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Thoughtful Thursdays: The Impact of Marine Debris on Animal Strandings

On Sunday, July 15, the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) team was alerted to a live stranded dolphin at the northern-most end of Assateague Island National Seashore. The body condition of the animal appeared normal, but the animal’s behavior indicated it was stressed.

The animal was identified as an Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis), strandings of which have been rarely documented in Maryland. Atlantic spotted dolphins are different from Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, but share similar habitat off the coast of Maryland during the summer months. Spotted dolphins are typically a darker purplish-gray and have variable spots that develop with age, and are often found in groups of 20 or more individuals. When an individual animal of a social species strands, it can be an indicator that the animal separated from a group due to reasons such as health or social issues.

Trained first responders arrived on the scene and acted quickly to provide triage and coordinate a plan to move the animal off the island. Unfortunately, the condition of the animal deteriorated during transport and the animal was humanely euthanized by Aquarium veterinarians to relieve suffering.

While this outcome is unfortunate, there is still a great deal that we can learn from the experience and from all stranded animals. For every animal that does not survive, we perform a complete necropsy (an animal autopsy). In this case, we worked closely with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Final necropsy results are still pending, but there was one surprising find – an intact nitrile-coated glove was found in the stomach of the animal. This was likely a contributing factor to the cause for stranding.

Sadly, our MARP team sees this sort of case all too often. Many animals mistake trash for food and ingest all sorts of manmade, toxic items. To an endangered leatherback sea turtle, a plastic bag floating in the water looks like a tasty jellyfish—its primary prey. Trash and contaminants in the water pose health threats to humans, as well. Whether we live along the shore or hundreds of miles inland, our lives are all intimately connected to the ocean.

We caused this problem, and it’s up to us to fix it. We need to work together in international camaraderie to prevent items from reaching the water in the first place.

A member of the National Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) cleans up garbage at Ft. McHenry

There are a number of ways you can help!

  • Be mindful of safely disposing of all your trash, especially while on the beach or out on the water. What washes up on our shores is only a fraction of the garbage that ends up in the ocean.
  • Sign up for a conservation event like the International Coastal Cleanup (happening September 15, 2012).
  • Help out with one of the Aquarium’s conservation projects around the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic coast.

New Baby American Alligators at Our Washington, DC, Venue!

Our Washington, DC, venue has added four baby American alligators! They’ve traveled from Savoie Alligator Farm in New Orleans to stay with us for a year. These alligators are one of only two species that don’t spend their whole lives at the Aquarium because of their size. American alligators can grow to a length of up to 15 feet; we can only accommodate them until they reach about 5 feet in length. Once they’ve exceeded that size, we transport them back to their home and return with four new babies!

One of our herpetologists (zoologist specializing in reptiles), Calvin Weaver, with a baby gator during its exit exam!

After going through standard precautionary measures to ensure their safety and the safety of our other species on exhibit, these gators are finally ready for their public debut. A brief quarantine period is essential to make sure that every animal in our care is stress-free and healthy. Animals that come to us from the wild are known to carry disease and parasites that could spread to other animals and even our staff, so it is very important to keep a close eye on all animals when they first arrive. Once our veterinarians and herpetologists determine that they have successfully finished their quarantine period, the alligators are given an exit exam and moved into their new habitat.

During the exit exam, our staff takes weight and length measurements, checks the flexibility of their limbs, and makes sure all those gator teeth are growing in properly. As of now, our baby gators each weigh about 3.5 pounds and are between 30–35 inches long.

Don’t let their size fool you! These baby alligators are strong; it takes more than one staff member to keep them calm and still to complete their exit exam.

The American alligator, a species once considered endangered, is now thriving in the southeastern United States thanks to state and federal protections and habitat preservation efforts. Fully grown, they can weigh 1,000 pounds and pulse through freshwater rivers, lakes, and swamps at speeds up to 20 mph.

We are excited to welcome them and hope you can come meet them in person soon!

Animal Update – August 17

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions, and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Grosbeak back in the Rain Forest

We’ve reintroduced our male grosbeak to our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit this week. He has joined our female and guests can now see them flying throughout the forest!

Our grosbeaks are hard to miss with their beautiful yellow coloring.

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

Thoughtful Thursday: 10 Ways to Celebrate World Oceans Day

June 8 is World Oceans Day, and we invite you to celebrate with us on Friday, through the weekend and all year round!

On Friday, reef conservationist John Halas, who was the first winner of Oceana’s Ocean Heroes contest, will join National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli to dive in two of the Aquarium’s exhibits. Come to the Aquarium this weekend for oceans of fun activities!

There’s no better place to celebrate World Oceans Day than at the National Aquarium, but if you can’t make it for a visit, don’t worry. There are plenty of other things you can do to celebrate!

10 Ways to Celebrate World Oceans Day (All Year Round!)

Give a bag, get a bag!

  • Recycle or donate your plastic bags.
    Many grocery stores, dog parks and animal shelters have collection points. You can also use them as small trash can liners. And this weekend you can also bring your plastic bags to the National Aquarium to trade in for a fun World Oceans Day reusable one!
  • Turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.
  • Make a pledge to help protect our world’s oceans, then share it with your friends & family! An easy way to share your pledge is with our downloadable Facebook cover photo. Click on the image below to download it!

Share your pledge to help our oceans on your personal social media platforms!

  • Wash your car over a grassy area or take it to a car wash that treats or recycles their water.
  • Nominate someone who has made or is making lasting contributions to ocean conservation for Oceana’s Ocean Heroes program.
    Ocean heroes can be scientists, educators, conservationists or more! Last year’s Junior Hero was an 8-year-old girl named Sophi Bromenshenkel, who raised money for shark conservation through bake sales and lemonade stands! Oceana is accepting nominations through June 20. 

You can find fun & stylist reusable water bottles at some of your favorite places, including the National Aquarium!

  • Use a reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic single-use bottles.
  • Walk, bike, carpool or utilize mass transit.
  • Create a Pinterest board sharing inspiring ocean photos, messages and links. Click here to see ours!
  • Make a meal with sustainable seafood. (And please invite us over to join…just kidding!)
  • Join a waterfront cleanup.
    Even if you’re don’t live near a beach, there are still waterfront cleanups to join. Protecting our local streams, rivers and bays is very important, because they all eventually connect to the ocean. Click here to find out about our conservation volunteer opportunities.

Together, we can make a difference. Please help us celebrate World Oceans Day and let us know how you are going to celebrate!

Animal Update – April 6

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions, and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our WATERlog blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

New Sunbittern  
A beautiful female Sunbittern was recently released into our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit.

This slim, solitary bird has a blackish, slate-colored head with two white stripes on either side of the face. Its body is mottled, brown with black, and it has some white marks. A long, pointed black and orange bill and red eyes are distinctive.

Note from the caretaker: “Keep an eye out for these birds, and you may be lucky enough to see an amazing transformation. When they are disturbed or threatened, they spread their wings and exhibit very large eyespots—black, yellow, and chestnut. They seem to be saying, ‘See how big I am. You can’t hurt me.’”

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


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