Archive for the 'From the Curator' Category



Sandbar Shark Pup Born at National Aquarium!

animal expert update

We have some exciting news coming from the National Aquarium fishes department – a female sandbar shark pup was recently born to the two adult sandbars in our Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators exhibit!

sandbar shark pup

This is the first pup our female sandbar has had since coming to the Aquarium in 2003!

After the birth was initially observed by staff, the pup was moved behind-the-scenes for immediate veterinary care and further observation.

Baby shark during transport to behind-the-scenes area.

Baby shark during transport to behind-the-scenes area.

Did you know the majority of shark species (including sandbars) give birth to live young?

Female sandbars are known to have a range of 1 to 14 pups throughout their lifetime. This species reaches sexual maturity at around 16 years of age (or later) and their average gestational period is about 12 months. Females also have what’s known as a “biennial reproductive cycle,” meaning they reproduce every other year.

At this time, our Animal Care and Animal Health teams are working closely to monitor the baby shark’s health and eating patterns. We hope to increase the pup’s overall intake in the next few weeks. Currently, the shark pup only weighs about 4.6 pounds and is only 26 inches in length! Adult sandbar sharks can weigh up to 200 pounds and reach up to 7.5 feet in length.

While the birth of this shark pup is very exciting, we are cautiously optimistic as shark pups have a low survival rate. Our priority is to give the animal the best care possible and consult with partner institutions that have successfully reproduced this species.

Stay tuned for more updates on our shark pup! 

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A Blue View: Understanding Ocean Acidification

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 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 29, 2013: Understanding Ocean Acidification

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss how the changing
global climate is impacting on our oceans.

Say you visit the same spot on the same ocean every year. You take a swim, and it feels pretty much like the last time. The temperature doesn’t seem all that different. You certainly can’t tell that the pH is changing.

Yet just as the global climate is changing, so too is the ocean’s chemistry. Alongside atmospheric climate change, ocean acidification is one of the most serious issues affecting the waters of our planet and all of its inhabitants.

Ocean acidification has only recently entered the public’s consciousness, though scientists have been studying and predicting the phenomenon for some time. Many estimate that the ocean absorbs approximately 30 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide, which reacts with sea water to form carbonic acid. The resultant decrease in pH means the water becomes more acidic, with disastrous effects on animals that depend on their shells and exoskeletons to survive.

Though the media has taken to calling ocean acidification our “new climate threat,” it is not a new problem. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide has been increasing in our atmosphere and therefore our seawater. Now, over 200 years later, we can no longer ignore the threat. Even conservative estimates suggest that by 2100, global ocean waters will warm nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average and acidity will increase by 150 percent.

So what does this mean for ocean wildlife? Clearly, the sea’s complex food web will be disrupted. Highly mobile animals will be forced to expand their home ranges as they search for more hospitable waters. Sadly, coral reefs as we know them will be forever altered and could even disappear. Animals will struggle to build skeletons and shells in waters that literally dissolve them. And growth and reproductive capabilities of numerous marine animals will be at risk.

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

Ocean acidification has caused coral bleaching on parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo via CS Monitor

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is not immune to these dramatic changes. In fact, according to NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office, the Bay is being affected at a faster rate than the global average because land in this region is already subsiding naturally. Bay temperatures have already increased almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960 and are projected to increase by an additional 3 to 10 degrees by 2100—a tremendous change that will have a profound effect on the nation’s largest estuary. Increased acidification of the Bay will alter its delicate balance in other ways. For example, according to marine geologist Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, blue crabs could grow larger, while the creatures they eat, including oysters and clams, could suffer from weaker, slower-growing shells. These bivalves, in addition to being an integral part of the food chain, also contribute to healthier water quality by filtering huge quantities of Bay water. The moral: damage one small species and you affect the entire Chesapeake Bay.

We cannot simply undo the impacts of ocean acidification. The carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere today will continue to accumulate for decades. There is hope, however, and as always, it starts with each of us. Reducing our consumption of fossil fuels and minimizing our collective carbon footprint isn’t just the best way forward, it’s the only way. As Fyodor Dostoevsky said in The Brothers Karamazov, “For all is like an ocean. All flows and connects. Touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world.”

A Blue View: Studying Dolphin Behaviors

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 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 22, 2013: Studying Dolphin Behaviors

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to marine mammal researcher
Cynthia Turner describe using enrichment as a research tool

 

Dolphins are highly intelligent, social, playful animals. As we work to understand these amazing creatures, research is an essential part of  our mission at the Aquarium. Our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are participating in a study consisting of enrichment trials in an effort to understand more about dolphin behaviors, namely, emitting large bubble spheres from their blowholes.

Enrichment provides opportunities to animals to become engaged in something that will hopefully be fulfilling for them. In the bubble sphere enrichment study, staff put together 10 different types of novel enrichment that the dolphins had not previously experienced. Each enrichment is presented to the dolphins in front of the glass four days in a row, and a video records the dolphins and the bubble spheres that are generated. Independent reviewers will look at the tapes and count the bubbles to see if there is a correlation to the number of bubble spheres and exposure to the enrichment.

The Chimp Parade has been one of the favorites so far. The hamster, chimp, and duck are robotic, and they all move when activated. The stars on the chimp’s springy headband have flashing LEDs, and there is a similar star on the back of the duck’s wagon. The vertical object behind the chimp with the silver pipe cleaners on the end and purple, green, and red ribbons is actually a large spring that sways when the skateboard moves.

dolphin enrichment

Another enrichment exercise involves bubble wrap being popped against the glass of our exhibit. Watch Beau and Foster respond to the bubble wrap by emitting bubble spheres: 

A Blue View: A Devastating Year for Manatees

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 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 15, 2013: A Devastating Year for Manatees

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the issues
facing manatee populations in Florida.

Gentle giants with few enemies, manatee populations have nonetheless long been threatened. The species has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967, when the list was created, and has been protected by Florida state law since 1893. Thanks to this, manatee populations have grown in recent years.

Typically, manatee deaths and injuries are associated with boat strikes. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manatee without tell-tale propeller scars. But this year, a particularly aggressive red tide along Florida’s southwest coast has killed more than 265 manatees. Combined with other causes of death, more than 580 manatees have died out of an estimated population of 5,000—a staggering number that has erased those recent population gains.

Red tide is an algae bloom that occurs naturally every year, though the 2013 bloom has proven to be more deadly than any previous year on record. Characterized most often by a red discoloration of the water, the algae produces toxins that affect the nervous system of vertebrates. These toxins can settle on sea grass and blow through the air when waves break the algae apart. Since manatees eat up to 100 pounds of sea grass per day, this can have devastating effects.

Symptoms of red tide toxicity in manatees include muscle twitching, lack of coordination, difficulty breathing, and seizures, but they aren’t the only ones affected. It can also cause human respiratory distress, shellfish poisoning, and the deaths of other marine mammals, fish, and turtles.

So what can be done? The truth is, when red tide strikes, little can be done besides just waiting it out. Florida state wildlife officials believe that this year’s red tide is subsiding, but the effects of the bloom are likely to be seen over the next weeks and months, resulting in more deaths.

Several facilities in Florida are equipped to handle critical care of manatees, but the Lowry Park Zoo’s Manatee Hospital is the only one rehabilitating red tide patients. Not many have been rescued, though every life saved is a victory for this endangered species.

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A manatee in rehabilitation at Lowry Park Zoo.

To date, 13 manatees with red tide toxicity have been admitted to the hospital for care. Staff members monitor each sick manatee around the clock until the danger has passed, holding up the manatee’s head so it can breathe. Once out of the red tide environment, manatees recover fairly quickly. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anywhere for them to go.

Manatees are migratory animals, and staff at the hospital don’t want to release their patients only to have them wind up in danger again. They are working with state and federal partners to determine when the manatees can be safely returned to the open waters.

Efforts are ongoing to understand why this year’s red tide bloom was so toxic and long-lasting. An uncommonly mild winter most likely contributed because the algae bloom didn’t die off as quickly as normal. Manatees swam right into the red tide in their search for warmer waters. There’s also speculation that phosphorus runoff from farms and lawns are been a factor in the red tide’s severity. The hope is that as scientists better understand the reasons behind this extraordinary red tide event, the lessons learned can better prepare us for the next time, and more manatees can be saved.

Arbor Day: Doing Our Part Right in the Inner Harbor

Did you know? National Aquarium’s Waterfront Park is populated entirely with plants native to Maryland!

waterfront plaza

Our goal in maintaining the park, the organization of which follows the principles of conservation landscaping (also known as Bayscaping), is to reduce the impact of pollution felt downtown and improve the health of our local ecosystem.

Here in the city, the trees and other plants of the Waterfront Park provide habitat and refuge for local and migratory birds, insects and other animals that either live in Baltimore permanently or are just passing through. In our Appalachian Highlands planter, we have a variety of trees and shrubs: Red Cedar, Redbud, White Pine, Sassafrass, White Oak, Chestnut Oak, Witch Hazel, Fragrant Sumac, Flowering Dogwood and Red-Panicled Dogwood that provide critical food and shelter for wildlife.

A bloom from one of our dogwood trees.

A bloom from one of our dogwood trees.

The Piedmont planter is dominated by Red Maple, but also includes such trees and shrubs such as Sweetbay Magnolia, Southern and Maple-Leaved Arrowwood, and Serviceberry. Our Coastal Forest planter is home to Loblolly Pine, Marsh Elder, and Inkberry, and in our Salt Marsh planters can be found more Marsh Elder, Groundsel Bush, Swamp Hibiscus and Winterberry. Many of the trees and shrubs on the Plaza produce fruit and berries that are enjoyed throughout the year by birds, including the Serviceberry, Red Chokecherry, Fragrant Sumac, Inkberry and Winterberry. The foliage of these trees provides an environment in which native birds can nest and rear their young.

Our park is a certified wildlife habitat.

Our park is a certified wildlife habitat.

Many of the flowering trees and plants also provide pollen and nectar through the growing seasons for various pollinating birds and insects, and the foliage of many trees is a valuable food source for the larvae of various butterflies and moths. The “leaf litter” underneath the trees generated by years of deciduous accumulation also supports a vast array of insects, spiders and other arthropods. The insects supported here are also a useful food source for the birds and bats that live in and pass through our city!

This thriving environment of native plants has evolved immensely in recent years to support a growing number of native animal wildlife. We hope the community here in Baltimore city can continue to enjoy it for many years to come!

John Seyjagat, the Curator of our Animal Planet Australia exhibit, also manages the development and maintenance of our exterior parks. To learn more about John, click below: 

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