Posts Tagged 'national aquarium experts'



A Blue View: Inside Giant Clams

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 5, 2014: Inside Giant Clams

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the awesome giant clam!

In the vastness of the ocean, there are many so-called animal to animal symbionts, seemingly odd-fellow relationships from which both species benefit. Finding Nemo made famous one such partnership, that of the clownfish and anemone.

But what about symbiosis between an animal and a plant? Or more specifically, a plant-like alga called zooxanthellae? It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon, especially in the shallows of warm equatorial reefs where there’s abundant light for photosynthesis. Corals, jellies, even sea slugs participate.

And so does Tridacna gigas, the giant clam of the Indo-Pacific, the largest bivalve mollusk on Earth and the world’s only sun-powered clam.
The giant clam hosts a thick layer of zooxanthellae in its tissues and gets up to 90 percent of its nutrition from their photosynthesis. Imagine if we could do that? Just stand outside on a sunny day and photosynthesize? That’s pretty close to a free lunch.

giant clam

The giant clam does its part, too, by providing the zooxanthellae with a habitat protected from hungry predators.

During the day, the giant clam extends its mantle tissue, allowing sunlight to reach the zooxanthellae. In fact, full-size giant clams cannot fully close their shells. You’re less likely to get your foot stuck in a giant clam like in one those ‘50s-style horror movies than to get a hernia from trying to pick one up.

Because of their symbiotic relationship with the zooxanthellae, giant clams can photosynthesize their food like plants, even as they carnivorously filter feed, sieving out plankton from the water as all clams do. No Omnivore’s Dilemma for the giant clam.

And with this abundance of nutrition, giant clams have gone turbo—at least in terms of size. Giant clams grow and grow. In the wild, they can reach a length of four feet, weigh up to 500 pounds, and live for a hundred years.

Scientists have also discovered the giant clam can even “farm” its zooxanthellae. At night, specialized cells called amebocytes search out and digest old algal cells, keeping the “farm” clean and healthy, and in the process aiding the entire reef. The giant clam’s vigorous filtering keeps reef water crystal clear and free of fouling organisms.

But these giants are becoming rare, and near some Pacific Islands, are already locally extinct.

There is a huge demand for every single part of the giant clam. For Pacific Islanders, who rely on the ocean’s bounty for most of their diet, giant clams have been a traditional food source for millennia. The clam’s mantle and dried abductor muscle are considered a delicacy in Asia.

Further, every year approximately 200,000 live giant clams are taken for the ornamental aquarium trade. Their shells are, of course, sought-after as souvenirs. The zooxanthellae make the clam’s mantle look glamorous, in hues of electric blue to malachite green. Each clam’s pattern is unique and has long caught the eye of humans.

To save the giant clam, and the reefs on which they make their home, mariculturists are learning to farm them on Fiji and other islands, much the same way oysters are raised in the Chesapeake Bay. The goal is to reintroduce them into the wild, where they can filter and photosynthesize to their hybrid heart’s content. As happy as clams.

national aquarium CEO john racanelli

Animal Rescue Update: Harbor Seal Rescued After Shark Bite Injury

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Our Animal Rescue team is excited to announce that we recently received funding to support necessary upgrades to our seal rehabilitation facility! The new upgrades will include new enclosures with larger pools and the addition of life support. Our Animal Rescue and Development staff have been working very hard the last few years to find funding to support these upgrades, and our hard work has paid off. We are currently working with a design group to draft a final set of blueprints, and construction work will be begin in just a few short weeks!

To prepare for the upcoming construction work, our seal rehab area is currently closed and not admitting patients for long-term rehabilitation. Even while closed, we continue to be committed to responding to seal sightings in our response area, and coordinating care of seals that are sick or injured and require medical treatment.

We are working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  and our local associates that can accommodate seals for rehabilitation. We would like to thank the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine, New Jersey for their assistance in admitting two recent patients from Maryland. Several weeks ago, MMSC assisted us by admitting a critical harp seal from Assateague, Maryland, that unfortunately expired the following day.

Most recently, MMSC stepped in to help us by admitting a harbor seal from Ocean City, Maryland that was severely injured. The seal was the victim of a shark bite injury, and required immediate medical attention.

Warning: Some readers may be sensitive to the graphic nature of the following image.

animal rescue seal shark bite

Trained First Responders with the National Aquarium collected the seal and transported it to the National Aquarium for initial care and stabilization. The following morning, the seal was transported from the Aquarium to MMSC for long-term rehabilitation. The seal has a long recovery ahead of him, but is receiving the medical care needed to treat the wounds.

seal in rehab at national aquarium

It is collaborative partnerships like this that make the marine mammal and sea turtle response and rehab network so successful!

Stay tuned for periodic construction updates and a sneak peek of the ‘new’ seal rehabilitation facility when it is completed!

national aquarium Animal Rescue Expert jennifer dittmar

A Blue View: Inspiring Hope for the Ocean

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.

February 26, 2014: Inspiring Hope

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss how
“Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle is
inspiring hope for the ocean’s future!

It’s been said that hope is the most powerful motivator in the world…a principle with which I happen to agree. I came to this, in good measure, due to a remarkable person named Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, scientist, National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and one of this blue planet’s most ardent champions.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

I had the good fortune of working with Dr. Earle a few years ago in launching a new organization called Mission Blue. What I learned while working with this ardent advocate for what she calls Earth’s blue heart, is that conservation is ultimately about the power of hope.

In this time of 24-hour news cycle, we hear endlessly about the world’s “hot spots,” bleak stories of civil wars, droughts and degraded ecosystems. Sylvia, however, took an entirely new tack when she launched the idea of “hope spots,” special places in our ocean that are critical to our planet’s health and worth restoring and preserving as marine protected areas.

These hope spots are found throughout world, including areas such as the Coral Triangle in the western Pacific – perhaps the most diverse marine ecosystem on Earth; the deep underwater canyons of Alaska’s Bering Sea – home to whales, fur seals, king crabs, and even cold water corals; the evocatively named White Shark Café – a critical breeding and feeding ground in the deep Pacific for great white sharks; and the Mesoamerican Reef – the world’s second longest coral reef, which spans three Central American nations. The message that Sylvia wants to share is that there is still hope, provided we take decisive action, now.

In fact, she has identified 51 existing or potential hope spots …impressive, until we learn that less than two percent of the ocean is currently protected, in contrast to over 12 percent of the world’s land area. Considering that the ocean covers 71 percent of the planet, we have a long way to go.

When Sylvia received the coveted TED Prize a few years ago, she declared that the next 10 years will likely be more important than the last 10,000 to the future of the ocean. What we do right now will set the tone for our relationship with this ocean planet for a long time to come.

So, where do we stand? Well, it would be easy to despair… we humans have eaten more than 90 percent of the sea’s big fish, nearly half the world’s coral reefs have disappeared or are at risk, dead zones continue to increase around the mouths of many of our mightiest rivers and we have now identified five massive trash gyres in the world’s largest oceans.

5 gyres

But in the midst of all this negativity, Sylvia reminds us that there is hope. Ten percent of those big fish still live—enough to restore most fish stocks, given time. Fifty percent of coral reefs are still thriving and worthy of saving. And we can bring those dead zones back to life just by taking better care of the water that flows down our rivers. In fact, the percentage of marine protected areas has doubled since Sylvia began this mission seven years ago by deftly steering former President George Bush into declaring two of the largest marine protected areas in US history.

In a storied career that includes leading more than 100 ocean science expeditions and logging more than 7,000 hours underwater, Sylvia knows the ocean as few do. She believes that a global network of hope spots can support biodiversity, absorb our carbon, generate life-giving oxygen, preserve critical habitat and allow low-impact activities like adventure travel and artisanal fishing to thrive.

Now that’s reason for hope.

Learn more about our 2014 Marjorie Lynn Bank Lecture Series and get tickets and information on upcoming events.

national aquarium CEO john racanelli

Animal Rescue Update: Harp Seal on Maryland Coast

national aquarium Animal Rescue Update

Our Animal Rescue team has been busy lately – besides caring for the 19 sea turtles we currently have in rehabilitation, we have been actively responding to seal sightings all along the Maryland coast. So far this season, we have seen mostly harbor seals visiting the area, but on Saturday, February 8, we had our first confirmed juvenile harp seal sighting of the season at the inlet of Ocean City, MD.

harp seal in ocean city

National Aquarium’s trained first-responders, along with seal steward volunteers from Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), monitored the condition of the animal, established a ‘safe viewing zone’ for the public and answered questions. Within 48 hours, volunteers with the Aquarium and MCBP interacted with nearly 600 people that stopped by to see and take pictures of the seal from the established safe zone. This harp seal was active, displaying normal seal behaviors and was in good body condition. A volunteer who was monitoring the animal witnessed the seal leaving the beach the afternoon of Monday, February 10.

Early on the morning of February 12th, our Animal Rescue team received a report from a private citizen about a seal sighting at Assateague Island National Seashore.

map of maryland shore

An Aquarium staff member responded to assess the health and condition of the animal, and it was quickly clear that this juvenile harp seal was not feeling well and in need of medical attention. Within two hours of the initial report of the sighting, Aquarium staff (with the help of the National Park Service) successfully determined the condition of the animal, secured a rehabilitation enclosure at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, New Jersey, and began the transport process. Based on the condition of the animal, both teams surmised that this was a different seal than the individual that was sighted just days before in Ocean City.

Based on the symptoms (lethargy, depressed behavior, resting position) of the Assateague seal, it was suspected that the animal could have ingested sand, shells and possibly rocks – a behavior of harp seals that is well documented in scientific literature and an experience we have seen in admitted harp seal patients. It is unclear as to why juvenile harp seals ingest sand, rocks and shells, but they are the most common seal species to display this abnormal behavior. This ailment can cause impaction of the stomach and severe dehydration – conditions that can prove fatal, even if treated promptly.

stones from seal surgery

In 2004, our Animal Health team removed more than 1 lb. of rocks
from the stomach of a juvenile harp seal.

Despite the best efforts to treat the young harp seal found on Assateague, the animal’s condition deteriorated quickly and, unfortunately, it expired. After further evaluation, our teams were able to carefully compare photos of the harp seal from Ocean City on Feb 8 and the harp seal from Assateague on Feb 12. We have confirmed that it was the same seal at both locations.

We were initially shocked at this finding, as the seal’s health had greatly declined in a short amount of time. It is always difficult to accept when wildlife rehabilitation cases do not have a successful outcome, but it’s a vivid reality of the profession.

Wild animals are extremely adept at masking their illnesses in an effort to decrease their chances of becoming easy targets for prey, and can often times be much sicker than they outwardly appear. While it doesn’t happen often, we have experienced several situations in the last 22 years where seals quickly collapse from conditions such as respiratory distress, intestinal perforations and sepsis. While these cases can be difficult for staff, we use every opportunity to learn as much as we can from these animals – for the sake of the individual animal and the population as a whole.

In an effort to help us monitor seals in Maryland, please report any seal sightings to the Natural Resources Police Hotline at 1-800-628-9944 or Maryland Coastal Bays Program website.

Thoughtful Thursday: The Key to Sustainable Seafood is Information

Blog-Header-ConservationExp

In this space, we’ve often discussed how our seafood choices reach far beyond the particular fish on your plate and are related to healthy ocean ecosystems, healthy economies and healthy families.  As a result of the increase in communication from organizations like us on this issue, more and more people are paying attention to the seafood they purchase. There is new consumer awareness around the link between the fish we choose to feed our families and the health of our rivers, bays and oceans.

Primary to all of these efforts to make thoughtful choices is information.  Without accurate information about how and where our seafood is caught, our efforts to protect our aquatic ecosystems can be fairly ineffective. Inadequate or wrong information can lead you to think you are supporting local fishermen when you are not.  Worse yet, it can lead to making choices that support overfishing or habitat destruction.

 Accurate information is key to seafood sustainability, and it is why the National Aquarium will be supporting the “Maryland Seafood Authenticity and Enforcement Act.” If passed, this legislation would ensure that seafood sold in the state is labeled with the correct species name and location of harvest – giving consumers the tools they need to make the right decisions.

In a recent study, our partners at Oceana revealed that 1 out of every 3 seafood samples they purchased were mislabeled.  Sometimes this is done intentionally to inflate the value of the fish or to hide illegal fishing practices. The problem is that even honest restaurant and market owners can mislabel their product if every step in the supply chain is not verified.

seafood fraud quiz fresh thoughts

Locally, this can have a big impact on our fishing communities. This industry is an intrinsic part of the culture of this state, and we take great pride in our local seafood, like blue crab, rockfish, oysters, etc.

Take a closer look at crabs, for example. Many Marylanders grow up eating bushels of crabs with family and friends at backyard barbecues and can recite their favorite crab cake recipe from memory. There is a bustling tourist industry that revolves around the “Maryland crab cake.”  Yet millions of pounds of crab meat are imported into Maryland every year. While just about every seafood restaurant in the state highlights their own version of the Maryland crab cake, there’s no telling if the cakes are actually being prepared with locally harvested crab meat.

Using our collective power as consumers to show support for local sustainable fishing communities, like our Maryland crabbers, will be an important step in the future success of healthy communities and ecosystems. Requiring accurate seafood labeling is an imperative part of this process.

Laura Bankey



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