Kamo Aquarium, on Tsuruoka's coasts, has originally been built in 1930. The facility was small, and was very classic in its way of keeping and displaying marine animals. With the years, the aquarium gradually lost popularity and the economic restrictions inevitably led to the degradation of the facility. Kamo Aquarium was caught in a vicious circle: visitors were too few to finance the aquarium's amelioration, but the aquarium was too old and dull to attract new visitors. In 1997, Kamo Aquarium reached the lowest number of visitors in its whole history with less than 95.000 entries this year (somedays, there were even no visitors at all!).
While the global opinion thought it was the end of the aquarium, the passion of one keeper: Okuizumi Kazuya for jellyfish gave new insights to the aquarium, who decided to specialize in Jellyfish exhibition. In 2000, Kamo Aquarium became the first Jellyfish Aquarium in Japan, and is now the biggest Jellyfish Aquarium in the world.
But the popularity of Kamo Aquarium really exploded when Shimomura Osamu received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008, thanks to the studies he led on Aequorea Coerulescens (jp: owankurage オワンクラゲ), a jellyfish that contains a biofluorescent protein: the GFP, that gave new hopes in many fields such as the medical domain, as it can be used to be markers of cancerous cells for example. Shimomura Osamu led his studies in Kamo Aquarium, since at the time, it was the only aquarium exposing it.
Kamo Aquarium rapidly gained fame, and was able to retrieve financial stability. The jellyfish are indeed very beautiful, their slow dance is almost hypnotizing, so visitors grew in numbers more and more each year.
Since then, Kamo Aquarium decided to use that interest from the public in jellyfish's beauty, and aims to educate the visitors through several measures.
Using the beauty of the Jellies to raise awareness on other points
It is undeniable that most visitors come to Kamo Aquarium to admire the beauty of the jellies more than anything.
Kamo Aquarium's staff, starting from Dir. Okuizumi Kazuya, thought it would be a loss to not seize the opportunity to raise consciousness about the oceanic crisis we are facing currently. The Aquarium took several measures to present the problematic to a public who originally came just for the beauty of the jellyfish.
① Raising people's awareness about local sea creatures species
Before entering the jellyfish area, you will find a long alley of tanks presenting the local species of fishes, mollusks, crustaceans, octopus... The reason why the aquarium refuses to expose exotic species of fishes, even though they are more high in colors and "fun" to watch from a Japanese point of view, is because the aquarium wants the visitors to realize what forms of life live in the sea that the visitors are used to see everyday, and to make them realize the fish they eat everyday had a life before arriving in their plate, and that that life ought to be respected.
There is also a "touching area", where children can touch starfish, sea cucumbers or shells and hermit crabs to familiarize them with all the different shapes and textures of the sea animals.
② Raising awareness about overfishing and Overconsumption
During your visit of the aquarium, you might be intrigued about all the panels in the aquarium presenting fishing techniques and methods. The aquarium wants to spread knowledge about a more ethical way to fish for human consumption, by presenting the local and traditional ways of fishing that does not endangers animals populations and does not deregulate the ecosystem. Just before the touching area, you will find a big panel presenting local fish varieties according the seasons and how to eat them. The aquarium believes a more ethical and respectful way to eat seafood exists and wants visitors to pay more attention to their way of consumption and get aware of the overfishing problem that rages today.
③ Raising awareness about ocean pollution and global warming
This might be no surprise to you, but a fast increase in jellyfish population is often an indicator of temperature change (and also the overfishing of natural predators or the death of them by plastic ingestion). Everyday, classes about jellyfish, teaching about overpopulation, plastification of the oceans, as well as more biological themes such as the anatomy of the jellyfish, its reproduction, its behavior and eating habits, are led inside the big Laboratory Room (in Japanese). The class is made so children can understand too about the subjects, so a broad part of the population can learn about the jellyfish, and the ecological disaster happening in our oceans too. On September 20th, 2019, Kamo Aquarium hosted the International Jellyfish Breeding Symposium, gathering searchers and keepers from all around the world (Paris Aquarium, Monterey Aquarium, Enoshima Aquarium, Sendai University...) to discuss for example on how to lead ecological activities within aquariums, how the plastic pollution affected jellyfish, as well as breeding techniques and anatomical discoveries.
Kamo Aquarium, more than a relaxing visit
As you may have understood, Kamo Aquarium is not just a beautiful place where jellyfish happily float in their colorful tanks. Kamo Aquarium also brings hope in raising awareness within a population that originally did not visit the place for that purpose. Thank you for reading us today and we hope to see you soon at Kamo Aquarium.