Jordann Tomasek, Birch Aquarium

Caring for Confiscated Clams

Birch Aquarium is home to more than 45 confiscated Giant Clams thanks to a newly launched network that combats wildlife trafficking.

Giant Clams, with their stunning kaleidoscope of blues, greens and purples, have fallen victim to illegal wildlife trade. These massive molluscs are now rarely found among coral reefs.

Recently, more than 45 Giant Clams seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) were safely rehomed to Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. This relocation was made possible by a first-of-its-kind program that connects law enforcement agencies to aquariums and zoos so confiscated wildlife can receive immediate care – the Southern California Wildlife Confiscations Network.

“Through the collaborative efforts of Southern Californian colleagues and AZA’s Wildlife Confiscation Network, our husbandry and veterinary teams can step in and help while the government investigates the issues and concerns,” said Jenn Nero, Birch Aquarium’s Senior  Director of Animal Care, Science and Conservation.

Tropical Seas habitat at Birch Aquarium
The Tropical Seas habitat is home to a vibrant display of clams, coral and reef fish.

This partnership between FWS and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) aims to streamline the logistics of relocating confiscated wildlife, especially in areas deemed hotspots for wildlife trafficking like Southern California. 

While this network is new, the aquarium’s work with FWS is not. Over the years, Birch Aquarium has worked closely with law enforcement agencies to provide care for hundreds of confiscated marine life including corals, clams and seahorses.

A few of these Giant Clams are now on display in the Tropical Seas habitat in Birch Aquarium’s Hall of Fishes. Their dazzling display of colors results from microalgae, called zooxanthellae, that live inside them. This relationship is beneficial to both beings – the clams get nutrients from the zooxanthellae and in exchange, the clams provide a safe home.

Alongside these clams, several confiscated corals are also on display. Birch Aquarium worked with FWS nearly three decades ago to relocate the Bubble Coral and Tongue Coral found in the Tropical Seas habitat. Today, these corals are thriving and among some of the oldest living corals in aquarium care.

A Copperband butterflyfish swims over Tongue Coral.
Bubble Coral is made up of small round polyps that almost look like bubbles.
Birch Aquarium has worked closely with law enforcement agencies to provide care for confiscated marine life like Tongue Coral (left) and Bubble Coral (right).

Giant Clams are listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Their large size, slow growth rate and stunning colors make them vulnerable to the illegal wildlife trade.

Wildlife crimes can be reported to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s wildlife trafficking tips line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477) or online at:

About Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium features the groundbreaking work of Scripps Oceanography and UC San Diego scientists as well as conservation breeding programs and interactive exhibits. Birch Aquarium’s mission is to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet, which it achieves through engaging hands-on learning opportunities for more than 500,000 guests and 40,000-plus pre-K-12 students each year. Visit for more information.