In April 2007 Olaf Paterok and myself took a ten-day tour to see the most important and interesting zoological collections in Portugal and to visit the new Omega Parque in the south of Portugal, which unfortunately has announced that it is to be closed very soon. During our tour we learned that we were lucky to see a number of other collections which are on the point of changing their appearance or closing. So it was the right time to do a survey and get an impression of the current situation of zoos, zoo design and wild animal husbandry in Portugal.
To find the old and historic aquarium of Lisbon is not very difficult. It is located right beside the coast road about 20 minutes' drive from the city centre. The Aquario Vasco da Gama is still at the same site it has occupied ever since its opening in 1898. Unfortunately, the carefully renovated building today has a new concrete entrance area just in front of it, which slightly diminishes the nice appearance of the beautiful building.
After having paid the €3.00 admission fee one steps into an entrance hall with a life-size whale model and lots of reminders of the museum's history. The first part is a traditional museum, with lots of glass-fronted cabinets containing countless stuffed fish and marine mammals as well as many more sea creatures. A real embryo of a northern minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) impressively demonstrates the giant size of whales. Another colossal exhibit is the alcohol-preserved remains of a giant squid (Architeutis dux), the major prey of the sperm whale. A mounted sun fish and some deep sea fish in alcohol are rare sights as well.
Going downstairs one comes to the aquarium where some small tanks display the native fish of Portugal as well as some Mediterranean marine creatures. An oval pool contains four half-grown loggerhead turtles. In the next hall we found a small pool for 1.1 South African fur seals. This was not a very nice sight, as these two animals in the small pool made a very depressing impression. Nevertheless this species has already bred a third generation at the Aquario Vasco da Gama. A sign explaining the genealogy of the fur seals in the collection showed that the founding pair arrived from the wild in 1969. A cafeteria, a small room with an exhibition of amphibians and a koi carp feeding pool were other features of the aquarium in 2007. Books about the history of the building and much other information were on sale at the exit.