Posts Tagged 'national aquarium in baltimore'



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

Animal Update – September 20

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!

Meet one of Blacktip Reef’s most colorful residents – the harlequin tuskfish! 

Harlequin Tusk Fish

The harlequin tuskfish, a species of wrasse, can be found throughout the reef habitats of the Indo-Pacific (from the Red Sea to Australia).

Typically, the tuskfish will make its home in the sandy, shallow areas of coastal reefs. Their diet mostly consists of hard-shelled invertebrates, including small crabs and shrimp.

Harlequin tusk fish

Did you know? The harlequin tuskfish gets its common name from its bright coloration and sharp blue teeth!

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

New ‘Walking’ Shark Species Discovered in Indonesia!

A new species of epaulette (carpet) shark was recently discovered off the coast of an island in Indonesia!

New species of epaulette shark. Photo via Conservation International.

New species of epaulette shark. Photo via Conservation International.

The walking shark, Hemiscyllium halamhera, was first seen walking along the sea floor by divers in 2008. Only recently has it been officially recognized as a new species.

This is the third walking shark species found in Indonesia in the past six years! Walking sharks use their fins to navigate along the sea floor in search of small fish and crustaceans. Watch a walking shark do its thing: 

Although new species are discovered almost daily, this finding has given the conservation community new hope for the future of Indonesia’s elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). The local government and emerging dive tourism industry are excited by this discovery and have taken precautions to protect these sharks!

There are nine known species of walking shark in the world, all of which inhabit the shallow waters of very restricted ranges.

Got a question about this new discovery for our experts? Ask them in the comments section! 

Thoughtful Thursday: International Coastal Cleanup

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The International Coastal Cleanup is an annual coordinated volunteer effort to remove debris that has accumulated in our oceans and on our coasts. It is a chance for world citizens that are concerned about the health of our oceans and waterways to participate in meaningful action that will make a difference. In 2012, more than 560,000 volunteers from 97 countries picked up more the 10 million pounds of trash. This year’s efforts begin this weekend and will last throughout the coming weeks.

ft. mchenry cleanup

All types of volunteer groups will join forces over the next couple of weekends to remove and quantify the trash ending up in our waters. Because this is a coordinated effort led by the Ocean Conservancy, each volunteer will be asked to fill out a standard data sheet. This allows event coordinators to track the amount and types of trash that end up on our coasts every year and to make comparisons across the globe and through the years. Ultimately, it informs and focuses the efforts being made to change behaviors that will benefit our natural world.

The top ten list of items found on our beaches during the cleanup should come as no surprise to anyone. The list includes cigarettes, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers and straws – all single use items that we’ve come to rely on in our society of convenience. With the exception of cigarettes, the global list closely mirrors the list the National Aquarium has been tallying at Fort McHenry over the past 14 years. Of the 600,000+ items collected in this area over the years, more than 95 percent has been plastic or foamed plastic.

These items weren’t born in the ocean or the harbor, they were carelessly discarded on land and delivered to the nearest stream (often via storm sewers). From here, there are carried downstream by the tides and water flow until they end up on a shoreline somewhere.

Plastic debris at Ft. McHenry National Monument and Shrine here in Baltimore. Plastic pollution is seriously hurting the ocean and its inhabitants!

We know, if we want to make a difference, we need to stop the debris at its source – cleaning it up after the fact is not a long-term solution! We need to look at our own behaviors and determine how to eliminate the flow of debris from our homes to our streets to our waterways. We thought that if we focus on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) we would be successful.

For many years, the emphasis has been on recycling. In truth, recycling should be our last choice. Our ultimate success will depend upon how well we can assimilate the fourth R into the equation – Refuse. This world does not have unlimited resources and we need to stop acting like it does. We need to be thoughtful in our everyday consumer decisions so that we look beyond the gratification of that warm cup of coffee or cold soda and begin to consider the real-world costs of the decisions we make. The real-world cost of using non-degradable, oil-based, disposable drink ware instead of carrying a reusable coffee mug.

In the mean time, while we are figuring out how to turn our consumer society on it’s ear, we have a big mess to clean up. In my job, I get to see much of the Chesapeake Bay. I get to travel to it’s islands and remote wetland habitats and enjoy all of the benefits our natural world has to offer. In all of those travels, I have never seen a shoreline unmarred by the sight of trash. It’s everywhere. Baltimore and the more populated areas of the watershed are admittedly more affected by debris, but there is no place that is immune. If we want to truly champion a healthy Chesapeake (healthy for humans and animals alike), we need a trash-free environment. It is possible and we can start today.

If you haven’t already, register to join us at our October 5th Fort McHenry event in Baltimore or find another International Coastal Cleanup event near you!

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Fresh Thoughts: Sustainable Seafood Q&A with Chef Patrick Morrow

About next week’s featured Fresh Thoughts chef, Patrick Morrow of Ryleigh’s Oyster:

Patrick MorrowMorrow was born and raised in Texas and North Carolina. And it shows through in his broad-shouldered, but still sophisticated cuisine. Attention to detail, inventive ingredients, and a skillful balance of elements within each dish are hallmarks of Chef Morrow’s style, and they keep his menus fresh.

His adamant focus on local and sustainable produce, meats and seafood began during his tenure as sous chef at VIN in Towson and then as executive chef at Ryleigh’s Oyster in Federal Hill. After firmly establishing Ryleigh’s Oyster as part of the Baltimore food scene, Morrow left to open Bluegrass Tavern, a restaurant of his own conception, where he operated as executive chef during the opening year to the delight of restaurant critics and patrons alike.

Always keeping an eye to the horizon, seeking new challenges and tackling new cuisines, the restaurant group responsible for Ryleigh’s Oyster has recently been able to lure Chef Morrow back into their folds. He is currently embarking on several new projects for the group.

In preparation for next week’s dinner, we chatted with Patrick about how sustainable seafood is changing the culinary scene throughout the mid-Atlantic region:

What’s your favorite sustainable seafood ingredient to prepare?
It’s tough to choose just one favorite ingredient, but would have to say the farmed oysters would be at the top of my list.

How is sustainable seafood playing a role in Baltimore’s dining scene?
I think in the recent years, chefs have become more aware of what they are buying and how they are sourcing the foods they purchase. So you are seeing an increase of sustainable seafood on different menus.

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to cooking sustainably?
The hardest part was finding a good seafood supplier that understood what we were looking for and was willing to supply us with the highest quality sustainable seafood available.

What is one sustainable seafood ingredient you hope to see more of in restaurants (including your own) this year?
Maybe it’s the Southerner in me, but would love to see more people using catfish!

If everyone could walk away from our Fresh Thoughts dinner knowing one thing, it would be …
Just to spend extra time figuring out a little more about the seafood products that they are buying and how there is a lot of alternatives out there.

How can people better understand sustainable seafood issues concerning oysters?
I think with increased education of how the wild oyster beds are depleting and side effects that it has caused in the bay. And to show people alternatives to wild oysters, with the growing number of high quality farmed oysters in the market place.

To learn more about our sustainable seafood program and other conservation initiatives, click here


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