2021 Speakers

8 - 12 February 2021 Five Days of Online Webinars by Leading Aquatic Animal Professionals

Chris Lawrence

Meeting the Challenges of Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Nutrition and Feeding with Gel Technology

Boston children's hospital
Tuesday 9th feb - 11.50am aedt

The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is among the most important animal models in basic research, and tens of millions of them are reared every year in laboratories around the world. Despite this, the nutritional requirements of this species are still not well-understood, and most zebrafish culturists utilize diets and feeding protocols designed for other, and often disparately-related species of fish.
As the popularity and scope of zebrafish research has grown, this scenario has led to a number of problems, including obesity and reproductive dysfunction in fish, unwanted experimental variation arising from undefined and uncontrolled feed ingredients, delivery issues, and negative impacts on water quality and filtration systems.  In an attempt to simultaneously address these myriad challenges, we have been working with a partner in industry to develop and test a gel based, purified research diet for laboratory zebrafish.  
In this presentation, we will provide an update on the progress of ongoing trials conducted with this new feed in our research facilities at Boston Children’s Hospital. We will present data on growth, survival, reproductive function, behavior of subject fish when maintained on the gel, and will discuss the implication of this paradigm shifting approach.

Lauren Pandolfo

Decontamination Tango: One Health Approaches for Assessing Health and Environmental Risks

Baylor College of Medicine
Monday 8th feb - 11.05am aedT

This talk will focus on decontamination efficacy and safety validation including comparative observation on the different products and techniques we have used before and after COVID in the Baylor College of Medicine animal facility. Comparing kill rate, ease of technique for any level of technician, and safety for the zebrafish.

ANdrew Ingalls

Non-Invasive Measurement of Cortisol in Astyanax mexicanus (Mexican Tetra) as it Relates to Environmental Stressors

Stowers Institute for Medical Research
Friday 12th feb - 11.50AM AEDT

The success of a research facility depends upon the health and welfare of its organisms, yet little is known about the optimal rearing environment or stress response of Astyanax mexicanus, an emerging model organism in the field of evolutionary biology.

Environmental stressors, such as handling or crowding, can adversely affect animal welfare and cause the release of cortisol through the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) axis. In excess, this corticosteroid can negatively impact growth, survival, and reproduction of various aquatic species. Existing studies that utilize cortisol as an indicator for stress employ invasive procedures such as whole-body homogenization or blood draw. As an alternative, water-borne cortisol extraction was developed to eliminate the need for direct handling, as well as minimize stress.

Preliminary results have shown a significantly positive correlation between whole-body and water-borne cortisol levels (r = 0.805) in the surface morph of A. mexicanus. Based on these results, this study aims to [1] assess the feasibility of using water-borne cortisol as a tool for improving welfare in A. mexicanus and [2] understand the species’ primary stress response to handling and the environment.


Underground Sounds: Evolution of Acoustic Communication in Astyanax mexicanus

Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School – Blavatnick Institute
thursday 11th feb - 11.50AM AEDT

Acoustic communication allows the exchange of information within specific contexts and during specific behaviors. The blind, cave-adapted and the sighted, river-dwelling morphs of the species Astyanax mexicanus have evolved in markedly different environments. During their evolution in darkness, cavefish underwent a series of morphological, physiological and behavioral changes, allowing the study of adaptation to drastic environmental change. Here we discover that Astyanax is a sonic species, in the laboratory and in the wild, with sound production depending on the social contexts and the type of morph. We characterize one sound, the “Sharp Click”, as a visually-triggered sound produced by dominant surface fish during agonistic behaviors and as a chemosensory-, food odor-triggered sound produced by cavefish during foraging. Sharp Clicks also elicit different reactions in the two morphs in play-back experiments. Our results demonstrate that acoustic communication does exist and has evolved in cavefish, accompanying the evolution of its behaviors.

Marcus J Crim

Unpacking the Influence of Zebrafish Genetics, Environment, and Health Status on Reproducibility

IDEXX BioAnalytics
friday 12th feb - 11.05am aedt

Over the last several years, awareness of the reproducibility crisis in experiments using animal models has been steadily increasing.  Factors that contribute to a lack of reproducibility can be generally divided into intrinsic factors (characteristics of the animals themselves) and extrinsic factors pertaining to the environment, nutrition, and animal husbandry. 

Among the intrinsic factors, background genetics are not standardized for zebrafish and are often communicated incorrectly in scientific manuscripts, making it more difficult to compare studies across institutions or experiments conducted at the same institution at different times.  Whereas the rodent community provides an example roadmap for navigating very similar intrinsic challenges, environmental factors are dissimilar between terrestrial and aquatic model organisms. 

The availability of molecular diagnostics and metagenomics provides substantial opportunity to better characterize the zebrafish environment, including the presence of pathogens, the presence of microbiota that may be protective, and the structure of microbial communities associated with nitrification in recirculating aquaculture systems.  Human microbiomes and human health are known to be influenced by environmental microbiota.  If environmental microbial communities similarly impact zebrafish microbiomes and zebrafish health, then there will inevitably be implications for experimental reproducibility. 

Kevin Erickson

Risk and Disease Identification in the Australian Marine Aquarium Supply Chain

thursday 11th feb - 1.35pm aedt

This presentation summarizes the findings of two chapters in the primary author’s PhD research. The Global Marine Aquarium Trade (GMAT) operates by legally moving aquatic organisms across the world to meet regional demand, and deals in organisms that live in full saline or brackish water conditions. Typical organisms involved in this trade are fish, corals, live rock, and marine algae and plants. In Australia, it is estimated that between 12% and 14% of the population participate in the aquarium hobby at some level, with over 13,000 individuals participating in the country’s largest marine aquarium forum. Australia’s role as an importer is minor, due in part to the strict biosecurity and quarantine regulations that exist in Australia. These tight regulations exist to protect endemic Australian species, to prevent potential exotic species from becoming a biosecurity risk and establishing, and to prevent diseases and parasites of international concern from entering that would have devastating impacts to Australia. 

The aquarium trade is a known leaky biosecurity point where from aquarium species enter marine ecosystems, however, in the past, aspects of the Australian marine aquarium supply chain have been analysed for the purposes of the pre-border biosecurity risks, and to estimate the value of the marine aquarium trade in Australia, yet little was known about the post-border Australian marine ornamental supply chain, how the organisms move through the network of businesses and hobbyists, and the release and epidemiological biosecurity risks associated with their movements and potential release. In order to quantify and analyse the post-border biosecurity risk of Australia’s marine ornamental trade, the members of the supply chain within Australia were surveyed (N=501) with questions pertaining to marine aquarium trade issues, disease issues, quarantine issues, and biosecurity and Australia’s quarantine laws. The findings identified 5 categories of risky behaviours by the members of the supply chain that directly contribute to the release of imported marine ornamental fish and their associated diseases, parasites, or conditions into Australia’s marine waters, and the promotion and amplification of the associated diseases, parasites, or conditions frequency and distribution.

Prof Bill Peirson and Maryam Farzadkhoo

The Tube Fishway: A New Technique to Restore Upstream Fish Passage Over Dams and Weirs

University of NSW
Wednesday 10th feb - 1.30pm aedt

Biologists and engineers working together have developed a new technique to restore upstream fish passage over dams and weirs. This presentation summarises some of the novel experiments undertaken using Australian native fish in the ongoing development of the tube fishway.

Tony Rowe

Why Should Scientific Research Involving Decapod Crustaceans Require Ethical Review?

Wednesday 10th feb - 1.05pm aedT

Decapod crustaceans are faceless, ten-legged, invertebrate seafood species. These characteristics make them difficult to empathise with and consequently legal protection of decapods is widely variable and internationally inconsistent. They are not defined as animals by The Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (The Code) so scientific research with these animals in Australia is not regulated beyond state and territory animal cruelty legislation. However, The Code states institutions are responsible for determining when the use of an animal species not covered by The Code requires animal ethics approval, taking into account emerging evidence of sentience and the ability to experience pain and distress. Other considerations include social licence to operate and applying a proactive, uniform approach to animal welfare. These factors contributed to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) recently updating its animal welfare procedure to include decapod crustaceans (such as crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimp) from the time they are capable of independent feeding.

Kristen Buckley, Nicola Walker and Amy Wardrop

Aged Care of King Penguins

friday 12th feb - 12.15pm aedt

The penguin team at Sea Life Kelly Tarltons care for a colony of 77 penguins. Many of these birds are the original penguins that flew over from the United States and Scotland in 1994. A lot of these birds are now reaching 30 years of age, and with this age comes a variety challenges in caring for birds that are starting to develop age related illness. In our talk we will describe how we monitor, treat and make decisions regarding the elderly birds in our care.

Cath Kelleher, Siobhan Houlihan, Sarah Carnell and Katherine Milne

Improving Enrichment as a Tool for Animal Welfare in Aquariums

Sea World

Sea World is committed to investing in the health and wellbeing of all animals in its care. This year our team at Shark Bay have been developing a program to improve animal welfare through enrichment with an Action Research Project; using the 5 Domains as a theoretical basis to develop an enrichment program for sharks, rays, turtles and fish in Sea World’s Shark Bay and Ray Reef areas. Our Action Research Project asks (and hopes to answer) the question ‘How can we enhance an animal’s welfare through a structured enrichment programme?’

The project has involved a critical reflection of current practices, species-specific welfare assessments and research, the design of new, goal-oriented enrichment experiences, and the continued tracking of animal welfare throughout enrichment implementation.

We are navigating ways to improve staff involvement and enthusiasm, enrichment design and implementation, welfare and enrichment documentation, scheduling and time management, as well as material costs and budgeting.

Not only do we endeavour to collaborate with our own team members more effectively, but we are also aiming to create a reciprocal, communicative network with other organisations and facilities, nationally and globally. By sharing our journey, enrichment plans and our improved practices with others, we hope to create more positive welfare opportunities for marine animals in human care worldwide.

Dr Brett de poister

Spotted Handfish Ultrasound and Sexing

friday 12th feb - 1.05pm aedt

In this brief presentation I will discuss a single case study performed as collaboration with The Aquarium Vet, SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium, and The Unusual Pet Vets to determine if the use of ultrasonography is an appropriate and non-invasive method to determine the sex and reproductive status of the critically endangered spotted hand fish (Brachionichthys hirsutus).

Dr Sarah Wahltinez

Aquatic Invertebrate Welfare

University of Florida
wednesday 10TH FEB - 11.05aM AEDT

Can aquatic invertebrates feel pain? Do we need to worry about invertebrate welfare if they can’t feel pain? Invertebrates have often been considered disposable but ethical standards, regulations, and public opinion are changing – resulting in the inclusion of cephalopods in research protections in Europe in 2010. While aquatic invertebrates are an incredibly diverse group of animals, welfare approaches and concepts used for other animal species can still be applied. This webinar will include a brief discussion of what welfare is and is not, ways to evaluate invertebrate welfare and practical ways that we can improve the welfare of invertebrates in our care – whether they are display animals, in a touch pool, pets, research animals, or food for another species.

Gabrielle musk

Isoeugenol and MS-222 for Anaesthesia of Zebrafish for Caudal Fin Clipping.

University of WA
friday 12th feb - 1.30pm aedt

Anaesthesia is necessary to minimize pain and suffering, and is required during the performance of procedures including caudal fin clipping of zebrafish. The aim of this study was to compare the safety and efficacy of buffered tricaine methanesulfonate (MS-222) and isoeugenol for zebrafish undergoing anaesthesia for caudal fin clipping. Eighty Danio rerio (AB strain) zebrafish at 9 months of age were allocated to one of two equal groups: buffered MS-222 (n=40); or isoeugenol (n=40).  The time to induction of anaesthesia was shorter (p=0.0015) in the isoeugenol group [141 (±70) seconds) compared to the MS-222 group [207 (±103) seconds]. The time to recovery from anaesthesia was shorter (p=0.001) in the MS-222 group [373 (±125) seconds] compared to the isoeugenol group [491 (±176) seconds]. There were no obvious displays of distress or aversion to anaesthesia in either group. There was no difference in the proportion of zebrafish anaesthetized with either drug (p=0.474). One male zebrafish in the buffered MS-222 group was found dead at the 1-hour post procedural monitoring time point but there was no difference between groups in the proportion of fish that survived anaesthesia to the end of experiment (p=1). In conclusion the safety and efficacy of buffered MS-222 and isoeugenol for zebrafish undergoing anaesthesia for caudal fin clipping was similar.

Prof Culum brown

Pain and Emotion in Fishes: Implications for Welfare

wednesday 10th feb - 11.50am aedt

For a long time, fishes have been considered as mindless automatons, but research on fish cognition over the past 20 years has greatly changed that view. In 2002, the first evidence that fish had nociceptors (for detecting noxious stimuli) suggested that, like the rest of the vertebrates, they likely feel pain. Since that time there is mounting evidence that they do feel pain on an emotional level in a manner not dissimilar to humans.  However, since one can not study emotions directly because “other mind” problem (it is subjective), scientists use multiple lines of indirect evidence that collectively show that animals respond aversively to painful stimuli.  Sneddon (2014) lists 17 criteria which collectively point to the capacity for pain and suffering in animals. Here I briefly outline what these criteria are and determine how many have been met by researchers studying fish pain. Some of these criteria a more closely linked to the nociceptor component of pain, while others are key indicators of conscious/emotional responses to pain, far beyond mere reflexes.

Julianna Kadar

Visitor Effects on Elasmobranchs at Aquariums

monday 8th feb - 1.45pm aedt

As aquariums advance their understanding of animal behaviour, measuring effects of the public on animal movements will have important implications for animal welfare. Effects of the public on zoo and aquarium animals have been studied mostly in mammals using vigilance behaviour. In this study, we assessed the effects of number of visitors and sound (db) on the behaviour of leopard sharks (n = 4) and epaulette sharks (n = 2) in two separate enclosures. We measured turn rate, swim speed, and depth at both one minute intervals and using instantaneous sampling across 20 hours using Zoo Monitor. From these observations, we found that visitor number and sound level are correlated and number of visitors has a significant effect on shark behaviours. Additionally, conspecific and heterospecific interactions with sharks, penguins and various fish species in the enclosures also affected shark behaviours. This study represents the first of its kind measuring visitor effects on elasmobranch species.

Marko Horb

Maintaining a Healthy Xenopus Colony

Marine Biological Laboratory
Monday 8th feb - 11.50 aedt

The amphibian Xenopus has been one of the most popular embryological models for the last 40 years. Originally used for pregnancy testing in the 1930s and 40s it has become a staple for modern developmental biology research. The natural habitat for Xenopus is throughout central and southern Africa, and the genus is composed of over 27 different species. In the research setting two species are most commonly used, the tetraploid Xenopus laevis and the diploid Xenopus tropicalis. Although Xenopus are easy to maintain, there are ways to improve the health and well-being of the animals to ensure production of high-quality eggs and embryos. Xenopus are quite hearty animals and can endure wide changes in water quality, appearing healthy; this however, may not always be the case. In this talk I outline how best to maintain Xenopus and discuss aspects that should be considered in the animal care setting.

Bret Grasse

Developing Cephalopods into a Genetic Model System for Research

Marine Biological Laboratory
Thursday 11th feb - 11.05am aedt

Cephalopods are emerging as one of the fastest growing interest groups in research and public aquaria. Cephalopods express numerous biological novelties such as their sophisticated behaviors, large, decentralized brains, unique body plans, and ability to modify genetic information within RNA. If made genetically tractable, these features can be investigated with modern biological experimental approaches in ways never possible before. To accomplish this goal, the Marine Biological Laboratory is developing numerous multigenerational cultures, gene knockout methodologies using CRISPR-Cas9, and transgenesis on select cephalopod species. This talk will focus on the recent successes of these investigations and highlight ways to collaborate and/or order cephalopods for your individual research.

Craig Johnson

Aquatic Issues in Animal Welfare

Massey University
tuesday 9th feb - 1.05pm aedt

For as long as they have existed, humans have had relationships with animals of other species. The ways in which we have interacted with animals has become more complex over time as has the level of cognitive function that we afford to these creatures. The concept of animal welfare has its origins in organisations with the aim of preventing cruelty to animals. The subject was developed with considerations of animals used in research, but has since expanded into a wider consideration of overall quality of life for all animals that have contact with humans. The academic discipline focusses on ways of inferring quality of life from experimental studies. As the implications of animal sentience have been explored and society’s view of the role of animals has matured and become more informed, the concept of social license for the ways in which we treat animals has become more important.

This presentation is intended for a mixed audience including those with backgrounds in conservation and health. These different disciplines have developed slightly different views of what welfare is and use similar language with different meanings. This has the potential for confusion when welfare is discussed and so the presentation will spend most of its time asking the question ‘What is animal welfare?’ from the perspective of the discipline of animal welfare science. It will explore the three orientations of welfare and discuss the central importance of the concept of affective state.

Towards the end of the presentation, this information will be used to look at some of the more pressing issues in animals as it relates to aquatic species.

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