The U.S.’s largest aquarium is now licensed as a Class R research facility under the Animal Welfare Act. This license is the highest standard of establishing ethical review of animals involved in research for advanced scientific understanding.

This license gives the Aquarium the ability to consider research with the animals within its collection beyond routine animal care procedures. All Georgia Aquarium animal research, whether inside the Aquarium or in the field, must follow the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) process to evaluate the project and its ethics. The IACUC process is regulated by the Animal Welfare Act under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Institutions with this distinction are closely monitored and have extensive compliance obligations to keep the license. 

IACUC considers several factors when reviewing research projects from Class R facilities: the training and qualifications of the team working on the project and all aspects of animal welfare. That includes social implications, impacts on animals, and well-being management. The committee consists of veterinarians, scientists from other facilities, and lay members from outside the Aquarium to ensure objective review and preserve the public’s interest in ethical animal research

“The achievement of becoming a Class R Research facility makes Georgia Aquarium a more capable and adaptive institution where animal care and research can be even more aligned. Although, with this new license we will continue our track record of performing minimally invasive research,” said Dr. Alistair Dove, vice president of science and education. “It also allows us to be more involved in research with other Class R partners. This opens up more collaboration possibilities, better integrating us into the scientific community.”

Many Class R facilities are universities and focus on mammals and birds for their IACUC-reviewed research. Georgia Aquarium will be applying the IACUC review process to all animals involved in research including coral, jellies, and other invertebrates, in addition to dolphins and whales. The Aquarium is one of three aquariums to hold the Class R license.

To learn more about Georgia Aquarium’s ongoing research and conservation efforts click here.