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Shedd Aquarium Mourns Loss of World‘s Oldest Aquarium Fish

Australian Lungfish “Granddad” seen by 104 million guests over eight decades of residency

February 07, 2017

Australian lungfish fondly referred to as Granddad.

Shedd Aquarium is saddened to announce the passing of one of its most iconic and beloved animal residents and longest-lived of any fish in a zoological setting in the world – Granddad, a male Australia lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) who was humanely euthanized Sunday due to a rapid decline in quality of life associated with old age.

Granddad was one of two lungfishes acquired from the Taronga Zoo and Aquarium in Sydney, Australia during Shedd’s 1933 Pacific collecting expedition with the purpose of attracting some of the 10 million visitors expected to attend A Century of Progress International Exposition just steps away from the aquarium. Arriving in Chicago a day before the opening of the fair, the lungfishes were the first of their kind on exhibit in the United States.

“It is incredible to know that over 104 million guests had the opportunity to see Granddad in our care and learn about his unique species over eight decades. For a fish who spent much of his time imitating a fallen log, he sparked curiosity, excitement and wonder among guests of all ages who would hear his story and learn about the incredible biology that makes his species a living fossil and one of the oldest living vertebrate genera on the planet.”

President and CEO Bridget Coughlin, Ph.D.

Lungfish have existed over 380 million years, according to fossil data, and have remained virtually unchanged for over 100 million years. They are estimated to live up to 100 years old and are a protected species in Australia.

Granddad began to show signs of declining health last week when he had little interest in his diet. After he stopped eating and signs of organ failure were apparent under physical examination, the Animal Health team made the humane decision to euthanize the animal. A full necropsy, or animal autopsy, was conducted in partnership with pathologists from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Initial findings show conditions consistent with geriatric age. A full report with additional results is forthcoming.

Michelle Sattler, collections manager who has provided care for Granddad for over 30 years added, “Granddad lived a pretty relaxed life, enjoyed interactions with us, including gentle pats along his back, and loved to eat his leafy greens. But, worms were definitely his favorite and he would become quite animated on what became Earthworm Wednesdays, when they were dropped into his habitat – animated for a very slow-moving fish. We loved him. And he will be sorely missed.”

Granddad’s fanciest dinner must have been the layered cake he received in September 2013 for his 80th anniversary at Shedd, filled with smelt, shrimp, yellow squash, carrots, potatoes, and green peas, decorated with seaweed, esca-role and silversides. As befits such a significant occasion, staff members, volunteers, guests, and media were there to celebrate. During the event, former Australian Consul-General, The Honorable Roger Price, recognized the relationship between Shedd and the Government of Australia that began with the exchange of native fishes between Chicago’s aquarium and Sydney's Taronga Zoo in 1933.

Australian lungfish are native to the Mary and Burnett Rivers in Queensland, in northeastern Australia. They are among a few fish species that can breathe air. This species has a single primitive lung as well as gills, allowing it to survive seasonal fluctuations in the level and quality of its shallow-water habitats by noisily gulping air at the surface every 30 to 60 minutes. Fossils of lungfish have been uncovered in northern New South Wales, indicating that the genus of fish called Neoceratodus has remained virtually unchanged for well over 100 million years, making it a living fossil and one of the oldest living vertebrate genera on the planet.