Aquarium

An aquarium exhibit banner

ZSL London Zoo has had an Aquarium since 1853, and has a fascinating history. Separated into three different halls, which are home to different types of fish, the Aquarium is involved in many different conservation projects and breeding programmes.

There are many exotic, beautiful and even weird fish in the Aquarium, some of which you can learn more about on these pages!

Tank 5 in aquarium

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A seahorse at ZSL London Zoo

Get some dating tips from our seahorses

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Hall 1 - Freshwater Fish

Charco La Palma Pupfish at the ZSL London Zoo Aquarium.

Take a tour of freshwater fish in unique, specially-created freshwater environments based on rivers and lakes from around the world.

Hall One recreates different fascinating freshwater environments based on rivers and lakes with the fish that inhabit them. Hall One includes a flooded bamboo forest, Mexican springs, the Mekong river, and a Madagascar river as well as British rock pools featuring pink sea fans

Freshwater represents the most threatened of all aquatic ecosystems and many freshwater species have a very high livelihood value for local human communities. Many of the fish housed in the Aquarium's Hall One are involved in our breeding and conservation programmes, with some of the species of fish featured classified as extinct in the wild.

Fish Net

Fish Net is one of ZSL's conservation projects created as a measure to save many freshwater fishes from extinction.

The project currently focuses on killifish and livebearers which are small freshwater fish with localised distributions and are considered important bio-indicators of ecosystem health. Many of these highly threatened species are very popular within the private aquarium trade. Some of these species are on show in Hall One of ZSL London Zoo's Aquarium.

ZSL has already developed internationally recognised expertise with the breeding and management of a wide variety of endangered freshwater fish. We have have a strong track record of utilising the zoological, research and field conservation skills across ZSL to measurably improve the status of species in the wild. The Fish Net would build on our experiences to develop a dedicated programme for freshwater fish conservation within ZSL.

Find out more about Fish Net.

Hall 2: Coral Reef

A False Clownfish in the Aquarium House at ZSL London Zoo.

Our stunning, living coral reefs are beautiful as well as fascinating. They are also home to the most colourful fish in the Aquarium!

Hall Two's tanks contain coral reef fish - such as copperband butterflyfish - which can be spotted in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Reefs are vital for the environment and they protect the land from big waves by breaking them before they reach the shore.

Tropical coral reefs have the highest species diversity of all marine ecosystems. They are also a critical source of food for over a billion people and provide other important services to mankind especially through coastal protection. Thousands of fish make their homes in coral reefs, which are under threat from pollution, global warming and fishing with dynamite.

Three-quarters of the world's reefs are at risk. ZSL’s coral reef conservation efforts involve supporting and implementing effective marine protected areas through Project Seahorsebuilding conservation and management capacity in coral reef nations , supporting the most vulnerable countries, and influencing policy.

A Regal Tang fish in the Bugs! exhibit at ZSL London Zoo
Reef fish

Just one of the many colourful fish you can find swimming among the coral reef is the Regal tang. If they become alarmed, they take refuge in the coral branches.

You may recognise the regal tang as the character Dory in the animated film Finding Nemo.

As the reef tanks come to an end, our Big Fish Tank features the largest fish in the Aquarium!

Hall 3: Amazonian Fish

Red-bellied Piranha at ZSL London Zoo

The Amazon hall presents the 'flooded rainforest', which is the biggest tank in the aquarium and keeps several stingray.

On display at ZSL London Zoo Aquarium we have an example of the Amazon rainforest...when the river has flooded its banks.

This exhibit provides an insight into the weird and wonderful creatures that leave the river and move into the forest that is transformed into an underwater jungle.

During the rainy season the Amazon river bursts it banks and its inhabitants take the chance to go swimming through the trees. Freshwater stingrays scour the forest floors looking for small fish to eat, hiding in the undergrowth to ambush their prey!

Piranhas

One of the most famous species in our Amazonian collection is, of course, the red-bellied piranha.

Well known for its razor-sharp teeth and appetite for meat, the piranha has actually been revealed as a shy and timid creature that does not swim in shoals to hunt, but for its own protection.

Red-bellied piranhas are found in the rivers of the Amazon basin. At ZSL London Zoo's Aquarium, we have been successful in breeding red-bellied piranhas for many years.

 

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ZSL London Zoo holds a very important position in aquatic history, as it was the very first place to establish and open a public aquarium.

The Aqua-vivaria, or fish house, circa 1875, the world's first public aquarium.

On the 18th February 1852 the Council of the Zoological Society agreed that work should start immediately on the building of an Aquatic Vivarium (the original term for a fish tank or fish enclosure) and in 1853 the “Fish House” was opened to the public.

However soon after, Philip Henry Gosse started calling the ‘Aquatic Vivariums’ ‘Aquariums’, and this world-recognised term we use today for describing any display of marine life was taken up and popularised by London Zoo.

This didn’t please everybody as the word ‘aquarium’ in classical Latin actually means a watering place for cattle but it soon caught on!

Inside the original 'Fish House' were over 300 different breeds of marine life, not just fish, but also many other species of invertebrates. This was the first time aquatic animals had been kept and cared for, on such a large scale, in enclosed tanks.

The Aquarium as we know it now was not built until 1921, as the public demand to see the fish at London Zoo was ever increasing. It was built on a different site in London Zoo to the original aquarium and is now housed under the Mappin Terraces. The Aquarium was opened by King George V and his wife Queen Mary in April 1924.

You can read about what happened when the glass front of a tank of fish cracked just before King George’s arrival, when you come and visit the Aquarium!

ZSL London Zoo Aquarium currently has a variety of breeding programmes in place which aim to help the conservation of endangered fish. One of our main focuses is the breeding of long and short-snouted seahorses.

Our seahorse breeding programmes.

In 2010, ZSL London Zoo had a record number of short-snouted seahorses born at ZSL London Zoo, with 918 baby seahorses born! Watch this incredible footage and hear from our Curator of Aquarium, Brian Zimmerman. Find out more about seahorses.

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