WHERE DID ALL THOSE FISH COME FROM   Leave a comment

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Recently while walking around in the Nashville, TN Bass Pro Shop it occurred to me that there are a lot of questions behind those huge fish tanks found in all the stores.  A week later I sat down to learn about the program with Larry Whiteley from the company.

Every day hundreds of people walk through Bass Pro Shops stores throughout the United States and Canada.  Besides shopping they enjoy the fish and wildlife exhibits that are a vital part of the store.  Most do not give a thought to what it takes to present these exhibits.

Larry explained that they have a division within the company called the Live Exhibits Team that cares for the animals.

The idea of having native fish on display began with the first store in Springfield, MO.  It was actually a mail order outlet and a location where people came to pick up their Tracker boat from the factory.  There was an aquarium inside the door and people would stop and look at all the local species such as bass, crappie, bluegill, etc.

As the company expanded into retail stores at that location and across the country the fish and wildlife exhibits did too.  Every store plan contains the idea of having a wildlife exhibit.  Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, probably did not really realize just how popular they would become in the future.

Larry explains, “Currently there are over 10,000 animals on exhibit in the retail stores.”  Fifty-eight stores have tanks.  Most of the fish are quality (big) fish.  The collections include the largest number of double digit bass in captivity.   They also have alligator gar, the largest of which is over 180-pounds.  The staff trains these and the larger blue catfish to target feed so that they will not eat their tank mates.  They sometimes still eat between meals.

The size of exhibits varies from 600 gallons up to the 50,000 gallon waterfall exhibit at the anchor store in Springfield, MO.  All together, the company maintains some 1,820,209 gallons of fresh and saltwater exhibits.

Exhibits include a wide variety of fish and wildlife that is indigenous to the location of the store.  For example, stores in salt-water areas include saltwater aquariums.  They tailor the displays of fish and animal life to the specific geographic area of the store.

Some stores have sharks in tanks that have scuba divers feeding them in aquatic shows.  As added features are some of the small ponds in stores that have attracted customers who drop coins into them as “wishing wells.”  According to Whiteley, “the staff collects the money from the tanks during routine maintenance and donates it to local charities.”

The Live Exhibits Team caring for the inhabitants of these exhibits consists of 75 aquarists and 5 veterinarians on retainer.   They transport fish across the country in a merchandise truck without the advantage of monitoring the animals in transit.  The trips can take up to 4 days.  They experience very little mortality with this system.

Incoming fish go into quarantine for 30 days to prevent the spread of any health problems.  Some remain in quarantine for up to 6 months to heal problems in an effort to show quality in the exhibits.

Some of the procedures required to keep the animals in good health include such things as surgery to remove tumors, egg sacks, and even repair broken jaws.  They also are involved with laparoscopic exploratory procedures, antibiotic shots to fish and other animals and even the removal of hooks from a gar’s stomach while it was under anesthesia.

At first glance the establishment and maintenance of these exhibits appears much less sophisticated.  It is surprising the lengths Bass Pro Shops goes to in providing these educational exhibits so customers can relax and enjoy them while shopping.

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