Posts Tagged 'behind the scenes'



Animal Health Update: Bat Procedure Going Spook-tacularly Well!

national aquarium animal expert update

Common images evoked during this spooky time of year include pumpkins, black cats, and – of course – bats!

national aquarium flying fox

The species of bats native to North America are small, quick flying, highly maneuverable and typically eat insects. These are the types of bats the use echolocation to hunt their food and are the ones generally portrayed in these spooky images.

However, in many other parts of the world, bat species are large, slow-flying frugivores (fruit-eaters). These bats do not use echolocation to find food. And these are the types of bats we have here at the Aquarium. We have grey-headed flying foxes (so called because of their triangular, fox-like faces). This is the largest bat species in Australia. They can weigh up to 2 pounds and have wing spans that are as wide as 3 feet.

We are currently treating one of the bats for a small abscess on his face. Right now keepers are “hot-packing” it daily and it’s definitely improving.

national aquarium bat procedure

To positively reinforce him for staying still while they apply the hot-pack, my team provides him juice or a bit of baby food. This type of reinforcement training is integral to our care of the animals.

Did you know that you can train your pets to voluntarily participate in their care (such as nail trimming, vaccines, blood draws) and even look forward to it? I’d love to have you share your stories about what husbandry behaviors you and your pets are doing.

Blog-Header-LeighClayton

Join Us in Welcoming Brownie, our Loggerhead Turtle, to Baltimore!

Earlier today, our Baltimore facility welcomed loggerhead turtle, Brownie, from Washington, DC! Brownie’s transport, in addition to the 17 other animals that successfully made their way to our Animal Care Center, marked the 12th day of animal moves from our DC facility to the Aquarium’s main campus in Baltimore.

loggerhead turtle transport national aquarium

After transport and a brief observation period, Brownie was introduced into our Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit!

About Brownie: 

Named for it’s sweet personality and love of food, Brownie is part of the Loggerhead Head Start Program. Run by the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll, this program gives baby sea turtles a better chance at survival in the wild. Sea turtle hatchlings spend time in aquariums where they can safely grow. After being given a clean bill of health and an extra boost of nutrition, they are tagged and released back to the ocean!

Once Brownie meets the proper weight/size criteria, it will be taken back to North Carolina to be released.

Animal Updates – October 18

national aquarium animal update

Animal transports from our DC facility, which closed to the public on September 30th, to Baltimore have been continuing steadily over the last week. Thus far, close to 400 animals have successfully made their way to Baltimore (either to the Aquarium building, or our off-site Animal Care Center).

This week, an electric eel and alligator gar were among the animals transported to our ACC. As you can imagine, there are many precautions to consider when moving an animal that can produce up to 600 volts of electricity!

national aquarium electric eel

Our electric eel in DC is actually trained to swim into a net (a helpful behavior when it comes to medical exams and exhibit repair) – this step made the process of his transport seamless for our team!

To move our alligator gar, a prehistoric-looking “megafish,” our staff actually had to use a mesh stretcher to move our gar from his habitat enclosure to his transport carrier.

We’re happy to report that after a quick trip to Baltimore, these animals are acclimating well to their new homes!

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

DC Update: Animal Transports to National Aquarium, Baltimore

national aquarium animal expert update

The most common question we get about the closure of the National Aquarium, Washington, D.C. is “Where are all of the animals going?”.

Of the 2,500 animals that currently call our DC facility home, 1,700 will be transported to our Baltimore facility. The rest will be transported to other accredited aquariums and zoos.

The key to any successful animal move is exceptional planning and great communication between all team members. In fact, we started planning these moves as soon as the closure was announced. Everyone has a role in a big move like this, from husbandry staff to veterinarians.

Today marked the first of our transport trips, which included the move of 38 animals including a giant Pacific octopus, seven plumose anemones, a peacock wolf eel, rockfish and much more! However, on any given day in the next two months, we may be transporting 20 to 400 animals.

Every animal that moves out of the D.C. facility will receive a veterinary exam to confirm it is healthy enough for transport. In some cases, this might be a visual examination (looking at the animal in its habitat). Most fish and invertebrates get visual exams. In other cases, such as for sharks or reptiles, we may do a complete “hands-on” physical examination including evaluating radiographs (x-rays) and blood tests.

But how do you actually move fish? First, the keepers slowly coax the animals into transport nets and then quickly move them into their transport carriers. Fish can be moved in large plastic containers or placed into individual bags, depending on their size and the number of individual fish moving that day. Water from their exhibits is used to fill their transport carriers. During transport, staff monitors temperature and dissolved oxygen levels to ensure the parameters stay where we want them.

Animals coming to Baltimore will make a stop at our Animal Care Center (ACC) before being placed on exhibit. Here they will go through at least a two week observational period to ensure they remain healthy and are eating well. If we have health concerns about an animal post-move, it’s very easy to provide medical care at the ACC. Because the transport is so short and the animals are already acclimated to human care, we expect them to do well at the Animal Care Center and quickly move into our main facility!

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to transition our DC facility! 

Blog-Header-LeighClayton

Adventures in Jellyfish Collecting

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When planning what species to display in Jellies Invasion: Oceans out of Balance, we knew it would be important to include species found in local waters. To keep our exhibits full of jellies, National Aquarium staff venture out to the Chesapeake Bay throughout the year to collect the following local species: Atlantic sea nettles (Chrysaora quinquecirrha), Leidy’s comb jellies (Mnemiopis leidyi) and Lion’s mane jellies (Cyanea capillata).

Our most frequented spot for jellyfish collecting is on the Eastern Bay, off the southeast end of Kent Island. This past weekend, we launched from my family’s waterfront property located in the southeastern region of the island. My nephew, Joe Cover, Jr., a resident of Kent Island and an avid fisherman, is my unofficial jellyfish monitor/assistant. He keeps me posted on when and where he is seeing groups of jellies.

Ideal jelly-collecting conditions include a moving tide (to raise jellies to the water’s surface), little to no wind and a cloudless sky (the mostly transparent Leidy’s comb jelly is almost impossible to spot when the sky is overcast). There are times when you believe the conditions are ideal, yet few or no jellies are found at the surface. When this happens, my standard line is, “You know, we have just been outsmarted by an animal that has no brain.”

jellies collecting trip 2013

We were glad to see calm waters and no clouds this past Saturday!

Equipped with collecting bags, five-gallon buckets, glass beakers and special plastic jelly-collecting nets, we motored out to the middle of Eastern Bay. The water was a bit choppy, but I stopped the boat as soon as I saw a “slick,” a narrow band or area of still water among the light waves. Natural slicks are sometimes formed when concentrations of microscopic diatoms gather at the surface and release natural oils that change the surface water’s density and retard the formation of ripples and small waves.

As we slowly drifted along with the wind and tide, we started to see Atlantic sea nettles and large Leidy’s comb jellies (a whopping 3 to 4 inches long) pulsing along the surface. We were in the right place at the right time! Upon further examination of the water’s surface, we saw thousands of tiny copepods (zooplankton) gathered – another great sign! Jellies continued to surface to feed on the copepods and, in some cases, each other. Yes, some jellyfish (like Atlantic sea nettles) include other jelly species (Leidy’s combs) in their diets.

I started filling collecting bags placed in five-gallon buckets with Bay water.

jellies collecting trip 2013

Jellyfish have no bones and little body structure. In fact, 96 percent of a jellyfish’s body is water! A delicate jelly can easily be injured if it is removed from the water or rubs against any abrasive surface. To avoid injuring our specimens, we used smooth-sided beakers to corral the jellies. The jelly is then moved, in water, to one of the water-filled plastic bags in a bucket. The beaker is submersed into the bucket and tilted to gently release the jelly.

jellies collecting trip 2013

Care must be taken to prevent the creation of air bubbles, which can get trapped in the jelly’s tissues and injure it. This is why beakers containing jellies are not poured in from above the water’s surface. Leidy’s comb jellies are especially fragile and must be transported with extra care.

In addition to their delicate body structures, quick temperature changes can be detrimental to jellyfish. It was relatively cool on this sunny afternoon, and the water in the buckets was staying close to the temperature of the Bay water. In a relatively short period of time, we filled six five-gallon buckets to capacity with jellies.

We headed back to the dock to prepare the buckets for transport to the Aquarium’s Jellies Lab. Prior to loading the buckets into the car, air is removed from each bag, which is then sealed with a rubber band. After loading up the car, I headed back over the Bay Bridge to the Aquarium. The car’s air-conditioning kept the jellies at their preferred temperature.

Once at the lab, the buckets of jellies are unloaded and the rubber bands are removed to allow gas exchange to the water.

The final leg of the jelly-collecting process is to slowly acclimate these jellies to the water in an exhibit or holding tank. I hand this part of the journey off to the Jellies staff. All incoming jellies need to be slowly acclimated to both the temperature and the salinity of our exhibit water. This process can take several hours or several days depending on how the salinity of the Bay and our exhibit waters compare.

Jellyfish continue to fascinate and amaze our visitors. We’re glad to provide our jellyfish gallery as a wonderful resource to connect people with our local jellies!

Jack Cover


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