City forms task force on eve of Austin Aquarium opening


by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and Photojournalist MATT OLSEN

Bio | Email | Follow: @KrisB_KVUE

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 11:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 11 at 11:20 PM

AUSTIN -- On the eve of the opening of the Austin Aquarium, the City of Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission voted to form a task force to look into how much regulatory power the City will have to make sure animals are purchased legally and remain unharmed.

“We've been waiting a long time and fans have been waiting a long time, and we know that they're excited to get in here,” said Austin Aquarium owner Vince Covino.

The displays include stingrays, eels, exotic fish, large turtles, birds, sharks and even an octopus. Covino says the aquarium is designed to be educational and entertaining for both children and adults.

“It is very diverse. There is everything from Pacific Northwest animals, giant pacific octopus and so forth, and then you get into the Caribbean and the rain forest."

It's a business that has taken months to complete with permit battles in Austin and allegations of poor animal management at the owner's other aquariums in Idaho and Oregon.

However Covino says they are doing everything they can to make sure this aquarium is legal.

“We have to be above reproach,” he said.

The aquarium has a total of 67 employees, and a third of them are marine biologists according to Covino.

The City of Austin also wants to make sure the animals stay safe, but it's a matter of jurisdiction.

“It has to do with what species are in the aquarium, how they got there, where they were purchased, whether they're indigenous,” said Abigail Smith, the City’s chief animal services officer.

The aquarium falls under federal and state supervision, however Austin’s Animal Advisory Committee will form a task force to see how they can also protect the wildlife.

“We’ll look at what other municipalities may be doing across the country to see if there is a model or precedence for any local oversight over an aquarium,” said Smith.

"We feel like the husbandry procedures that we have are as good as anything in the industry, but we have to continue to improve," Covino said. "We have to continue to work hard to make sure that we're doing everything we possibly can to provide a healthy and a safe environment."

The aquarium will open Thursday at 10 a.m. for pass holders. It will open to the general public on Dec. 22. Go here for more information.