being more forward thinking;-
A new aquarium development is being built (the first for 30 years);- these changes include tanks in the main room being stripped, sterilised and new glass and lights fitted. Also plans for some tanks to be re-designated for a new species set up.
As further developments take place I will update this article.
My thanks to Bolton Museum Aquarium for permission to take the photographs and for access to the breeding progamme area. Thanks also to Pete Liptrot and Paul Dixon for their help and co-operation.
Copyright; Text and photographs. Ivor Hilton
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