"We collected about 48 of them so far this summer," said Hap Fatzinger, the aquarium's curator. "There were requests from other facilities that wanted to display Atlantic lionfish, so during dives we made for other animals, we went ahead and grabbed some lionfish as well."
The lionfish, a spiny, brown-and-white striped animal native to the
Snagging a few dozen fish for aquarium displays doesn't make a dent in those numbers, according to Fatzinger. The only thing that's proved effective in thinning lionfish populations off the
"There are some temperature restrictions on them," Fatzinger said. "The 100-foot water depth is kind of the standard. We might find them in more shallow water in the summer, but we know they persist at greater depths all year."
Because of their spikes, capturing lionfish is a precarious process. Aquarium staff snag the fish in vinyl nets and transfer them to 5-gallon buckets without touching their bodies, but once the buckets are brought to the surface, avoiding contact becomes more difficult.
"As we come up, the water in their swim bladder expands. It's the same as if you held your breath underwater and came to the surface," Fatzinger said. "So we have to use hypodermic needles to expel that gas from their swim bladders. We do it very carefully, but a couple of us get pricked. It is very painful."
Some fish are mailed to their new homes in heavy-duty plastic bags with cardboard between the layers to keep spikes from puncturing through. But others are transported by car. Last week, Fatzinger drove several to
"We took lionfish up," he said, "and we returned with some sharks."
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