Virus-hit aquarium seeks help via crowdfunding to feed its jellyfish

© Kyodo News

An aquarium in Yamagata Prefecture, northern Japan, has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to feed its world-leading collection of jellyfish as it struggles to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Kamo Aquarium in Tsuruoka usually draws around 500,000 visitors a year, but due to the pandemic, visitor numbers in the current fiscal year ending March 31 stands at just 210,000 as of the end of January.

The sharp decline has left the aquarium tight on funds to purchase brine shrimp, a type of plankton that serves as the food source for its collection of some 60 species of jellyfish.

With a turnaround success story and a Guinness World Record under its belt, the aquarium has also garnered attention for its association with Osamu Shimomura, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, who advised the aquarium on how to get the sea creatures to glow.

On Jan. 21, the aquarium launched a monthlong campaign on major Japanese crowdfunding platform Campfire Inc. to raise 5 million yen ($47,600), the cost to feed the jellyfish for a year. It has raised over 3 million as of Feb. 3.

"We ask for support in protecting our healthy and beautiful jellyfish," a staff member of the aquarium said.

Backers can make donations starting from 3,000 yen, with aquarium entry tickets and original merchandise given in return for a contribution.

The aquarium, which opened in 1964, began to face decreasing visitor numbers after new aquariums went up in neighboring prefectures. In 1997, the number of visitors fell to about 90,000, leading to rumors of closure.

At a turning point for the aquarium that year, its then director Tatsuo Murakami had the idea of focusing on jellyfish after seeing the positive response from visitors to a jellyfish exhibition.

The aquarium applied for registration in the Guinness book after the number of its collected species exceeded 30 in 2007. Guinness World Records recognized it in 2012 for having the world's largest variety of jellyfish in captivity.

The late Shimomura, who in 2008 jointly won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for research on the mysterious green glow of a jellyfish, has helped the aquarium by instructing it on how to get the jellyfish Aequorea victoria to glow. He had also served as a one-day director there.