150 years of the Naples Aquarium: “The oldest in the world that has preserved its original structure”

Next January 26 autumn 2024 150th anniversary of the founding of the Naples Aquariumlocated in a town villa, on the ground floor of the building Anton Dohrn Zoological Station. Two years after celebrating the 150th anniversary of the zoological station itself, built in 1872, and the opening of the Darwin-Dohrn Museum, the same milestone will also be celebrated for the aquarium, inaugurated in 1874. The event will be held in the Hall Multipurpose Museum.

Kodami reached the professor Ferdinand Boeromarine biologist and president Dohrn Foundationas well as the vice president of the environmental association Mareviva, to tell the story of this institution of the city of Naples: «In 2022 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Zoological Station of Naples, after two years we are celebrating 150 years since the aquarium was founded. For Neapolitans, they are synonyms and an aquarium is much more famous than a research institution, which, however, is not accessible to the public. On January 26, 1874, Anton Dohrn inaugurated the aquarium, the first in Italy and one of the first in the world together with those of London and Berlin, mainly to have the economic resources to finance research at sea. At that time there was no television and this was the only way people had to observe the sea creatures. Today the aquarium is Naples the oldest in the world that has preserved its original structuremuch like a gallery with an exhibition.”


The structure reopened to visitors in 2021, after a long period of closure and 5 years of work to restore the systems, but these are not the only things that have changed: “Today is a new concept of animal welfare – continues Boero – Once the reservoirs were much richer, but the health and well-being of the animals was not important, the animals died and were constantly replaced at night. Today there are no more overcrowded reservoirs, it was decided to emphasize comfort at the expense of spectacularity. Therefore, the visitor might be disappointed if he compares the aquarium in Naples with other large and famous modern aquariums, but only here it is possible to see the original construction of the aquarium from the end of the 19th century: this is Pompeii aquariums».


The turtle tank was once famous, but today, thanks to a new sensitivity and greater attention to respect for animal life, these reptiles are no longer found in the aquarium. The Zoological Station deals today rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles thanks to its recovery center: «These reptiles can only be observed at Turtle Point from Portici, but after treatment the turtles are released into the sea and are no longer kept in captivity,” adds the professor. Last year we actually told the story of Osimhen the male tortoise Caretta caretta caught by mistake off the coast of Maiori and released after rehabilitation.

However, if the aquarium was created with the intention of exclusively showing Mediterranean species, today it is also possible to observe some tropical species. “It was decided to add tanks that reflect tropicalization of the Mediterranean – explains Boero – Today there are already more than 1000 tropical species in our seas”. For example, you can admire the beautiful but dangerous scorpion fish (Pterois volitans), a poisonous species that has made its way from the Red Sea through the Suez Strait to the Italian coast and is threatening the balance of our marine ecosystem. “These tanks are not only and exclusively of value for raising public awareness or spreading the phenomenon, but they also enable us watching communities evolve“, he adds.


The behavior of these animals in captivity is not really a spectacle for its own sake, on the contrary, over the years it has had – and still has – great scientific value: Professor Boero explains to us that «it is thanks to the establishment of the aquarium that Experimental marine biology was born. Previously, only dead animals were studied, samples were captured and fixed and then analyzed. But it is possible to observe live animals in the aquarium to study their behavior, such as octopuses and octopuses. It is exactly we have also made great advances in the medical field thanks to studies of the neurophysiology of these animalsin human anatomy and physiology, raising animals in tanks that meet today’s animal welfare standards.”

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