PORTLAND — The Oregon Humane Society is investigating deaths of more than 200 marine animals at the recently opened Portland Aquarium.
The marine animals died between Feb. 18 and May 16 from starvation, infection, high temperatures, and animal-on-animal attacks, according to a death log obtained by The Oregonian newspaper. Among the casualties were bamboo sharks, sea horses, garden eels, sea stars, crabs and dozens of fish.
Barbara Baugnon, a spokeswoman with the Oregon Humane Society, which helps enforce state animal-cruelty laws, confirmed the investigation, but declined further comment about the case.
Vince Covino, who opened the aquarium with his brother Ammon in December, said the marine animals are provided with the best health care possible and the death rate is consistent with what he’s observed at other aquariums.
“And in many cases, we believe we have done better,” he wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper.
But Mike Corcoran, the aquarium’s former veterinarian, said the aquarium didn’t properly quarantine new arrivals and routinely delayed emergency treatment. “I feel those animals were subject to undue pain and suffering to save money,” Corcoran said.
Since Corcoran left in February, the aquarium has not had a veterinarian on contract. Shane Dietz, the aquarium’s director, said he plans to sign a Seattle veterinarian who specializes in exotic and marine animals to fill that job.
The Covino brothers opened their first aquarium in 2011 in Boise, Idaho. In February, Ammon Covino was arrested in Boise on charges of conspiracy and unlawful sale or purchase of marine animals. He is accused in Florida of buying four eagle rays and two lemon sharks without proper permits and transporting them to the Idaho Aquarium.
Ammon Covino pleaded not guilty in April, and a trial is set for next month.
Aquariums typically don’t share mortality rates, making it tough to establish an industry standard.
Covino estimates that the Portland Aquarium houses 10,000 animals representing 3,000 species. Given that number, 200 deaths in three months would represent an annualized mortality rate of 8 percent.
By comparison, the much larger Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport estimates its collection at 15,000 animals representing 250 species. Erin Paxton, public relations coordinator for the aquarium, said the Newport facility has an annualized mortality rate of less than 1 percent.
“There is loss at aquariums; you can’t deny that,” said Caroline Emch-Wei, a 25-year-old marine biologist who volunteered at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport before joining and later quitting the Portland Aquarium. “But there were so many deaths that were straight up preventable.”