Archive for the 'Exhibits' Category



Saltwater Science at the National Aquarium

Just add salt? Not quite. Here’s the inside story on how we get our water just right: 

As vibrant fish residents swim gracefully in their aquatic habitats at the National Aquarium, the most important element of their exhibit homes – the water – often goes unnoticed.

national aquarium clown triggerfish

In total, more than 2 million gallons of water are perpetually pumped, filtered and re-pumped within the Aquarium’s nearly 200 water systems. For perspective, the average bathtub holds 50 gallons of water, making the National Aquarium’s water content roughly equal to 40,000 bathtubs!

Maintaining the quality of these millions of gallons of water is essential for healthy animals, and it is through the tireless work of dedicated aquarists and laboratory and life-support staff that we can provide the highest quality of water to the thousands of marine animals that call the Aquarium home.

Testing the Water

In every high school across the country, chemistry teachers illustrate water’s elemental simplicity by connection to Hs to one O. Sustaining life at the Aquarium, however, as in the oceans, is infinitely more complex. Salinity (the amount of salt), dissolved oxygen (the “air” fish absorb through their gills) and nitrates (waste product) all affect water chemistry.

That chemical balance, in turn, affects those plans and animals on exhibit, as well as fungi and bacteria that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Presenting a healthy environment by maintaining the absolute best water quality for each and every exhibit and backup tank requires a well-coordinated effort between staff across departments.

Each morning, aquarists, under the guidance of water quality expert Kim Gaeta, extract samples from select exhibit spaces. Those samples are then labeled and deliver to the lab, where they are test for ammonia, nitrite and salinity, as well as pH and alkalinity. If there’s a noticeable imbalance, staff, under the watchful eye of Laboratory Services Department supervisor Jill Arnold, diagnose the problem and prescribe a solution.

The Right Water

Nearly all of the water in our exhibits is homemade seawater. The National Aquarium, like most Aquariums, manufactures its own. The millions of gallons circulating through the exhibits are a combination of Baltimore City water and a house blend of salts.

Consequently, these salt solutions affect the pH, dissolved oxygen levels and hardness of the seawater, based on their own specific chemistry. Tons of salt is shipped to the Aquarium every year to be used in the manufacturing process. At a cost of about 7 cents per gallon, we spend roughly $150,000 every year to manufacture seawater.

“The Aquarium utilizes a variety of food-grade salts to prepare artificial seawater, using our proprietary formulation developed by our chemist,” says Arnold. “Our goal is to mimic natural ocean waters as closely as possible,” guaranteeing all of our animals a healthy place to call home!

Our hand-crafted saltwater is just one of the many things we do everyday to give our animals the best quality of care possible. Here’s how YOU can support our efforts this holiday season! 

Animal Updates – December 6

national aquarium animal update

Banded Moray Eel in Surviving Through Adaptation

A banded moray eel can now be seen in our Surviving Through Adaptation gallery!

national aquarium moray eel

Did you know? There are over 200 species of moray eel! Known for their serpentine appearance, morays use their long, dorsal fin to navigate through water.

These eels are fairly secretive animals. They prefer to spend most of their day hidden in crevices within their coral reef homes.

Raccoon Butterflyfish in Pacific Coral Reef 

A raccoon butterflyfish has been added to our Pacific Coral Reef exhibit!

national aquarium raccoon butterflyfish

The raccoon butterflyfish gets its name from the black “raccoon-like” mask that covers its eyes!

This reef species can be found in both the Indo-Pacific and Southeast Atlantic. Their diet usually consists of a combination of benthic invertebrates (like tube worms) and algae

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

Week of Thanks: Holly Bourbon on Blacktip Reef

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, our experts (and animal residents) will be sharing what they’re thankful for this year!

Our first “Week of Thanks” post comes from the Aquarium’s Curator of Fishes, Holly Bourbon

This year, I’m extremely thankful for the successful opening of our newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef.

blacktip reef sharks

As I’m sure you can imagine, the process of opening an exhibit (especially one with hundreds of animals) involves a tremendous amount of planning and work. Over the course of the last year, my team and I have:

  • Transported animals out of the old exhibit space
  • Received and cared for a variety of species, including 20 juvenile blacktip reef sharks
  • Monitored the creation and execution of the new exhibit space, ensuring it was a perfect replica of a reef habitat
  • Successfully introduced 700+ animals into their new home!

While the grand opening of Blacktip Reef back in August was a huge milestone, we’re still hard at work every day making sure that all of our animals are happy and healthy as they continue adjusting to this brand-new environment.

national aquarium fish introduction

My introduction of a slingjaw wrasse into Blacktip Reef in July!

New exhibits require a lot of time and work. I’m thankful that we’ve all had the opportunity to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guests and learn a lot about our new neighbors in the process!

Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process, start-to-finish, of creating Blacktip Reef:

What are YOU thankful for this year? Tell us in the comments section!

An Update on Our Sandbark Shark Pup, Chloe!

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I’m happy to report that our sandbark shark pup Chloe is thriving in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit – where she has been since the end of June

national aquarium sandbar shark

Photo via Jeff Mauritzen.

In the last few months, Chloe has been enjoying a steady diet of mackerel, squid, shrimp, herring and capelin! The diet of each Aquarium resident is measured out (based on their weight) and fed carefully, to ensure that everyone is getting the right amount of nutrition. At the moment, Chloe is eating about .2 lbs of food at each meal!

Since her birth back in May, Chloe has grown to be about 10 lbs in weight and about 2.5 feet in length!

Do you have a question about Chloe, her species or just sharks in general? Ask me in the comments section! 

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Animal Updates – November 8

national aquarium animal update

White-blotched river ray in Amazon River Forest

A white-blotched river ray has been introduced into our Amazon River Forest exhibit!

national aquarium white-blotched river ray

Did you know? On average, these rays are only about two feet in length! Their diet mostly consists of freshwater snails and crustaceans.

national aquarium white-blotched river ray

We love this close-up of our white-blotched ray from Flickr user adamcoop68.

This South American species makes its home in Brazil’s Xingu river basin.

Because of their limited natural range, these rays have been especially vulnerable to habitat degradation in recent years.

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


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