Archive for the 'Exhibits' Category



Week of Thanks: Holly Bourbon on Blacktip Reef

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, our experts (and animal residents) will be sharing what they’re thankful for this year!

Our first “Week of Thanks” post comes from the Aquarium’s Curator of Fishes, Holly Bourbon

This year, I’m extremely thankful for the successful opening of our newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef.

blacktip reef sharks

As I’m sure you can imagine, the process of opening an exhibit (especially one with hundreds of animals) involves a tremendous amount of planning and work. Over the course of the last year, my team and I have:

  • Transported animals out of the old exhibit space
  • Received and cared for a variety of species, including 20 juvenile blacktip reef sharks
  • Monitored the creation and execution of the new exhibit space, ensuring it was a perfect replica of a reef habitat
  • Successfully introduced 700+ animals into their new home!

While the grand opening of Blacktip Reef back in August was a huge milestone, we’re still hard at work every day making sure that all of our animals are happy and healthy as they continue adjusting to this brand-new environment.

national aquarium fish introduction

My introduction of a slingjaw wrasse into Blacktip Reef in July!

New exhibits require a lot of time and work. I’m thankful that we’ve all had the opportunity to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our guests and learn a lot about our new neighbors in the process!

Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process, start-to-finish, of creating Blacktip Reef:

[youtube http://youtu.be/c0-ZIXIo1OQ]

What are YOU thankful for this year? Tell us in the comments section!

An Update on Our Sandbark Shark Pup, Chloe!

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I’m happy to report that our sandbark shark pup Chloe is thriving in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit – where she has been since the end of June

national aquarium sandbar shark

Photo via Jeff Mauritzen.

In the last few months, Chloe has been enjoying a steady diet of mackerel, squid, shrimp, herring and capelin! The diet of each Aquarium resident is measured out (based on their weight) and fed carefully, to ensure that everyone is getting the right amount of nutrition. At the moment, Chloe is eating about .2 lbs of food at each meal!

Since her birth back in May, Chloe has grown to be about 10 lbs in weight and about 2.5 feet in length!

Do you have a question about Chloe, her species or just sharks in general? Ask me in the comments section! 

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Animal Updates – November 8

national aquarium animal update

White-blotched river ray in Amazon River Forest

A white-blotched river ray has been introduced into our Amazon River Forest exhibit!

national aquarium white-blotched river ray

Did you know? On average, these rays are only about two feet in length! Their diet mostly consists of freshwater snails and crustaceans.

national aquarium white-blotched river ray

We love this close-up of our white-blotched ray from Flickr user adamcoop68.

This South American species makes its home in Brazil’s Xingu river basin.

Because of their limited natural range, these rays have been especially vulnerable to habitat degradation in recent years.

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

Happy Halloween from the National Aquarium!

From underwater pumpkin carving to themed enrichment (and snacks!), Halloween was celebrated to the fullest throughout the Aquarium today!

Here’s a re-cap of some of today’s activities:

Halloween-themed enrichment

Pumpkin carving in Blacktip Reef

In partnership with Discovery and Animal Planet L!VE, we broadcast our first-EVER underwater pumpkin carving from Blacktip Reef online via our Shark Cam! Didn’t get a chance to tune in live? Watch the carving here:

We hope everyone is having a safe and fun Halloween! 

Happy International Sloth Day!

Today is the 4th annual International Sloth Day!

Created by the AIUNA Foundation, International Sloth Day aims to bring awareness to illegal trafficking and the mistreatment of sloths in Central and South America. AIUNA is a nonprofit located in Medellin, Colombia focused on the rehabilitation and release of sloths injured by power lines, hit by cars or sold illegally.

Here at the Aquarium, we have four Linne’s two-toed sloths that live in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit! With two claws on the front feet and three on the back, Linne’s two-toed sloths are designed for an arboreal life. They move through the tree branches and even mate and give birth while hanging upside down!

national aquarium baby sloth

Did you know? Sloth babies, like our newest addition Camden, will cling to their moms for their first year of life! During that time, their moms teach them all about being a sloth – from what to eat to how to navigate the tree tops!

Want to learn even more about these fascinating animals? Check out our infographic:

international sloth day infographic

How are YOU celebrating International Sloth Day? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation on Facebook!

The LAST Animal, a Napoleon Wrasse, Has Been Introduced into Blacktip Reef!

blacktip reef update national aquarium

We’re so excited to share that the LAST of our animals has been successfully introduced into Blacktip Reef!

Humphead Wrasse National Aquarium Blacktip Reef

Also known as a humphead or Maori wrasse (after a Polynesian group from New Zealand), this fish is found in reef habitats throughout the Indo-Pacific. This species of wrasse in particular can grow to be over six feet long!

This wrasse combs reefs in search of hard-shelled prey such as mollusks, sea stars and crustaceans – our aquarists keep the newest resident to Blacktip Reef on a similar diet!

National Aquarium, Blacktip Reef, Napoleon Wrasse

Napoleon wrasses have been known to live for over 30 years! It takes them 5-7 years to reach sexual maturity.

In the wild, this species’ population numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. This decline is due in major part to a high demand for this fish in the Asian luxury food market. Humphead wrasse meat can fetch up to $100 dollars per kilogram in Hong Kong. As a result of this recent and rapid population decline, the species has been listed under the Endangered Species Act and IUCN’s Red List.

 We hope you can stop by and meet the newest (truly stunning) resident of Blacktip Reef! In the meantime, look out for him on our live Shark Cam

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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