Archive for the 'From the Curator' Category



Practicing Routine Dolphin Exams

Today’s post comes from our Senior Marine Mammal Trainer, Kerry Martens! 

At the National Aquarium we believe in and practice excellence in animal care. As trainers, we work with the animals every day, practicing medical behaviors that allow us to take the best possible care of them.

Each morning the dolphins get a visual check. They have been trained to present to us different parts of their bodies so we can check their skin and get a good look at their overall body condition.

dolphin body check

Next, we ask the animals to present their fluke. This is where the Veterinarians take a blood sample from. Routine blood samples are taken from our dolphins just like people get blood taken during check-ups with their doctors.

dolphin fluke

Besides looking at the overall body of the animal, there are a few other items we check out as well.

We check the dolphin’s teeth daily to make sure they are in good condition. Dolphins only have one set of pointy cone-shaped teeth for their entire lives!

dolphin teeth check

We also check their breath, or blow. All of the animals are trained to forcefully exhale on cue. Lastly, once a week, the animals get weighed. They are trained to haul up and out of the water onto a flat scale. Most of our dolphins weigh between 300-400 pounds, but Nani is over 500!

Nani on the scale!

Nani on the scale!

Once we finish their daily visual check we want to make sure to reward the dolphins for their good behavior. As trainers it is extremely important that we have strong positive relationships with each of the animals. Play time is a great way to build that relationship!

Chesapeake is ready for to play!

Chesapeake is ready for to play!

The information gathered from the visual checks not only allows us to take the best care of our dolphins, but share information with other aquariums and researchers as well. For information on the National Aquarium’s many ongoing research projects, visit our Research page!

Cleaning Omega: Giving Old Bones a New Look

A visit to National Aquarium, Baltimore is incomplete (and nearly impossible) without sighting Omega, the finback whale skeleton that has been at the Aquarium since we opened more than 30 years ago.

Conservators carefully vacuuming the whale skeleton.

Conservators carefully vacuuming the whale skeleton.

The scaffolding and lid needed for the construction of our new Blacktip Reef exhibit have given us a unique opportunity to bring in a expert team of conservators to give Omega a proper cleaning.

Due to its location, the skeleton (which weighs approximately 5,000 pounds!) has been mostly inaccessible for adjustments and cleaning. Over the years, Aquarium staff have cleaned the skeleton by using a small vacuum and soft brushes, however, this deep-cleaning will give a team of four conservators the opportunity to carefully clean Omega and tend to any chemical and physical deterioration to the skeleton.

A bit of history on Omega…

Omega was most likely born around 1870 and developed into a 50 ton, 58 foot finback whale living in the Atlantic off the coast of New England. In the Spring of 1883, Omega was harvested by a small whaler and towed to one of the small ports on Cape Cod for rendering. A finback of Omega’s size would yield only eight barrels of oil, the rest (including the whale’s bones) was considered scrap. Henry Ward, a conservator who prepared large animal skeletons for P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill Cody and similar exhibitions, acquired Omega’s skeleton in 1884 and prepared the large skeleton for display.

Omega was purchased by the state of New York and remained packed away in the basement at Rochester University until 1979, when it came to the National Aquarium on permanent loan from the New York State Museum in Albany. She has been graciously hanging over our exhibits since 1981!

Stay tuned for more updates on our Omega cleaning project! 

A Blue View: World Water Day

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 20, 2013: The Streams of Maryland

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the important role
freshwater plays in the survival of all living things!

Held annually on March 22, the United Nation’s World Water Day brings attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Globally, freshwater accessibility is critical for the survival of all living things, yet it is a significantly threatened resource. In Maryland, our own freshwater streams and rivers need our help as they run to the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay.

Even if you don’t live on the water, the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which encompasses more than 64,000 square miles to six states and the District of Columbia, affects each of us every day. More than 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers weave through the Chesapeake’s vast watershed. In fact, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we all live within 15 minutes of a stream, making freshwater health not just a Maryland issue, but a backyard issue as well!

Healthy streams are organically balanced, with enough oxygen to support life. Decaying plants and animal waste provide a balanced amount of nutrients, and the water is not too acid or too alkaline. In these healthy streams, runoff is kept to a minimum, and chemicals from farms, factories, and residential areas do not make their way into the stream. Countless species rely on healthy freshwater ecosystems to thrive. Fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, invertebrates…DNR states that Maryland is home to more than 100 species of fish, 20 species of salamander, and 10 species of turtle, just to name a few stream-dwellers.

diamondbackterrapin

The diamondback terrapin is just one of the many species of reptiles that rely on Maryland waterways!

In a recent assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just 45 percent of sampled streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were rated fair, good, or excellent. As outlined in the EPA’s Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the goal is to improve the health of the watershed so that 70 percent of sampled streams measure fair or better by 2025.

To help increase our understanding of stream health, DNR coordinates a team of volunteers who collect important stream quality data across the state. This program, called Stream Waders, is the volunteer component of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey. The use of these volunteers allows more streams to be sampled, giving a big-picture view of Maryland’s waterways. Volunteers participate in a one-day training session, then spend a couple days in March or April collecting aquatic invertebrate samples from stream beds.

The study of aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies, is instrumental in the analysis of streams. Because invertebrates vary in their sensitivity to pollutants, a healthy stream has both sensitive and tolerant invertebrate species while an unhealthy one would have only pollution-tolerant species. Ultimately, the Stream Waders data is used in DNR reports and is available for review on their website.

In our daily lives, each of us can take steps to help keep our community streams healthy. Take a walk along a nearby stream and properly dispose of trash you find along its banks. Limit pesticide use in your yard so that it doesn’t make its way into freshwater supplies. Many local organizations host stream cleanups or wetland restoration events, so volunteer your time. Even just one day a year can make a real difference to a stream in your community.

Take action to keep our streams today by joining our Conservation team at one of our upcoming cleanups

A Blue View: Lionfish Invade Our 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.

March 13, 2013: Lionfish Invade Our Seas

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John and aquarist Ashleigh Clews discuss 
the threat lionfish pose to the health of our oceans.

Since 1992, when Pacific lionfish were first sighted in South Florida waters, this fish has become widely established all along the southeast United States and the Caribbean Sea, even being spotted as far north as New York. These distinctive looking fish—red and white striped with long pectoral fins and needle-like dorsal fins, have profoundly impacted the health of the ecosystems where they now reside.

So, how were these species introduced into local waters? Ashleigh Clews, a senior aquarist at the Aquarium, says it’s likely that the species was first introduced by home aquarium owners. Although these fish are popular in the trade, they often outgrow their tanks and will sometimes prey on other fish.

There was an estimated population boom of 700 percent between 2004 and 2008 in invaded areas. This presence of lionfish in the Atlantic is causing many problems. They’re eating native fish and crustaceans and destroying native habitats and ecosystems. Additionally, with no real predators and an average spawn rate of close to 2 million eggs a year, this species shows no sign of disappearing on its own.

Conservationists and researchers are working to address this growing problem through a variety of initiatives, including raising awareness of lionfish as a sustainable seafood option!

Have you ever eaten lionfish? Tell us about your experience in the comments! 

A Blue View: The Truth About Invasive Species

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 6, 2013: The Truth About Invasive Species 

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and aquarist Ashleigh Clews
discuss the impact that invasive species of plants
and animals 
have on our ecosystems. 

This week is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, a week dedicated to raising consciousness about invasive plants and animals and their effects on our environment and our economy.

In recent years, exotic species like lionfish, burmese pythons, zebra mussels and snakehead have had an increasing presence in local our waterways and oceans. With no natural predators in these new environments, these animals essentially wreak havoc on entire ecosystems. Once these intense habitat alterations and ecosystem degradations take place, it is very hard to reverse those effects.

In addition to environmental toll, invasive species cost billions of dollars every year in prevention, control and management.

What we can all do to protect native species: 

  • Prevention – A majority of invasive species end up in our waterways and oceans because of human release. Whether it’s the release of unwanted pets or the use of bait fish in their non-native area, these human introductions CAN be prevented through increased awareness! 
  • Early Detection and Response – Get a better sense of which species in your area are “nonindigenous” and invasive so that you can report them when spotted!

Q&A With Aquarium Curator John Seyjagat!

marjorie lynn banks lecture series

Tomorrow night (March 5) kicks off our annual Marjorie Lynn Bank Lecture Series! The first lecture features John Seyjagat, curator of our Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit! To give you a sneak preview of tomorrow night’s talk, we sat down with John to get an inside look at his day-to-day work at the Aquarium:

  1. How long have you been at the Aquarium? About 10 years.
  2. How did you get your current position? I started as a consultant to the Exhibit and Design team back in 2002, and when the curator position became available in 2003, I applied and got the position.
  3. Describe a typical day at work for you… I like getting in to enjoy a period of undisturbed work, so I get in at 6 am. I do prep work and get ready to meet my staff at 7:30 am. By 8 am, it is time to work with staff and assist with any animal matters. By 9 am, the exhibit is open and ready to receive the public. At 10 am, our volunteer staff arrives. I give them their daily update and the tools necessary to wow our visitors. In the early afternoon, I again meet with staff for updates and firm up the afternoon routine. Most of my afternoons are dedicated to Biological Programs staff meetings or bigger projects related to the Australia exhibit. By 3 pm, I’ve met with my late shift staff for updates and briefings and planned their night. Even when I leave the Aquarium for the night, I am on my pager 24/7 just in case. That’s a non-hectic, good day!
  4. What’s your favorite spot within the Australia exhibit? The area in front of the Barramundi.

    The barramundis in the exhibit are all in the range of 9–10 years of age. When they arrived at the Aquarium, they were less than 12 inches long!

    The barramundi in our Australia exhibit!

  5. If you could trade places professionally with anyone in the world, who would it be and why? Sir David Attenborough. I worked with him on two films and was able to talk extensively with him during both projects. I learned so much about zoo-geography. The guy is as brilliant as he sounds!
  6. What is your favorite animal and why? Edentates (mammals that have little to no teeth, such as the sloth) and the silky anteater. This is the animal that dragged me into the zoo world. I was one of two people in the world who kept silky anteaters and wanted to learn more about them.

    Sloths are part of the edante mammal order!

    Sloths are part of the edentate mammal order.

  7. What’s one thing very few people know about the Australia exhibit? Its state of the art mechanics can be controlled from a computer or cell phone from anywhere in the world!
  8. Any exciting upcoming projects or research you can tell us about? The mouth almighty is the only freshwater cardinalfish in the world and is found in northern Australia and New Guinea. This fish may be the origin of all cardinalfish species, including the endangered Banggai cardinalfish. We are currently partnering with the New Jersey Academy of Aquatic Sciences to research the evolutionary biology of this species group to hopefully make a linkage to the origin of all cardinalfish.

Want to know more about our Australia exhibit and John’s exciting work? Join us tomorrow for his lecture in Baltimore!

All lectures are free for Aquarium donors; $5 for members; and $10 for non-members. Reservations required: 410-659-4230. A light reception will be held at 6:45 pm, followed by the curator’s talk in the Lyn P. Meyerhoff Auditorium.

Thoughtful Thursdays: 2012 Youth Ocean Conservation Summit

From National Aquarium education specialist, Maria Madero:

On a cold November morning, four Aquarium on Wheels (AOW) students, De’Quan, Asia, Paul, and Dana met Aquarium staff supervisors, Nancy, Maria, and Jeremyat BWI airport to begin their weekend adventure at the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at the MOTE Marine Lab in Sarasota, FL. From the moment we stepped into the airport, there was an air of excitement. For some of our AOW students this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In fact, it was Asia’s first time flying! Once up in the air, she was glued to the window, amazed at the sights below just as the rest of the students.

On the way to Tampa!

We flew into Tampa and had a gorgeous coast line drive to Sarasota, FL (filled with many sing-a-longs).  The summit began that evening with a Community Ocean Conservation Film Festival featuring the short film, This is your Ocean: Sharks by Jim Abernethy and George Schellenger! The festival also featured student produced ocean conservation short films showcasing how youth of all ages are taking action to protect our marine environment.

The festival inspired our AOW students greatly. They want to continue the mission set forth by Jim Abernethy by creating their own video!

Exploring the beautiful Sarasota beach

On Saturday, our group attended the full day summit at MOTE Marine Lab. We learned how the youth of Florida are making a difference in their community and beyond. Our AOW students were inspired by the personal stories of successful action plans and could not wait to make their own! Thankfully, our next session was all about action planning. We had time to brainstorm ideas and come up with an action plan that we could take back to our community and make a difference! Our group hopes to focus on a Chesapeake Bay-related issue, such as overfishing and harvesting, for the play they’ll be performing  at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. They will also be creating a film that highlights this issue in hopes to spread the word even farther than Baltimore!

The group after a successful day at the summit

We spent the remainder of the summit in workshop sessions building the foundation and gathering the skills needed in order to implement our action plan. Workshop session topics included fundraising, plastic pollution, public service announcements, conservation through art, branding, and marine debris prevention. This diverse array of topics allowed for our students to develop a broad knowledge base to bring back to others in their program to make their project a success.

On Sunday morning, we had the wonderful opportunity to go kayaking in the mangroves with MOTE Marine Lab educator Brad Tanner. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for our students; they had never seen an environment like this! Not only was the location gorgeous, but we had the rare chance to see and interact with manatees! It was an unforgettable experience.

Paul and De’Quan were amazed to be so close to a manatee!

As a supervisor, getting a chance to see the students you work with on a regular basis have such a great experience is an invaluable thing. This summit inspired our students, who are now brainstorming and excited about implementing their action plans for this year. I could not be more proud of them! The attention, participation and drive of our AOW students as well as Sean has inspired all of us. A huge THANK YOU to Nancy, also known to our students as “Aunt Nancy,” who made this whole trip possible!

For more information on The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit and Sean Russell’s efforts, please visit www.stowitdontthrowitproject.org. Sean and our AOW students are proof that everyone, no matter your age, can make a difference!


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