Archive for the 'Aquatic Life' Category



Guest Post: Fighting Seafood Fraud Protects Our Health and the Environment

government affairs and policy update

Today’s post comes from Jillian Fry, PhD, MPH. She is the Director of the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. In her role, Jillian works to engage public health communities in research, communication, education, policy, and advocacy activities aiming to increase understanding of the public health implications of industrial aquaculture practices and to move toward more sustainable and responsible methods of production. 

In support of that important work, Jillian is a strong advocate here in Maryland for the fight against seafood fraud.

Are you getting the seafood you are paying for? Maybe not– an investigation by Oceana revealed last year that a third of seafood sampled in the U.S. was mislabeled. In an effort to reduce seafood fraud, The Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act was introduced in this year’s state legislative session, and I strongly support the bill due to the potential effects of mislabeled seafood on human health, fish populations, and the environment.

People choose the seafood species they eat based on many factors—how it tastes, health benefits, if it’s responsibly fished or farmed, and if it’s generally known to have low contaminant levels. Many seafood guides exist, such as the popular Seafood Watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium, to help consumers make choices about seafood, but efforts to educate consumers about safe and environmentally sustainable fish have a reduced impact if seafood is not accurately labeled.

monterey bay aquarium seafood watch

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide.

When purchasing wild-caught fish, consumers should seek species known to be from well-managed fisheries to avoid overfishing and bycatch concerns. In the case of farm-raised fish, it should be from an operation that avoids use of chemicals, antibiotics, high densities of fish, and feed made mostly from small fish caught in the ocean (this contributes to overfishing). In addition, certain fish carry advisories, especially for pregnant women and young children, to limit or avoid due to contamination of heavy metals or chemicals.

Oceana’s investigation found overfished species sold as fish from well managed fisheries (e.g., Atlantic halibut as Pacific halibut), farmed fish sold as wild-caught (e.g., farmed tilapia as red snapper), and fish with health advisories being sold as fish with no advisories (e.g., tilefish as red snapper and halibut).

One goal of educating consumers about healthy and sustainable seafood options is to shift demand and change commercial fishing and aquaculture practices. But, if producers can pass off their product as a fish known to be safe and ecologically sustainable, there is little incentive to change practices due to market forces. This also puts honest wild-caught fishers and fish farmers at a disadvantage. To increase demand for fish that are safe and caught or produced sustainably, we need to know what we are eating and where it comes from, and that is why we need better monitoring and enforcement of seafood labeling in Maryland.

For more information on Jillian and the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project’s work, click here. For more information on The Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act, click here

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Go Behind-the-Scenes with Aquarium Vets!

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Ever wondered how we care for the 17,000+ animals that call the Aquarium home?

I’m excited to share the news that we’ve just launched our first-ever Veterinarian Tour, which takes guests behind-the-scenes to learn all about the fascinating world of veterinary medicine!

At the National Aquarium, we currently have a staff of four veterinarians and three vet technicians that are in charge of the medical care for all of our animals.  These animals range in size and species from our rain forest tarantula up to our dolphins, and everything in between.

All of the veterinarians at the Aquarium have gone through specialized training to work with our invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. We are proud to say that two of our veterinarians are board-certified in at least one specialty, and our other two veterinarians are currently working towards their specialty certifications.

What it takes to become a veterinarian:
To become a veterinarian, you first need to get a bachelor’s degree from an undergraduate college.  After that, you need to apply and be accepted to a college of veterinary medicine.  Currently, there are only 29 schools in the United States with a veterinary college. This means that for approximately every 10 to 12 applicants to a veterinary school, only one person will be accepted.

After graduating from four years of veterinary school, you are able to go out and practice on any animal you would like to.  However, in order to become a certified specialist with any group of animals, more training is needed.  There are numerous internships and residencies available to provide this specialized training after graduating from veterinary school.

national aquarium vet tour

The next time you visit the Aquarium, take a moment to think about what it takes to keep our animals happy and healthy.

To learn more and to get a behind-the-scenes look at our line of work, check out an upcoming Veterinary Tour.

national aquarium Leigh Clayton

Animal Update – March 7

national aquarium animal update

Blue Hamlet in Atlantic Coral Reef

A blue hamlet has been added to our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

national aquarium blue hamlet

This fish, named for its iridescent blue hue, is native to Atlantic coral reef habitats (from the Florida Keys to Mexico).

Blue hamlets are typically very shy. They spend most of their days hiding in reef crevices.

Map Puffer in Blacktip Reef

Did you know? The map puffer is one of six species of pufferfish on exhibit in Blacktip Reef!

national aquarium map puffer

Map pufferfish can be found in reef habitats throughout the Indo-Pacific. Their oval shape and distinctive pattern make these fish easy to spot!

Map puffers are solitary animals. They mostly feed on invertebrates, sponges and algaes.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Happy Birthday, Chesapeake!

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Today we’re celebrating the 22nd birthday of Chesapeake, the first dolphin to be born here at the National Aquarium!

Chesapeake dolphin national aquarium

Chesapeake, affectionately nicknamed Chessie by our Marine Mammal team, was named in honor of the Chesapeake Bay. She is mother to our youngest dolphin, five-year-old Bayley.

Chessie is easy to identify as she is smaller in size, has a short rostrum or bottlenose and is usually paired swimming with her daughter!

bayley

Chessie is an energetic and playful animal. She loves to learn new things and interact with our Marine Mammal staff!

Join me in wishing Chesapeake a very happy birthday!

allison ginsburg national aquarium marine mammal expert

A Blue View: Inside Giant Clams

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 5, 2014: Inside Giant Clams

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the awesome giant clam!

In the vastness of the ocean, there are many so-called animal to animal symbionts, seemingly odd-fellow relationships from which both species benefit. Finding Nemo made famous one such partnership, that of the clownfish and anemone.

But what about symbiosis between an animal and a plant? Or more specifically, a plant-like alga called zooxanthellae? It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon, especially in the shallows of warm equatorial reefs where there’s abundant light for photosynthesis. Corals, jellies, even sea slugs participate.

And so does Tridacna gigas, the giant clam of the Indo-Pacific, the largest bivalve mollusk on Earth and the world’s only sun-powered clam.
The giant clam hosts a thick layer of zooxanthellae in its tissues and gets up to 90 percent of its nutrition from their photosynthesis. Imagine if we could do that? Just stand outside on a sunny day and photosynthesize? That’s pretty close to a free lunch.

giant clam

The giant clam does its part, too, by providing the zooxanthellae with a habitat protected from hungry predators.

During the day, the giant clam extends its mantle tissue, allowing sunlight to reach the zooxanthellae. In fact, full-size giant clams cannot fully close their shells. You’re less likely to get your foot stuck in a giant clam like in one those ‘50s-style horror movies than to get a hernia from trying to pick one up.

Because of their symbiotic relationship with the zooxanthellae, giant clams can photosynthesize their food like plants, even as they carnivorously filter feed, sieving out plankton from the water as all clams do. No Omnivore’s Dilemma for the giant clam.

And with this abundance of nutrition, giant clams have gone turbo—at least in terms of size. Giant clams grow and grow. In the wild, they can reach a length of four feet, weigh up to 500 pounds, and live for a hundred years.

Scientists have also discovered the giant clam can even “farm” its zooxanthellae. At night, specialized cells called amebocytes search out and digest old algal cells, keeping the “farm” clean and healthy, and in the process aiding the entire reef. The giant clam’s vigorous filtering keeps reef water crystal clear and free of fouling organisms.

But these giants are becoming rare, and near some Pacific Islands, are already locally extinct.

There is a huge demand for every single part of the giant clam. For Pacific Islanders, who rely on the ocean’s bounty for most of their diet, giant clams have been a traditional food source for millennia. The clam’s mantle and dried abductor muscle are considered a delicacy in Asia.

Further, every year approximately 200,000 live giant clams are taken for the ornamental aquarium trade. Their shells are, of course, sought-after as souvenirs. The zooxanthellae make the clam’s mantle look glamorous, in hues of electric blue to malachite green. Each clam’s pattern is unique and has long caught the eye of humans.

To save the giant clam, and the reefs on which they make their home, mariculturists are learning to farm them on Fiji and other islands, much the same way oysters are raised in the Chesapeake Bay. The goal is to reintroduce them into the wild, where they can filter and photosynthesize to their hybrid heart’s content. As happy as clams.

national aquarium CEO john racanelli


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