Archive for the 'From the Curator' Category



National Zookeeper Appreciation Week: Crista Melchiorre

In celebration of National Zookeeper Appreciation Week, meet Crista Melchiorre, an Aviculturist in our Australia exhibit!

crista melchiorre

How long have you been at the Aquarium?
2 years

What interested you to pursue your current career path?
I have always loved animals. Growing up we always had a variety of pets and I enjoyed finding animals in the woods and my yard. I was that kid who would be brought the sick or orphaned animals in the neighborhood, but usually would have to have my mom take me to a wildlife rehabber to save it.

Briefly describe for us your day-to-day
My day starts with a lot of cleaning and diets and ends with a lot of cleaning and diets. But there is a lot of animal interaction in between, whether its medicating one of the bats, training one of our parrots or getting a brief hello from a green winged dove.

Favorite Aquarium memory?
When we moved our two grey headed flying foxes, Darwin and Victor together. Darwin had very little social interaction with other bats due to a medical condition and he was moved with Victor to give him the opportunity to socialize. We were all nervous about what was going to happen but Darwin is happier than he ever has been!

Next big project you’re working on?
I’ll be focusing on getting our Crested Pigeons to breed.

Favorite animal?
That’s a hard question! I love all the animals I work with obviously but I think there is a tie between Darwin, one of our grey headed flying foxes, he just pulls at everyone’s heart strings. And Hobart, one of our Sulfur Crested Cockatoos, he has a very big personality and loves our attention.

Thanks for celebration Zookeeper Appreciation Week with us! Got a question for our staff? Ask them in the comments section!

National Zookeeper Appreciation Week: Elizabeth Schneble

In celebration of National Zookeeper Appreciation Week, meet one of our Aquarists, Elizabeth Schneble!

beth schneble

How long have you been at the Aquarium?   

I have been working in the Fishes Department for a just a little over 6 years now.

What interested you to pursue your current career path? 

I studied wildlife conservation and resources in college, and during my studies I interned here for the National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue program and the Fishes Department simultaneously. I absolutely fell in love with the animals, the fast-paced environment, and the wonderful staff, and I knew this is what I wanted to do. As a bonus, I have always had a passion for conservation, the environment and the National Aquarium’s mission. Conservation programs provide the perfect platform for me to work with both.

Can you briefly describe for us what your typical day looks like?

In one word: “busy!” I take care of our Maryland Mountains to the Sea gallery, and my day starts around 7:30 a.m. I spend the first part of my day cleaning and preparing the exhibits for our guests and feeding the animals. Once the exhibits are clean and ready for opening, I work on cleaning the backup enclosures and feeding the animals in backup. The rest of my day is spent between working on various projects around the department, helping out and participating with other staff in diving and cleaning duties, and maintaining the life support systems on my exhibits. I also manage the wonderful aquarist assistant volunteers in Fishes Department. We currently have over 40 volunteers in the program. In the few moments I have time to sit at my desk, I catch up on emails. I am also planning the local collecting trips. The collecting season lasts approximately 6 months each year and I work very hard to plan trips to collect local animals, quarantine them and move them onto exhibit to share with our guests.

What is your favorite Aquarium memory?

I was able to participate in a lionfish collection trip in the Bahamas in 2011. I spent a week diving on the coral reefs conducting fish diversity surveys and collecting lionfish. It was by far the most rewarding and amazing aquarium experience I have had.

What is the next big project you’re working on?

I am currently building a backup turtle tank to house part of our collection of local turtles, including the diamondback terrapins and wood turtles.

What is your favorite animal?

That is a tough one, but at the moment I would have to say the diamondback terrapin! They are one of the most unique and beautiful turtle species, in my opinion. Plus, they have such interesting personalities and behaviors. How can you not love them?

Stay tuned to the blog this week to meet more of our amazing staff!

The Life Cycle of Poison Dart Frogs Explained

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National Aquarium has had a long, successful history of breeding poison dart frogs. Here in the Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, we have 16 species of poison dart frogs. Over the last few decades, scientists have become very interested in the reproductive strategies of these species and how they care for their young.

blue poison dart froglet

Dart frogs are incredibly intriguing animals. In addition to possessing toxins and bright colorations/patterns, they also have a fairly complex life cycle!

For most species, females will choose a leaf lying on the rain forest floor to deposit a mass of eggs, which the male will then fertilize. Males are oftentimes in charge of guarding the eggs while they develop.

poison dart frogs developing

Here at the Aquarium, most of our tadpoles develop behind-the-scenes in their own simulated bromeliad cup.

Once the tadpoles have developed, one parent will carry each tadpole to their very own pool of water held in a plant, known as a phytotelma. In the wild, some dart frog species (including many of the species we have in our collection) choose the water-filled cups at the base of bromeliads to safely store young.

Many tadpoles are omnivorous and most species will feed on algae and/or other small animal life (including other tadpoles). During their time in the bromeliads, the tadpoles will progressively metamorphose into full-fledged froglets!

The transition takes approximately two months, and they typically reach adult size and maturity within a year.

The normal life span for these animals in zoos and aquariums is about 10-15 years. Here at the Aquarium, we’ve had frogs live to be at least 23 years old!

ken howell rain forest expert national aquarium

A Blue View: The Pollution We Cannot See

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 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 13, 2013: The Pollution We Cannot See – Toxins in the Water

A Blue View podcast

Listen to John and Blue Water Baltimore’s, Halle Van der Gaag,
discuss how wastewater is polluting the Bay. 

When it comes to cleaning up the Baltimore Harbor, most of us think about trash cleanups. While keeping garbage out of our waterways is critically important, there’s another source of pollution infecting the Bay—bacteria from wastewater. Recently, Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, sat with Aquarium CEO John Racanelli to talk about these toxins in our waters, and what needs to be done about them:

John: Tell me about what’s going on right now in our harbor in terms of bacteria and bacteria counts.

Halle: Well, unfortunately there’s way too much bacteria in the Baltimore harbors and our streams that feed the harbor. Though Baltimore has a separate sewer system, unfortunately we see huge amounts of wastewater entering our streams, not just from broken wastewater pipes but unfortunately through the storm drain system, where it’s not supposed to be coming from.

John: And that, I would guess, leads to higher bacterial counts, because these things kind of compound.

Halle: Absolutely. It’s unfortunate, but we have an aging system, on both the storm water and the wastewater side. So pipes are breaking. Raw sewage entering our streams contributes to bacteria, and everyone knows raw sewage in our waterways is not a good thing.

John: Absolutely. Where is this wastewater coming from?

Halle: It’s coming from our homes, our businesses, the places where we work. If you think about it, all our businesses are connected to the wastewater system, and it’s intended to go to the wastewater treatment site, but all along the way, there are opportunities for cracks and breaks and leaks, and that’s where we see the problems occur.

John: So it’s not really about the trash in this case, it’s about the waste stream.

Halle: And if you think about a fishable, swimmable harbor, it’s probably not the trash that’s going to keep you out of there, it’s going to be the bacteria.

John: What are the consequences of this dirty water in terms of how it affects humans and others?

Halle: We tend not to think about the harbor as a place where people recreate, but actually folks are out there in kayaks, paddleboats, on sailboats, and boating. Unfortunately, there are real significant public health risks if exposed. Skin infections, gastrointestinal issues, and even things like our pets getting sick when they run through the streams like the Jones Falls and the Gwynns Falls. So there are significant opportunities for folks to get sick and we are hearing more and more about those types of infections happening here in Baltimore.

John: I guess this must have an economic impact on our community too, eventually.

Halle: Absolutely. Who wants to sit at a restaurant along the Inner Harbor where there’s been a fish kill and where it’s very smelly and dirty? We’ve heard from restaurants last year during the June sewage overflow of how damaging it was to their bottom line.

John: So what’s being done out there right now to combat this overall issue of wastewater pollution?

Halle: Baltimore City is spending millions of dollars through something called the Consent Decree to actually upgrade and fix wastewater pipes and the streams. We hope in the next couple of years, we’ll see significant construction happening, and that should lead to a reduction in wastewater debris in the harbor.

John: Well then let me ask, what is the message we need to get out to really bring action on this critical issue?

Halle: So I think sometimes people can be frustrated about paying into fees to upgrade these systems, but in this case, there’s really nothing citizens can do. This is about city government doing what it needs to do to repair critical wastewater infrastructure, and it’s nobody’s fault the pipes are a hundred years old. We have pipes from the 1800s that are still functional. And so we just need to get behind the city and support these upgrades.

John: Okay, well thank you, Halle, very much for coming to talk about this important issue.

About Blue Water Baltimore
Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor. From organizing trash cleanups and planting trees to monitoring streams and advocating for stronger clean water laws, Blue Water Baltimore is hard at work in communities around the state. Learn more at bluewaterbaltimore.org.

The Health Harbor Report Card
The recently released Healthy Harbor Report Card 2012 contains Blue Water Baltimore’s annual assessment for the Baltimore Harbor. This year the Harbor received an overall grade of C-. The Harbor’s grade, which is based upon 2012 monitoring data collected by the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, was higher than expected. Still, the Harbor met ecological health thresholds only 40 percent of the time, which is just barely a C-.

To view the complete Healthy Harbor Report Card, click here.

To see the Baltimore Harbor’s bacteria monitoring results for yourself, click here.

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A Blue View: Rising Seas

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 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

June 26, 2013: Rising Seas

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the impact
climate change is having on rising sea levels. 

On these hot summer days, our thoughts tend toward ice cream cones and tall glasses of ice water on a sweltering afternoon rather than the melting of ice sheets around the world. But just as the ice melting in your glass causes the water level to rise, so too does the melting of the world’s ice shelves.

Perhaps you’ve seen the incredible videos of massive chunks of ice breaking away from a glacier, causing crashing impressively into the sea. Until recently, it was thought that this was the primary cause of ice loss in Antarctica. But in fact, a study by NASA and university researchers indicates that warming oceans are also dissolving the ice from underneath the ice shelf at unprecedented rates, causing the greatest loss of Antarctic ice shelf mass. Scientists plan to use these data to help determine how ice shelves melt, improving projections of how the ice sheet might respond to a warming ocean and contribute to sea level rise.

Ice loss is not just occurring at the poles: NASA researchers have discovered that glaciers outside of the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica lost an average of 571 trillion pounds of mass each year during the six-year study period, causing sea levels to rise almost two-tenths of an inch during that time. This actually matches the sea level rise attributed to the combined ice loss of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets.

Ice melting isn’t the only contributor to sea level rise. Warming temperatures cause waters to warm and expand. In turn, warming waters take up more volume. This phenomenon is called thermal expansion. The combination of ice melting and thermal expansion means that sea level rise is not just a possibility…it is happening now, and the only question is how fast it’s going to rise.

Many scientists now believe that sea levels will rise by no less than one to two feet by 2100. And without dramatic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, the threat could be much more substantial.

The East Coast in particular is at greater risk from sea level than other areas of the world, mainly due to ocean currents and differences in seawater temperature and ocean salinity, according to climate scientists. The U.S. Geological Survey found that sea levels from North Carolina to Boston climbed by about 2 to 4 millimeters a year between 1950 and 2009 as compared to a global average of one-half to 1 millimeter.

These amounts may seem small and unimportant, but the repercussions from these rising levels are anything but. Imagine increased coastal flooding, shoreline erosion, loss of wetlands, and destroyed homes and businesses on the order of superstorm Sandy. Sea level rise does affect us all.

We need to take steps to control warming, as sea surface temperature and sea level rise are inextricably linked. According to the EPA, sea surface temperatures have risen at an average rate of 13 one-hundredths of a degree per decade since 1901. As small as that may sound, over 112 years, that’s an increase of one and a half degrees, which is already impacting not only sea level, but also coral reefs and other essential ocean habitats, migration and breeding patterns, the intensity of storms, and the spread of invasive species and marine diseases.

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