Adult Australian Lungfish, part of a captive breeding program in Queensland, Australia.
Credit: Gordon Hides (used with permission)
On Sunday, February 5, 2017, Granddad the Australian Lungfish, the oldest fish in any aquarium or zoo, was euthanized due to health complications. Although his exact age is unknown, he arrived at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago as an adult in 1933. Australian Lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) take over a decade to mature, so we can estimate he was over 90 years old when he passed.
The Australian Lungfish is a unique species, considered a “living fossil”, resembling its ancestors whose lineage dates back over 380 million years. The Australian Lungfish genus (Neoceratodus) itself has been around for about 100 million years. When first described, they were believed to be amphibians; one look at their elongate body and flipper-like fins, and you can imagine the classification conundrum. The fish even possesses a primitive lung, allowing it to breathe air in low-oxygen environments (although they usually breathe with their gills).
Dr. Bernie Kuhajda joined the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute staff in May 2012 after 25 years at the University of Alabama, where he managed a museum collection of one million specimens of preserved fishes from all around the world. Though his studies of fishes and other aquatic organisms have taken him around the United States, Mexico, and Central Asia, his particular expertise is surveying and monitoring threatened and endangered species from aquatic systems in the Southeast, in part to help evaluate the effectiveness of conservation programs. He currently teaches weekend courses at the University of Alabama Gadsden Campus and on the main campus in Tuscaloosa every summer. He serves on multiple USFWS Recovery Teams/Groups for endangered and threatened species.
Imagine possessing untold wealth but lacking the means to keep it safe. That is the broad-strokes reality faced by those of us who work to protect the Southeast’s rich aquatic biodiversity.
Our waterways are home to an incredible natural profusion, one that is unrivaled in the temperate world. More than 1,400 aquatic species reside in waterways within a 500-mile radius of the Tennessee Aquarium’s home in Chattanooga, including about three-quarters (73.1 percent) of all native fish species in the United States. More than 90 percent of all American mussels and crayfish species live within that same area, as do 80 percent of North America’s salamander species and half of its turtle species.