DETROIT — Some get lettuce, others shrimp and still other finned residents of the Belle Isle Aquarium get a vitamin gel mixture in their meal. “All the fish take different things depending on their size and what they require,” Belle Isle Aquarium Senior Aquarist Amanda Murray said. 

Murray not only feeds the fish and other creatures at the aquarium, but she closely watches them while they eat. “That’s when you’re going to notice that things are off,” she said. “Not only is it fun, but it’s super important to pay attention to their feeding.”

Belle Isle Aquarium staff feeding fish

Belle Isle Aquarium Senior Aquarist Amanda Murray feeds a tank of fish at the aquarium.

In a special One Detroit segment produced by Great Lakes Now’s Annamarie Sysling, audiences get a behind-the-scenes look inside of Detroit’s Belle Isle Aquarium to see what the fish are fed and how the food they eat keeps them healthy. Plus, Murray and others will show how they take care of the fish at the aquarium. 

Join the upcoming First Friday Watch Party with Great Lakes Now this Friday, March 4 at 1:30 p.m., where viewers will have a chance to ask questions about the fill, eels and seahorses and what they eat.

Full Transcript:

Annamarie Sysling: Here at the Belle Isle Aquarium, visitors gather around tanks full of both familiar and exotic species of fish and aquatic life. But have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at this popular Detroit destination? We’re pulling back the curtain and getting an up-close look at what goes into caring for and feeding the fish who call this aquarium home.

Amanda Murray, Senior Aquarist, Belle Isle Aquarium: All right, we’re going to feed these guys right here.

Annamarie Sysling: And as we take you through the process, you might be surprised to find out where it all begins. If you don’t immediately recognize this place, it’s Detroit’s Eastern Market. Like many who come here for their produce on Saturday mornings, Belle Isle Aquarium curator Paul Shuert shops for lettuce, zucchini and cucumbers. But instead of the dinner plate, these veggies will end up in fish tanks.

Paul Shuert, Curator, Belle Isle Aquarium: And we like to get fresh because, you know, it’s better for better nutrition for them. So that’s why we come to the market every Saturday.

Annamarie Sysling: Once Paul is back at the aquarium, he and senior Aquaris Amanda Murray unload the bags of produce along with boxes of fish, which also come from the market.

Amanda Murray: So today we’re actually in our lab space and this is an area nobody gets to see. This is where all the magic happens, but this is where we food prep.

Annamarie Sysling: Amanda spends time chopping the vegetables and then moves on to preparing fish for the aquarium’s carnivorous residents, along with a vitamin gel mixture that will get chilled and then cut into cubes.

Amanda Murray: We have a variety of fish here. We have Shrimp, we have Tilapia, we have Sardines, we have Smelt and all the fish take different things depending on their size and what they require.

Annamarie Sysling: Once the preparations are complete

Amanda Murray: And now for the fish’s favorite time of the day and mine too, feeding.

Annamarie Sysling: Amanda begins with the Frontosa Cichlids from Africa moving on to the Texas Cichlids.

Amanda Murray: They love the lettuce. They’re probably the fish that love it the most.

Annamarie Sysling: And then the Rainbow Trout, the Stingrays, the Lionfish and Piranhas are just some of the others in line for food today. She says that some of the species here eat just once or twice a week, while others require more frequent meals like these big belly seahorses.

Amanda Murray: They get fed probably two to three times a day because they don’t have a stomach

Annamarie Sysling: Feeding time is also a good opportunity to take stock of each fish’s health.

Amanda Murray: As a behaviorist and as someone who takes care of these fish, it’s really important to observe their behavior. And one thing you can actually know about their behavior is watching them eat, and that’s where you’re going to notice things are off. So not only is it fun, but it’s super important to pay attention to their feeding.

Annamarie Sysling: After most of the fish are fed, Amanda checks in with Paul.

Amanda Murray: So I just finished Bee Cove and see Cove, and so they’re done feeding for today. Just got to get the rest of them, which I’ll hit out later.

Paul Shuert: Very good, very good.

Annamarie Sysling: With the fish taken care of, visitors began to trickle in and before long, another day at the aquarium is in full swing.

Paul Shuert: They just ate a little bit ago and yeah they’re going to probably take a nap, yeah.


This video was created by Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Now team for use on One Detroit

As an initiative of Detroit Public Television, Great Lakes Now produces a monthly show and has a website with daily news about the lakes you love. The First Friday watch parties focus on Detroit River and Lake St. Clair topics, especially as they relate to the rest of the Great Lakes system and are produced in partnership with the Belle Isle Conservancy, WDET – Detroit’s NPR station, and Planet Detroit.


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