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Sharing is Caring: What sharing data really means for Species360 members

My son James holding the Shark Lady book

It’s Share a Book Day at preschool today. My three-year old son James is taking his copy of “Shark Lady”, the story of Eugenie Clark. That suits us just fine. A child of dual aquarist parents (Dad is an Aquarist 2 at Sea Life Minnesota), James is no stranger to the marine biology world. I fear we’ve set him up for a pretty hard reality check when he grows up. He is currently under the impression that when adults go to “work”, that means they go to the aquarium and play with fish. James regularly informs me that he “needs to get some work done”, picks up a long-handled fish net and strolls into the yard to see what he can pick up. Even at the Species360 office, we have a 200-gallon cichlid tank, and desktop aquariums are a common sight throughout, so James is pretty sure that work = fish tanks, period.

Growing older = growing more cautious

Thinking of James talking to his class about the Shark Lady’s story makes me think of sharing data, and how, as we grow older and wiser, we become a little more cautious about what information we choose to share with others. If you see me at RAW or EUAC this year, you will know that I’m actively encouraging zoos and aquariums to share their data. The essential mission behind Species360 and ZIMS is to better animal care by using all of the information aquariums and zoos around the world are gathering every day. That includes encouraging sharing of that data with each other and with conservation scientists who can use it to help wild populations. But I know that’s no small request. With all of the controversy surrounding our community these days, it can be intimidating and scary to think of private information getting outside of our institutions.

Data security and data ownership at Species360

Data security is of the utmost importance to Species360, and it’s important to understand how each individual institution has the power to determine both how and what kind of information they choose to share. Our members own their data, not Species360 – our membership agreement spells that out.

Why sharing data matters

Sharing data is a powerful cooperative tool for our community, and, as the global crisis on species diversity continues to worsen, it’s also an incredible opportunity to help our conservation work move beyond our own walls. Over the past 40 years, the number of community members willing to help contribute their data to work for conservation has increased steadily and is now moving up at an exponential rate. Understanding the importance of sharing data, but also the ways in which you can determine who and what you are comfortable sharing, are key in helping this initiative grow in capacity.

There are four different ways that our members can help improve animal care and contribute to conservation by sharing data:

1. What can everyone (Species360 members) see?

Species holding and basic animal information are generally shared within the Species360 membership community. The Species Holdings husbandry tool can be searched by species to show what member institutions are holding that species, including recent births, and sex type breakdowns. This is incredibly useful for members that are looking for information or advice regarding the care or management of a species. It’s also important in laying the groundwork for assessing how well-established captive populations are for species in peril. By accessing the global view of any animal not held by your own institution, members can also see basic animal details – birth dates, sex type, approximate age, etc. Sensitive information (for example, medical information, animal observations, etc.) are NOT shared in this view.  Want to see the complete list of shared data? Check it out here. Note: The global animal view is only visible in ZIMS; not to the general public. All users must have a login provided by their institution, and rights to view this information.

We recognize that here are times when an institution wishes to keep a collection of animals private, and not visible to the member community – for example, a research collection, a confiscated animal, etc. Institutions may choose to keep these animals in a “local only” collection. That means they will not show in the Species Holding tool or found in a global animal search. All details for those animals remain private to your institution only.

2. Sharing animal records directly with another institution

sharing data

Juvenile Opsanus tau (Oyster Toadfish) – Image credit: Claire Aubel, NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

ZIMS has the unique capability to track an animal throughout its entire life, even when transferred between member institutions. This provides extremely valuable data back to the community, studbook keepers, and future conservation partners as well. ZIMS allows any animal record to be selected to be shared with another member – it’s not an “all or nothing” functionality. Users choose which specific animals can be shared with a specific institution. For example, an aquarium has a group of juvenile Opsanus tau from a prolific mated pair that they would like to send to another aquarium. Upon transfer, the record for that group of fish can be shared with the receiving aquarium. This means that all of the rearing, quarantine, feeding, and medical information can go with those fish to be viewed by their new holders, without having to run a report and attach any files. Users can choose to share husbandry, medical, or both types of information. The information is displayed as read only – only the original institution can edit their own records as each institution owns their own data.  This way the receiving institution can quickly see any quarantine or exposure concerns before introducing the fish into their current populations. Members also have the ability to mark certain types of medical records as “private” – in this case, even upon directly sharing an animal record, those records will not be visible to the receiving institutions. To learn more about the options for sharing medical data between specific institutions and how to turn the sharing option on, check out ZIMSHELP – Sharing Medical Records.

sharing data

Opsanus tau (Oyster Toadfish) – Image credit: Claire Aubel, NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

3. Pooled global resources available to members

Global resource tools are pooled data resources available to support our members in their endeavors to provide the best husbandry and medical care possible.  These tools use aggregated, anonymous data from ZIMS to provide species norms; for example: bloodwork values, weight graphs, drug usages and commonly diagnosed medical issues by species. These tools were developed with stringent scientific protocols in order to create robust, effective tools for supporting animal care. All data output is anonymous and cannot be linked back to any specific animal or institution. At least three institutions must hold a species for it to be present in these resources in order to protect the privacy of member institutions, and multiple records from a variety of individual animals must be reported to limit bias based on any one animal, institution, or method. These tools are unique in our industry, and are re-calculated monthly, making them the most up-to-date husbandry and medical resources available of their kind.

4. Outside research requests for ZIMS data

ZIMS data holds great value for conservation science and has already been featured in 80+ scientific publications. Occasionally this type of research entails requests for data from outside parties. For example, data to help answer questions like ‘How many Pristids are held in captivity?” or “What is the minimum reproductive age for Pelusios castaneus?”. These research requests and the requesting authority are reviewed by our Board of Trustees, senior leaders representing the institutions and associations from our global aquarium and zoo membership. If it passes the approval process, database queries may be performed to provide information to the requester. The information provided is anonymous – meaning that details cannot be traced back to any specific animal or institution. Data has also been used to create evidence for agencies like CITES and the IUCN in order to fight wildlife trafficking, protect endangered species, and lobby for improved legislation.

sharing data

Pelusios castaneus or African Sideneck Turtle (Image credit: Laurent Lebois)

Data is helping to save species, thanks to our members

Species360 and our conservation partners are committed to working to save species, but, without the hard work of our members, – tracking over 10 million animals to be exact, we wouldn’t have the ability to do it. To find more information on what your institution is sharing, please feel free to reach out to your support reps at; they can show you where to see what is being shared, and how you can make sure you’re contributing at the gold level.

Thank you for all that you do!

Meredith Knott

Species360 ZIMS Product Owner

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