21,000 fish die in ‘catastrophic failure’ at California Research Center
About 21,000 fish at an aquatic research center at the University of California, Davis, died from exposure to chlorine, which the university described as a “catastrophic failure” that shocked researchers and would have significantly delayed their studies.
The university said in a statement that it would investigate “where our process failed” and launch an independent external review.
“We share the grief of the faculty, staff, and students working to care for, study and preserve these animals,” said UC Davis.
The fish were found dead Tuesday in several tanks at the Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture, which sits on five acres and is home to research programs that help sustain California’s aquatic species and support sustainable aquaculture production, according to the center’s website. focus on.
Laurie Brignolo, executive director of the Research and Teaching Animal Care Program at UC Davis, said Sunday that university officials believed the source of the chlorine was a chlorination system used to purify water with fish pathogens. used to go.
If that was indeed the source, university officials weren’t sure how the chlorine ended up in the fish tanks. One possible explanation would be that there was a backup in the waterline system that caused the chlorine to go in the wrong direction, Ms Brignolo said.
UC Davis said it was committed to “understanding what happened and making changes to the facility” to prevent such a failure from happening again.
The university said many of its other facilities for aquatic research “do not have the same potential for chlorine exposure, there are some that do,” and that it will conduct a risk assessment.
Ms Brignolo said the centre, which was built in the 1950s, had never experienced such an “overall loss” of fish before. He said the workers complete “daily quality assurance when the pump and water pass through”. The night before the loss, she said, about 21,000 fish had been checked.
However, overnight, enough chlorine had entered the tanks to contain the same amount as in tap water – a dangerously high amount for fish, Ms Brignolo said. Fish should not be kept in water that contains even small amounts of the chemical.
Chlorine damaged the sensitive gills and skin of the center’s various fish species, including green and white sturgeon and Chinook salmon, which is endangered.
Within 12 hours, almost all the fish were dead.
Ms Brignolo said she received an email on Tuesday morning from the center’s manager, who was one of the first people there that day. The manager saw that thousands of fish were dead, Ms Brignolo said, and called it a “tragic loss”.
Center workers went from tank to tank and calculated the damage. Only about 100 fish were left.
“It’s absolutely devastating,” she said.
Some researchers and graduate students were using fish to study the effects of disease and environmental changes on certain species.
Ms Brignolo said the massive loss of fish at the center would not stop the researchers’ studies entirely, but it would put them behind them substantially, by a few years.
The loss has also taken an emotional toll on those working there. The University has established a Grief Management Program for the students and staff members affected.
“Their role is to provide a safe environment for the many fish that are being used for research purposes,” said Ms Brignolo. “And that’s an absolute sense of failure.”