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ZIMS at Work: Emphasizing a collaborative approach, Oceanário de Lisboa sustains species and fuels scientific discovery

In our first ZIMS at Work story of 2023, Species360 talks with Oceanário de Lisboa Conservation and Science Officer Ana Ferreira about the institution’s mission – and the role of shared data in conservation and sustainability. More ZIMS at Work stories can be found here.

Caption: As part of its mission to promote knowledge of the oceans, Oceanário de Lisboa has contributed essential data on more than 925 species and subspecies. Recorded in the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), that data is used to inform species care and conservation worldwide. (Photo: Oceanário de Lisboa)

Oceanário de Lisboa began using the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) a decade ago. Much has changed since then. What started as a records management system has become a go-to resource for the Oceanário and others leading species conservation.

We recently spoke with Oceanário de Lisboa Science and Conservation Officer Ana Ferreira about the role of ZIMS within the institution and its global community. Formerly a head aquarist running large exhibits, Ferreira is involved in Oceanário collection management and welfare assessments, and works with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Records Working Group and Group Management Initiative. She provides annual reports for more than a dozen EAZA-led Monitoring and Breeding Programs, and assists Oceanário Curator and Head of Conservation Núria Baylina with one of the first EAZA Studbooks ever established for marine species – the bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma) studbook.

Oceanário de Lisboa Science and Conservation Officer Ana Ferreira (Photo courtesy of Oceanário de Lisboa)

Ferreira’s background gives her a unique view of ZIMS – and the impact of sharing data across the larger aquatic community.

Fostering sustainability through planning and collaboration

The first priority lies at home where Oceanário teams use ZIMS to support a sustainable approach to collection management. The Oceanário has established an Institutional Collection Plan (ICP) designed to align species holdings with its mission of education, conservation, and sustainability. Evaluations clarify the role of each species, with ZIMS serving as the source for species held, introductions, transactions, exports, births, and deaths. Reports from ZIMS also fulfill regional government requirements, saving staff considerable time.

Using ZIMS, curators and collection managers collaborate with other aquariums to increase sustainability throughout the community. “ZIMS has many useful modules that make this work possible, such as Available/Wanted lists, Species Holdings, Global Medical Resources, and the subtle details of husbandry information that are easily underestimated,” says Ferreira.

Caption: In addition to participating in the EAZA conservation program for the bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma) (pictured left), Oceanário de Lisboa cares for some of the longest-living individuals of their species, according to a ZIMS Global Animal Search conducted by Ferreira. This includes individuals of the Long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus), the Bull ray (Aetomylaeus bovinus) (right), the Common eagle ray (Myliobatis aquila), and the Gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus). (Photos: Oceanário de Lisboa)

“Subtle details” – taken globally – lead to discoveries on aging, longevity, and more

Data recorded by Oceanário staff and like-minded institutions using ZIMS, when combined on a global scale, vastly increases our understanding of species.

“We need all of the information we can get. We can follow the same individual for decades, something we cannot do in the wild. Aquarists are a critical resource of knowledge, much of which is represented in daily recordings of their work with species. Yes, we are working in controlled conditions. But if you know what is happening across multiple aquarium populations it can make a difference,” says Ferreira.

For example, looking at an animal’s date of birth is certainly important for an institution. But even the smallest data point, taken anonymously, becomes surprisingly meaningful when aggregated across populations worldwide.

“If a species is held in many places and has historical records, one can get an accurate longevity estimate for individuals in human care, such as in the ZIMS Survival, Reproduction, and Growth Reports.  It is rare to have this level of insight to marine species, and we use ZIMS as a complementary information source to address longevity.” (Learn more about ZIMS Survival, Reproduction, and Growth Reports introduced in 2022.)

Oceanário sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation informs breakthrough study

In an example of scientific research, data recorded by Oceanário sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation staff and similar programmes worldwide was used to learn more about what influences aging. Conducted by the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance and published in leading journal Science, the study uncovers factors contributing to aging in turtles – which often seem to defy trends found in other species.

“We are very happy to be contributing to this kind of published research. This is one of the most spectacular aspects of ZIMS, is that you have a dedicated group of researchers, the Conservation Science Alliance, that is translating recorded data into an assessment, an article, that people can look to and study.” Referring to Dalia Conde, Director of Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, Ferreira adds: “Dalia and her team have done amazing work in this study and in research conducted on behalf of other species as well.”

Caption: In recent years, species like Rhamphocottus richardsoni, Nautichthys oculofasciatus, Enoplosus armatus, Microcanthus strigatus, Anarrhichthys ocellatus and Synchiropus splendidus were assessed by the Oceanário team. (Photos: Oceanário de Lisboa)

Evaluating risk to marine species

Recording data is just one of many ways the Oceanário contributes to scientific research and species conservation. The Oceanário is unique in having a team of dedicated Marine Species Survival Officers serving the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN SSC). The Oceanário team works in partnership with the IUCN SSC to assess the extinction risk for marine species. Making this resource available has increased the number of marine species assessed for the Red List of Threatened Species, including species Rhamphocottus richardsoni, Nautichthys oculofasciatus, Enoplosus armatus, Microcanthus strigatus, Anarrhichthys ocellatus and Synchiropus splendidus.

Building aquatic resources with EAZA Biobank

Over its long history of caring for marine species, Oceanário de Lisboa has thousands of samples collected during regular medical procedures. These samples – and their corresponding data – tell us what has occurred before, what problems commonly affect groups, and how to respond.

But keeping samples is difficult and expensive. And samples kept locally limit their scientific value. So when EAZA established a Biobank to serve the international community with both storage and shared, standardized ZIMS records, Oceanário de Lisboa leaders were among its most vocal supporters.

“We promote EAZA’s Biobank initiative to aquariums in particular. For zoos and others working with terrestrial species, more information is available. But for marine species this is a new opportunity. When aquariums participate by sending samples to the Biobank, they create a ZIMS record that, in an aggregated and anonymous manner, provides information not found anywhere else,” says Ferreira.

Sharing a wholistic view of individuals, groups, and enclosures

Oceanário veterinarians also use ZIMS for Medical to track patient care while keeping other medical staff and aquarists informed of today’s procedures, results, and next steps. Sharing a single, comprehensive view of each animal, group and enclosure helps ensure the best possible care while streamlining data input.

Recent changes make capturing that data faster and easier. Earlier this year Species360 launched a feature called “Quick Split” that is quickly gaining fans. Like other ZIMS for Medical features, Quick Split was developed by Species360 veterinary experts with input from members – especially members working in aquatic environments. The feature allows veterinary teams to isolate the record of an individual animal, record medical information on that individual, and return them to their group while retaining the relevant data.

Records like these – again, though anonymous to the individual animal or institution – shape ZIMS Global Medical Resources used by veterinary teams worldwide. Prescriptions, blood test results, and other data contribute to these continually updated resources. The results make a difference in the care and treatment of unique species and subspecies, including Expected Test Results, reference norms, what medicines have worked for others, and how to define the dosage.

“We believe it is valuable to not only use ZIMS Global Medical Resources but to contribute to its development simultaneously,” says Ferreira. “For instance, in elasmobranchs, there are not many reference values published. Yet we have a long history and success and recording our experiences is a good way to progress globally in this field of knowledge.”

Contributing to global knowledge of species

The importance of these insights, and the unique role of aquariums and zoos in providing data, is gaining recognition. The recent IUCN SSC Resolution 79 highlights the value of shared data, and calls for closer collaboration between agencies managing in situ and ex situ populations.

“Seeing the impact is very satisfying for everyone that works daily, taking care of animals, improving the knowledge on their biology, and raising awareness for the global threats they face,” says Ferreira. “We are committed to contributing to the global database of knowledge on species, and work daily to improve our methods to conduct age estimates and collect the most accurate data possible from the species in our care.”

ZIMS is maintained by nonprofit Species360. For more information, email

Spawning acropora tenuis. (Photo courtesy of Oceanário de Lisboa)

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