Archive for the 'Aquatic Life' Category



Animal Update – May 9

national aquarium animal update

Stoplight Parrotfish in Atlantic Coral Reef

Two stoplight parrotfish have been added to our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

stoplight parrotfish national aquarium

Photo via Flickr user Carl Haupt.

Stoplight parrotfish can be found throughout the tropical waters of the western Atlantic!

Did you know? Parrotfish are herbivores that depend on algae from the reef for sustenance. Their fused teeth help the fish crush coral, which passes through their digestive system and is deposited back on the reef as sand! A parrotfish can produce up to one ton of coral sand a year!

Fairy Basslets in Atlantic Coral Reef

Fairy basslets are small, vibrantly colored fish. With purple fronts and yellow tails, their bodies are split into two colors with a black spot on their dorsal fins.

national aquarium fairy basslet

These fish are known to swim upside-down under ledges and along cave ceilings. They live in colonies and defend their territory from other species (and even other fairy basslets). Male fairy basslets are responsible for guarding and caring for the eggs and the nest!

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

Celebrating (Even More!) Amazing Animal Moms

In celebration of Mother’s Day on May 11, we’d like to continue last year’s tradition and introduce you to some more amazing animal moms! 

Scarlet Ibis

After establishing mating pairs, scarlet ibises work together to build a nest in the mangrove canopies, where the female will sit patiently on her eggs for approximately 20 days.

scarlet ibis

Once her eggs have hatched, the female and her male counterpart will work together to co-parent their young. For the most part, scarlet ibises live in social colonies of thirty or more. In these groups, protection of young and search for food become communal responsibilities!

Harp Seals

Female harp seals gather in groups to give birth to their young.

harp seal

Image via Wiki Commons.

After birth, mother harp seals typically spend 12 days nursing their babies. During that time, the mom doesn’t eat, losing up to 5-10 pounds per day!

Manatees

Manatee moms are also extremely dedicated to their young.

manatees

The pair spend the first two years of the calf’s life close together, during which time the mother can nurse, protect and guide her baby.

How are you celebrating Mother’s Day? Tell us in the comments section! 

Spring Cleaning: It Even Happens in the Ocean!

It’s official – Spring has sprung! For many, this is a time to reset, refresh and reorganize. For our oceanic counterparts, it’s just another Tuesday…

Many pairs of sea creatures enjoy “spring cleaning” all year long through a great interaction known as symbiosis in which different species  take advantage of each other to achieve a specific goal. Most of these types of cleaning relationships are examples of mutualism, meaning both parties benefit from the relationship. One animal gets nutrition via a guaranteed food source, while the other is left cleaner and healthier.

In celebration of the Spring season, meet some of the ocean’s most popular cleaners: 

Cleaner shrimp are some of the tidiest animals around. They use their claws to remove parasites, algae and dead tissue from a variety of fish species.

Banded Coral Shrimp

Forming groups of about 25, the shrimp will perform “rocking dances” or swish their antennae back and forth to attract clients and let them know they are ready to clean. Some species will even crawl inside the mouths of larger fish to remove any parasites hiding inside.

Yellow tangs and sea turtles make fantastic partners. Yellow tangs group together to eagerly await the arrival of a sea turtle, and with it, their dinner.

yellow tangs

The tang eats algae and parasites from turtle’s skin, a safe and convenient spot to feed. The turtle’s shell is cleaned, making it healthier and smoother. As a result, the turtle can swim more easily throughout the ocean.

Cleaner wrasses are  hygiene-conscious fish that form cleaning units, beckoning clients by swimming up and down. Their role as ocean disinfectants contributes to their survival.

cleaner wrasse

Larger fish refrain from eating the wrasses, as they know their ability to remove parasites and keep them clean is more valuable than becoming a momentary food source.

Mola mola, also known as sunfish, look out of this world. They can grow to be thousands pounds, and can carry up to 40 different kinds of parasites!

mola mola

When the sunfish feels the urgent need to remove any parasitic problems, they head to the nearest kelp bed where both gobies AND seagulls are around and ready to provide relief.

 

Q&A with Humpback Whale Rescuer Ed Lyman

In advance of his special lecture at the Aquarium on May 7th, we chatted with Ed Lyman about his work as a humpback whale disentanglement expert and the important role marine-protected areas play in the preservation of this species.

ed lyman

How did you get your start with the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network? 

I was asked by David Mattila, who was the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuaryʻs research and rescue coordinator and one of the pioneers in large whale disentanglement, to assist in setting up a large whale disentanglement response program in Hawaii.  David and I had worked together doing similar work at a non-profit research organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts called Center for Coastal Studies.

Because of our experience, and the resources and experience of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, we took on the role of managing the Network, which works under and very closely with NOAA Fisheriesʻ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.  I continue to coordinate the Network in Hawaii under the National Marine Sanctuary Program, while David went on to focus on the broader, global issue of entanglement threat.

Walk us through the process of large whale entanglement response.

In the broadest sense it starts with awareness and outreach, since even a whale ends up being a very large needle in and even larger haystack – the world’s oceans.  If we are to mount any kind of response, we need to find the animals first. Second, trying to free a 40-ton, 45-foot, likely free-swimming animal in the open ocean is not easy and can be quite dangerous for animal and humans alike.  We essentially perform a risk assessment, and get authorization to proceed from NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, who are responsible for overseeing such efforts in the US.

As far as actually freeing the animal, they don’t necessarily know we are there to help. We need to control them a bit and gain access to the entanglement by gaining access to the animal. To do this we borrowed and adapted a technique that whalers from the 1800s used, who also wanted to gain access to the animals.  The technique involved throwing harpoons, not necessarily to kill the animal, but to attach to it. The whaler would then attach barrels or kegs to the other end of the line, which added drag and buoyancy, serving the purpose of slowing the whale down and keeping it at the surface.

noaa whale rescue

Image courtesy of NOAAʻs Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and taken under NOAA Fisheriesʻ MMHSRP (permit #s 932-1489 or 932-1905).

Instead of harpoons we throw grapples or use hooks on the end of long poles to attach to the trailing gear and thereby gain access to the animal.  Instead of barrels, we keg the entangled whale with large plastic buoys. We add more gear in order to get the gear off. Once the whale has slowed, we use the same lines we have attached to pull up to the animal while onboard a small inflatable boat, and with hooked knives on the end of long poles, cut the animal free of all the gear.

Lastly, and most importantly, we collect the gear, so we can investigate what it was, where it came from, how the animal may have gotten entangled, and any other information we can glean as to reduce the threat for other animals in the future.

Tell us about one experience that was especially challenging in recent years? How did you and your team overcome it? 

Two years ago we got a report of a humpback whale calf entangled in gear. It had a tight wrap of line around its body forward of its flippers with nothing trailing. We had nothing to get a hold of to gain access to the animal. The entanglement was life threatening since the calf was essentially growing around the wrap of gear (they can drink 100 lbs of milk per day and grow rapidly). Our hooked knives, which were sharp only on the inside, were not going to gain access to the embedded line.  In addition, a protective mother and male escort (which by the way, was not the father) accompanied the calf, making it difficult to approach.

We made several attempts to free the calf, but in the end we were not successful.  I know we have to set emotions aside when doing this type of work, and while a humpback calf is 15 feet long and weigh up to a ton, it still is a “baby” whale.  We can only hope that the animal was able to free itself.

This year we had another humpback calf, again with mother and escort, reported entangled exactly the same way – a tight wrap, forward and well embedded in the calf’s body, with nothing trailing.  However, having learned from our past experiences, we were better prepared by having designed and fabricated a multi-edged knife, and by using the behaviors of mother and calf to our advantage.  Mother humpback whales like to rest (it takes a great deal of energy giving birth and nursing a 1 ton baby, even for a humpback whale mother) and they sometimes do so at depth.

The calves, however, cannot hold their breath as long and come up to breathe typically every 3 to 5 minutes, circling above mom before heading back down. While onboard the sanctuary’s response vessel, we positioned ourselves to be able to reach out with the new knife on the end of a 25-foot carbon-fiber pole and cut the wrap when the calf surfaced.  On the third try we were successful and the calf was free of all gear. Over the ensuing month, the calf was re-sighted by various tour boats in good health.

If the attendees of next week’s lecture could take away one thing about humpback whales and marine sanctuaries, what would you want it to be? 

Humpback whales are charismatic mega-fauna that are icons of our oceans and symbols of its health.  Our national marine sanctuaries are marine protected areas that are special places. They both are icons and symbols of our oceans’ health, and sanctuaries are a means to help maintain the health of our marine ecosystems.  We need to protect and support them both, and thereby continue to appreciate the greater marine ecosystem they represent.

How can the general public support the important work the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network is doing?

Obviously if you are in Hawaii and see an entangled whale we ask people to call a regional 24/7 Hotline, which is (888) 256-9840, to report an entanglement.  If at a safe and legal distance, take pictures and/or video to help us access the entanglement and its impact.  If a response is to be mounted, we do ask people to stay with the animal and monitor it until an authorized and trained response team arrives.  We emphasize for folks to not take matters in their own hands, especially by getting into the water.  It’s not just a matter of being illegal, but more importantly, it’s too dangerous, and typically doesn’t result in getting all the lethal gear off the animal.

The general public can all also contribute towards keeping our oceans clean.  Whales can get entangled in just about anything in the water column.  It is not always fishing gear.  We need to watch what we put in our oceans or what could find its way into our oceans.

Lastly, the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network does appreciate financial support.  While operated by and under state and federal agencies, government funding is decreasing each year.  We find ourselves reaching out to the general public more and more to make ends meet.  You can directly support our work through the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

To learn more about this fascinating issue, be sure to join us for Ed’s special lecture on May 7th! 

Animal Update – May 2

national aquarium animal update

Red-bellied Piranha’s in Amazon River Forest

Ten red-bellied piranhas have been added to our Amazon River Forest exhibit!

national aquarium red-bellied piranha

Red-bellied piranhas can be found throughout the Amazon River basin. They are omnivorous scavengers, feeding mostly on a mix of insects, worms, crustaceans and smaller fish.

Although they’ve gained a ferocious reputation over the years, piranhas do not pose any attack risks to humans.

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

A Blue View: Getting to Know Bob Talbot

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.

April 30, 2014: Getting to Know Bob Talbot

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and Bob Talbot discuss
Talbot’s incredible film/photography work!

 

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably seen Bob Talbot’s work. The photographer, filmmaker and environmental advocate has filmed wildlife sequences for everything from “Free Willy” to “Flipper,” and his stunning photographs of whales and dolphins have been reproduced into millions of lithographs and distributed worldwide. (In fact, they’re still considered the most popular series of marine mammal posters on the planet.)

His compelling storytelling technique, combined with the stunning way he captures underwater life through a lens, gives Talbot the opportunity to do what our ocean-dwelling friends cannot: provide a voice that moves people to action. Presented with the Environmental Hero Award, the Ark Trust Genesis Award and the prestigious SeaKeeper Award, he’s dedicated his life to promoting awareness of ocean issues and encouraging conservation of Earth’s resources.

We had the honor of hosting Talbot this past Earth Day (April 22) at the Aquarium, as part of our Marjorie Lynn Bank lecture series, where he shared his experiences photographing and filming some of the world’s most incredible marine animals. Miss Talbot’s lecture? Don’t panic…we recorded it for you!

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our upcoming lecture with humpback whale rescuer Ed Lyman on May 7th! 

national aquarium CEO john racanelli

Happy Save the Frogs Day!

Did you know? It’s National Frog Month AND today is Save the Frogs Day!

Frogs are fascinating animals with distinctive adaptations. With about 6,000 approximate species of frogs worldwide, they have a multitude of traits and tricks suited to their unique environments. At the Aquarium, we have frogs of every color of the rainbow, from the vivid indigo of the blue poison dart frog to the vibrant green skin of the giant leaf frog.

Check out some of the frogs that call the Aquarium home:

Varying in size between the the 18 mm Splash-back Poison Dart Frog and the 220 mm Giant Marine Toad  frogs are some of the smallest animals at the Aquarium. Some species weigh only about 0.3 ounces.

national aquarium frog infographic

In celebration of National Frog Month and Save the Frogs Day, we encourage you and your family to consider adopting one of our frogs through Aquadopt. Aquadopt programs help our frogs by allowing us to provide them with the best veterinary care and food.

Not only will you be supporting our frogs, with each adoption, you’ll receive a Fun Facts sheet to learn even more about frogs and their remarkable features, as well as an 8×10 photograph of your frog and a frog plush. Your gift promotes our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures while taking care of those we have here at home!

How are you celebrating Save the Frogs Day? Tell us in the comments section! 


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