Archive for the 'From the Curator' Category



A Blue View: The Chesapeake Bay as a Classroom

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.

April 10, 2013: The Chesapeake Bay as a Classroom

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John share ways locals
of all ages can get to know the Chesapeake Bay!

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation offers a variety of opportunities for all ages—students and adults—to learn about the Bay throughout the year. From field programs to professional development opportunities, learn what is available here.

The 46-foot workboat Snow Goose allows students to get up-close in their study of the dynamic relationship between the Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay’s Patapsco River. Serving as a classroom on water, all of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s boat programs are equipped with state-of-the-art water quality monitoring equipment, allowing groups to generate data instantaneously, including pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, chlorophyll, and other indicators to build a complete picture of the health of the river. Participants can then compare their findings to the data of professional Bay scientists through on-board wireless laptops.

Learn more about the Baltimore Harbor Program and the Snow Goose here.

Practicing Routine Dolphin Exams

Today’s post comes from our Senior Marine Mammal Trainer, Kerry Martens! 

At the National Aquarium we believe in and practice excellence in animal care. As trainers, we work with the animals every day, practicing medical behaviors that allow us to take the best possible care of them.

Each morning the dolphins get a visual check. They have been trained to present to us different parts of their bodies so we can check their skin and get a good look at their overall body condition.

dolphin body check

Next, we ask the animals to present their fluke. This is where the Veterinarians take a blood sample from. Routine blood samples are taken from our dolphins just like people get blood taken during check-ups with their doctors.

dolphin fluke

Besides looking at the overall body of the animal, there are a few other items we check out as well.

We check the dolphin’s teeth daily to make sure they are in good condition. Dolphins only have one set of pointy cone-shaped teeth for their entire lives!

dolphin teeth check

We also check their breath, or blow. All of the animals are trained to forcefully exhale on cue. Lastly, once a week, the animals get weighed. They are trained to haul up and out of the water onto a flat scale. Most of our dolphins weigh between 300-400 pounds, but Nani is over 500!

Nani on the scale!

Nani on the scale!

Once we finish their daily visual check we want to make sure to reward the dolphins for their good behavior. As trainers it is extremely important that we have strong positive relationships with each of the animals. Play time is a great way to build that relationship!

Chesapeake is ready for to play!

Chesapeake is ready for to play!

The information gathered from the visual checks not only allows us to take the best care of our dolphins, but share information with other aquariums and researchers as well. For information on the National Aquarium’s many ongoing research projects, visit our Research page!

Cleaning Omega: Giving Old Bones a New Look

A visit to National Aquarium, Baltimore is incomplete (and nearly impossible) without sighting Omega, the finback whale skeleton that has been at the Aquarium since we opened more than 30 years ago.

Conservators carefully vacuuming the whale skeleton.

Conservators carefully vacuuming the whale skeleton.

The scaffolding and lid needed for the construction of our new Blacktip Reef exhibit have given us a unique opportunity to bring in a expert team of conservators to give Omega a proper cleaning.

Due to its location, the skeleton (which weighs approximately 5,000 pounds!) has been mostly inaccessible for adjustments and cleaning. Over the years, Aquarium staff have cleaned the skeleton by using a small vacuum and soft brushes, however, this deep-cleaning will give a team of four conservators the opportunity to carefully clean Omega and tend to any chemical and physical deterioration to the skeleton.

A bit of history on Omega…

Omega was most likely born around 1870 and developed into a 50 ton, 58 foot finback whale living in the Atlantic off the coast of New England. In the Spring of 1883, Omega was harvested by a small whaler and towed to one of the small ports on Cape Cod for rendering. A finback of Omega’s size would yield only eight barrels of oil, the rest (including the whale’s bones) was considered scrap. Henry Ward, a conservator who prepared large animal skeletons for P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill Cody and similar exhibitions, acquired Omega’s skeleton in 1884 and prepared the large skeleton for display.

Omega was purchased by the state of New York and remained packed away in the basement at Rochester University until 1979, when it came to the National Aquarium on permanent loan from the New York State Museum in Albany. She has been graciously hanging over our exhibits since 1981!

Stay tuned for more updates on our Omega cleaning project! 

A Blue View: World Water Day

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 20, 2013: The Streams of Maryland

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the important role
freshwater plays in the survival of all living things!

Held annually on March 22, the United Nation’s World Water Day brings attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Globally, freshwater accessibility is critical for the survival of all living things, yet it is a significantly threatened resource. In Maryland, our own freshwater streams and rivers need our help as they run to the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay.

Even if you don’t live on the water, the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which encompasses more than 64,000 square miles to six states and the District of Columbia, affects each of us every day. More than 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers weave through the Chesapeake’s vast watershed. In fact, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we all live within 15 minutes of a stream, making freshwater health not just a Maryland issue, but a backyard issue as well!

Healthy streams are organically balanced, with enough oxygen to support life. Decaying plants and animal waste provide a balanced amount of nutrients, and the water is not too acid or too alkaline. In these healthy streams, runoff is kept to a minimum, and chemicals from farms, factories, and residential areas do not make their way into the stream. Countless species rely on healthy freshwater ecosystems to thrive. Fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, invertebrates…DNR states that Maryland is home to more than 100 species of fish, 20 species of salamander, and 10 species of turtle, just to name a few stream-dwellers.

diamondbackterrapin

The diamondback terrapin is just one of the many species of reptiles that rely on Maryland waterways!

In a recent assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just 45 percent of sampled streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were rated fair, good, or excellent. As outlined in the EPA’s Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the goal is to improve the health of the watershed so that 70 percent of sampled streams measure fair or better by 2025.

To help increase our understanding of stream health, DNR coordinates a team of volunteers who collect important stream quality data across the state. This program, called Stream Waders, is the volunteer component of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey. The use of these volunteers allows more streams to be sampled, giving a big-picture view of Maryland’s waterways. Volunteers participate in a one-day training session, then spend a couple days in March or April collecting aquatic invertebrate samples from stream beds.

The study of aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies, is instrumental in the analysis of streams. Because invertebrates vary in their sensitivity to pollutants, a healthy stream has both sensitive and tolerant invertebrate species while an unhealthy one would have only pollution-tolerant species. Ultimately, the Stream Waders data is used in DNR reports and is available for review on their website.

In our daily lives, each of us can take steps to help keep our community streams healthy. Take a walk along a nearby stream and properly dispose of trash you find along its banks. Limit pesticide use in your yard so that it doesn’t make its way into freshwater supplies. Many local organizations host stream cleanups or wetland restoration events, so volunteer your time. Even just one day a year can make a real difference to a stream in your community.

Take action to keep our streams today by joining our Conservation team at one of our upcoming cleanups

A Blue View: Lionfish Invade Our Seas

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.

March 13, 2013: Lionfish Invade Our Seas

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John and aquarist Ashleigh Clews discuss 
the threat lionfish pose to the health of our oceans.

Since 1992, when Pacific lionfish were first sighted in South Florida waters, this fish has become widely established all along the southeast United States and the Caribbean Sea, even being spotted as far north as New York. These distinctive looking fish—red and white striped with long pectoral fins and needle-like dorsal fins, have profoundly impacted the health of the ecosystems where they now reside.

So, how were these species introduced into local waters? Ashleigh Clews, a senior aquarist at the Aquarium, says it’s likely that the species was first introduced by home aquarium owners. Although these fish are popular in the trade, they often outgrow their tanks and will sometimes prey on other fish.

There was an estimated population boom of 700 percent between 2004 and 2008 in invaded areas. This presence of lionfish in the Atlantic is causing many problems. They’re eating native fish and crustaceans and destroying native habitats and ecosystems. Additionally, with no real predators and an average spawn rate of close to 2 million eggs a year, this species shows no sign of disappearing on its own.

Conservationists and researchers are working to address this growing problem through a variety of initiatives, including raising awareness of lionfish as a sustainable seafood option!

Have you ever eaten lionfish? Tell us about your experience in the comments! 


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