Posts Tagged 'fish'

Thoughtful Thursdays: Paiche, the Peruvian behemoth

From Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes Curator John Seyjaget: 

Last week, I journeyed to Peru with two friends of the National Aquarium, Chef Xavier Deshayes and Kelly Morris, in search of  the South American Arapaima gigas, a behemoth of a fish that lives in the Amazon. As the largest freshwater fish in the world, this giant can reach a maximum size of 2 meters and 200 kg.

The South American Arapaima gigas or paiche, as it is commonly called in Peru

My journey took me some 4,268 miles from the Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, to Newark, NJ, to Lima, Peru, and finally to Yurimaguas, a remote village on the banks of the Huallaga River, part of the Amazon River Basin. Transportation along the way included planes, buses, cars, and rickshaws.

Peruvian rickshaws

The fish we were there to see is the Arapaima, commonly known as paiche, an apex predator in the Amazon. The paiche belongs to a group of fish called bony tongues, and is the largest of the seven types of bony tongues worldwide (there are three in Australia, one in Africa, and three in South America).

The paiche is unique in many ways. It is a fossil record—this fish dates back to more than 65 million years unchanged by evolution. And it breathes air! The paiche must surface every 15–20 minutes to gulp air, which it processes in its swim bladder to extract its oxygen needs. The paiche is also a buccal incubator, which means that after the female lays eggs and they hatch, the male picks up and keeps the babies in his mouth for the first 4–6 weeks while they grow.

Paiche is revered as a local delicacy. The fish flesh is white, thick, and tender. It is high in collagen and is therefore great for grilling, searing, and frying. Although illegal to fish in Peru, paiche is still hunted by the river villagers. Villagers claim that the flesh of the paiche is better than beef.

The local wild paiche is now on the endangered species list because of overfishing. Farming the paiche not only creates a profitable export product, but also creates jobs, provides a food source for the local people, and relieves hunting pressure on local wild paiche populations. It also allows the seeding of natural habitats with captive-raised specimens to assure the growth of the wild populations.

The farm we visited has more than 130 ponds holding more than 100,000 paiches each, including 100 adult breeding pairs.

Paiche farm pond

The farm feeds these fish organic foods made from bycatch squid with no chemical additives. The adult fish reproduce in captivity without the aid of hormones or any chemical manipulation.

The fish produced here are harvested at 18 months of age, when they are about 1 meter long. They are caught in seine nets and taken to a processing plant nearby where they are processed and frozen. Almost none of the fish is wasted. Besides the flesh of the fish, the heads are skeletonized and used for museum and educational artifacts, the scales are used for nail files, and the bony tongues for medicinal purposes. The fish produced here is exported to Europe and the United States.

Holding a large paiche

So why did we travel all this way to see a fish farm? Today’s food needs are putting a lot of pressure on our natural resources, forcing environment degradation and species extirpation and extinction, sometimes resulting in an ecosystem collapse. The National Aquarium hosts Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Seafood events at both our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues. The Fresh Thoughts initiative looks at resource sustainability, and presents sustainable seafood alternatives to our guests. If individual consumers support sustainable seafood choices, we can make a difference in fish populations and the health of our oceans worldwide.

Chef Xavier, executive chef at the Ronald Reagan Building, creates the menus for the Washington, DC, Fresh Thoughts events. To advance the Aquarium’s Fresh Thoughts initiative, Chef Xavier asked that I accompany him to Peru to see firsthand the sustainable aquaculture of this fish.

Chef Xavier

Although the farm is productive, shows green potential and is sustainable, as an Aquarium curator, I was more impressed with the breeding and husbandry success of this species and the scale to which it is done. I look forward to exploring similar sustainable aquaculture!

You can taste the results of this journey for yourself at the Fresh Thoughts dinner on Wednesday, April 25, when Chef Xavier will serve up delicious paiche. Learn more and make a reservation here.

Animal Updates – March 23

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!

Mouth Almighty Babies
The mouth almighty in the Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit had babies… which is especially interesting because the male broods the babies in his mouth! During this time, the male doesn’t eat. How’s that for some paternal sacrifice? You can read more about this fish on our new website.

Mouth Almighty

Napoleon Wrasse
A Napoleon wrasse has arrived at the Aquarium’s offsite Animal Care Center, where we hold future residents of the Aquarium until they are ready to be introduced to their new habitat. Napoleon wrasses grow to be the largest of the wrasse family. They can grow up to 6 feet in length! The one we received is about 4 feet now and is lovely shades of blues, greens, and blacks.

Cane Toad
A cane toad is now on exhibit in the Amphibians Gallery.

Native to Texas through Central Amazon and Peru, the cane toad has been introduced to a number of different places, making it a highly invasive species. Introduced to Australia and Puerto Rico to control agricultural pests, these toads instead significantly impacted other native fauna without controlling the intended target species of sugarcane beetles.

They reproduce quickly and live a long time, and secrete toxic fluid through glands on their backs, which can make potential predators extremely sick.

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

Animal Updates – March 16

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!

You’ll notice in this week’s update that we’ve changed the format and design a little. We’ll now be adding labels so you can easily identify what venue the animal update is coming from! We love to hear feedback–please let us know how you like the new format!

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

Scrawled Filefish
A beautiful scrawled filefish has been added to the Gray’s Reef exhibit.

Bucktooth Tetras
A total of 29 new bucktooth tetras have been added to the Piranha exhibit.

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

Now that we’ve shared this week’s Animal Updates, we wanted to share some other news!  If you haven’t seen, we announced some BIG news this week: we launched a beautifully redesigned!

One of the very exciting features of this new website is our wonderfully detailed animal pages! The main Animals page will now give you the opportunity to explore our animals (from both Baltimore and Washington, DC) like never before. Explore by venue, color, exhibit, geography, characteristics, and more!

On specific animal pages you can explore even further. Each animal has various photos, facts, and sometimes videos; plus, many have a special note from the animal’s Aquarium caretaker!

So please explore the new, especially the new Animals section!

And remember, be sure to check back here every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Happy Halloween from the National Aquarium!

At the National Aquarium, you can come face to face with thousands of different species of animals. Some of these animals are cute and furry, like Xeno the sloth. Some animals, such as the clown triggerfish, are vibrantly colored. Some are awe-inspiring, like the diverse species found in our Jellies Invasion exhibit. And some are downright spooky!

Check out this collection of photos and fun facts of some of the spookiest creatures at the National Aquarium:

California sheephead

California sheephead
The California sheephead, a wrasse native to the eastern Pacific Ocean, begins life as a female with pink coloration. When it grows to a length of about 18 inches, it transforms into a male. Their protruding canine teeth, which give them their menacing appearance, are adapted for prying hard-shelled animals from rocks. The California sheephead uses its powerful jaws and sharp teeth to crush the prey, and modified throat bones to grind the shells into small pieces. See this fish in the Kelp Forest exhibit at the National Aquarium, Baltimore.

Albino American alligator

Albino American alligator

Albino American alligator
Just in time for Halloween! The National Aquarium’s Washington, DC, venue unveiled an extremely rare albino American alligator this month in a temporary exhibit, Secrets of the Swamp. This 4-foot-long snow-white beauty is one of fewer than 100 albino alligators in the entire world, and she’s only here through February. Don’t miss your chance to catch a glimpse of this ghost of the swamp!

Generally, alligators with albinism cannot survive in the wild; their inability to blend in with their surroundings not only makes them unable to ambush prey, but also draws the unwanted attention of predators. Albinism is a genetic condition in which an animal lacks melanin, or coloration pigment, in the eyes and skin, resulting in this alligator’s unusual translucent scales and pink eyes.

Grey-headed flying fox

Grey-headed flying fox
The aptly-named flying fox looks very much like the canine creature for which it is named. The grey-headed flying fox, otherwise known as a fruit bat, makes its home in the tall trees of the tropical rain forests in northeastern Australia and the Southeast Asian islands.The grey-headed flying fox is the largest of the flying foxes, growing to up to one kilogram in weight, with a wingspan of up to one meter. They live in large colonies which can contain up to a million individuals, and the colony sizes keep increasing as the flying foxes’ habitat is destroyed, limiting roosting sites. The next time you visit the Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, be sure to look up to the ceiling for a glimpse at a small colony of these amazing winged creatures.

Black ghost knifefish

Black ghost knifefish
This mysterious-looking tropical fish is known as the black ghost knifefish. It is a weakly electric fish that uses an electric organ and receptors distributed over the length of its body to locate insect larvae.


Grass shrimp

Grass shrimp
This unworldly-looking creature is a grass shrimp, common in estuarine waters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Their bodies are nearly transparent, except for orange or yellow pigment in the eyestalks. Grass shrimp also have a well-developed rostrum (horn) with teeth along the edges, four spines on the telson (the pointed structure in the middle of the tail fan), and heads that are longer than the rest of the body.
Phyllobates terribilis, the Golden Poison Frog

Phyllobates terribilis, the golden poison frog

Phyllobates terribilis, the golden poison frog
Even though you won’t see one of these at the National Aquarium, how could we not include an animal with a name like Phyllobates terribilison this list? This tiny frog is found in the Amazonian rain forest along the Pacific coast of Colombia, and it certainly lives up to its name! Considered to be one of the most toxic animals on Earth, golden poison dart frogs have enough venom to kill 10 grown humans. Their bright yellow skin is saturated in an alkaloid poison that contains batrachotoxins, which prevent nerves from transmitting nerve impulses and ultimately result in muscle paralysis.

The bright-yellow frog on view in the Hidden Life exhibit at the National Aquarium, Baltimore is a Panamanian golden frog—which is actually a toad! This beautifully colored toad may not be lethal like P. terribilis, but seeing one is certainly a rare opportunity. This species is critically endangered. The Panamanian golden frog is under pressure from habitat destruction, illegal poaching (collection), and the Chytrid fungus. The Chytrid fungus is probably the leading cause of amphibian decline in the world.

The National Aquarium, Baltimore, is one of several organizations participating in Project Golden Frog, a conservation project involving scientific, educational and zoological institutions in the Republic of Panama and the United States that aims to understand this species through husbandry (breeding), research and education programs.

Wounded Warriors dive in the Aquarium

This summer, the National Aquarium welcomed some very special guests for a very special evening. Nine wounded soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center were able to live a dream and scuba dive in the Aquarium as part of their rehabilitation programs.

Wounded Warriors Dive

These veterans, who participate in a program called Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), were taught the basics of Aquarium diving and safety procedures before plunging into the world of sting rays, sharks, and more than 50 species of fish. Each diver was accompanied in the water by dive professionals from the Aquarium.

Wounded Warriors Dive

The animals responded exceptionally well and greeted all of them. Calypso, our green sea turtle who also happens to be an amputee, was very curious and interactive. One of the double-amputee veterans was in the Wings in the Water exhibit and Calypso came over to look at his prosthetic legs and then just sat down in his lap. She was a huge hit with all of the veterans, and everyone had a great time!

Wounded Warriors Dive

The National Aquarium is honored to have worked with these heroes, and we look forward to doing this again soon!

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