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Animal Updates – March 30

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 WATERlog blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Reef Scorpionfish 
We’ve added three Reef Scorpionfish to our Caribbean Camouflage exhibit.

Most scorpion fishes live on or near the bottom. They lie in crevices, in caves and under overhangs. This type of scorpionfish can change its color to better match its surroundings. For example, if it’s near sand, it will camouflage to look like sand while if it’s near red rocks, it will change its coloration to match the rocks. Thus he can blend in with its surroundings and go unnoticed by its prey.

Spring Blooms 
Our Cochliostema odoratissimum is currently in bloom in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit.

This large herbaceous plant is a tank-epiphyte, meaning the leaves form pockets at their bases to collect and store water. The leaves later absorb the water through small leaf hairs called trichromes. This characteristic gives this plant a very bromeliad-like appearance, making this species sometimes called false bromeliad; however, because this plant is rare in cultivation it has no scientifically recognized common name.

The leaves of the plant can grow in-excess of 1 meter in length and grow in a rosette, meaning its stem does not elongate and is comprised of overlapping leaf bases. The flowers erupt from clusters that form on the top of stalks, originating from the base of the leaf whorls. These clusters each produce a couple dozen flowers and must be hand pollinated in cultivation in order to produce fruit. The flowers have a deep blue to purple coloration and are highly fragrant.

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

National Aquarium has been selected to be a MSDE Gifted & Talented Summer Center!

We are proud to announce a new opportunity for gifted and talented middle school students this summer. The National Aquarium has been selected to be a Maryland State Department of Education Maryland Summer Center for gifted and talented middle school students, offering the Maryland Summer Center for Chesapeake Bay Watershed Investigations.

At the National Aquarium’s Summer Center, students will work alongside scientists at the National Aquarium and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland. Over a span of two weeks, the students will conduct scientific studies on water quality and biodiversity in different areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to determine the impact of water quality on biodiversity of the watershed as well as human impacts and possible solutions.

During the first week, a day program, students will use our exhibits to learn how water quality pertains to a closed aquarium system by identifying necessary water parameters for fish to survive and how to resolve water quality issues in a closed system. Using our fish collection as a study tool, students will identify local plants and animals and create a biodiversity study. The students will also have field visits to a freshwater and brackish water site where they will collect field data on water quality and biodiversity by kayak!

The mission of the National Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. By working with our scientists and staff, these students will be able to explore human impacts on watersheds, what possible solutions are being pursued and what we can all do to increase conservation.

In week two, a residential program, students will work at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science at Horn Point Laboratory. Working with the resident scientists, students will learn about and assist with current research efforts on key Chesapeake Bay species.

Dates of Operation:
Week 1: Daily program
July 23 – July 27 – 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (daily)
Week 2: Residential program
July 30 8:30 a.m. – August 3 5:00 p.m.

Tuition:
$400 total
Financial assistance is available

Applications:
In order to apply, students must demonstrate outstanding ability through the Maryland Summer Centers application process and/or be identified as gifted and talented by their school. Students must be able to attend both weeks of the program. Parents/guardians are responsible for transportation to the National Aquarium. Transportation to the field sites and residential site will be provided. Applications are due by April 15, 2012.

Click Here for more information or to apply!

Animal Updates – March 16

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!

You’ll notice in this week’s update that we’ve changed the format and design a little. We’ll now be adding labels so you can easily identify what venue the animal update is coming from! We love to hear feedback–please let us know how you like the new format!

Check our WATERlog blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s happening this week!

Scrawled Filefish
A beautiful scrawled filefish has been added to the Gray’s Reef exhibit.

Bucktooth Tetras
A total of 29 new bucktooth tetras have been added to the Piranha exhibit.

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

Now that we’ve shared this week’s Animal Updates, we wanted to share some other news!  If you haven’t seen, we announced some BIG news this week: we launched a beautifully redesigned Aqua.org!

One of the very exciting features of this new website is our wonderfully detailed animal pages! The main Animals page will now give you the opportunity to explore our animals (from both Baltimore and Washington, DC) like never before. Explore by venue, color, exhibit, geography, characteristics, and more!

On specific animal pages you can explore even further. Each animal has various photos, facts, and sometimes videos; plus, many have a special note from the animal’s Aquarium caretaker!

So please explore the new Aqua.org, especially the new Animals section!

And remember, be sure to check back here every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Visit the Newly Redesigned Aqua.org!

We are thrilled to share a very special announcement with you: we’ve launched the redesigned Aqua.org! The new website is now home for both National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD, and Washington, D.C., provides more intuitive navigation, easy-to-access ticketing, tons of beautiful photography, event calendars, and up-to-the-minute news and intriguing facts about our animals!

Please take a look! We have added some really great features we think our community will enjoy! Take some time to explore the site (and believe us, there’s a lot to explore!). Starting with the homepage, we’ve made the site more beautiful with amazing images of our animals as well as interesting facts!

Our new Animals page gives you the opportunity to explore more of our animal collection in new and different ways. You can search by venue, color, geography, exhibit, and more!

Then, once you get to a specific animal page, you can explore even further! Each animal has various photos, facts, and sometimes videos. Plus many have a note from the animal’s Aquarium caretaker!

We also want to highlight the new Trip Planner functionality–you can plan your trip from almost EVERY PAGE! When you click the “Add to Trip Planner” button throughout the website, your choices will be compiled into a full itinerary that is easy to read and organize. Plus, it’s easy to print or e-mail in preparation for your visit!

There are TONS of other new features! Please visit and roam around. We hope you’ll enjoy it!

Please take a look and let us know what you think! AQUA.ORG 

When your dive buddy is a zebra shark…

Please enjoy this guest post from Stephanie Richards, a member of the National Aquarium Volunteer Dive Team, and learn about how her experiences with dive safety have impacted her life outside of the Aquarium walls.

When your dive buddy is a zebra shark…

Stephanie Richards receiving her DAN Diving First Aid for Professional Divers certification and coin.

Being a diver at the National Aquarium is an amazing experience. Not only do we get to work in exciting underwater environments, we have the opportunity to share our enthusiasm for the aquatic world and educate visitors about the wonderful animals in the Aquarium’s collection.

The top three questions we get as divers are:
3.)  Is the water cold?
2.)  What happened to the turtle’s flipper?
1.)  Aren’t you afraid to go into the water with the sharks/rays?

We live on a water planet and the National Aquarium’s diverse exhibits reflect that immersion experience. Our ability to safely interact with the animals in the exhibits is based on an understanding of animal behavior and a profound respect for the role predators play in the ocean’s natural balance of life. It is a rare opportunity and privilege to work in these exhibits with animals that are normally only seen at a distance in the ocean. Still, the question about our safety also raises another point. In an aquatic facility as complex as the National Aquarium, what do we do if there is a water emergency?

Everywhere you go in the Aquarium you are reminded of life’s dependence on water, how it unifies us all. In the galleries, guests view the exhibits through a window however, behind the scenes, the tops of these tanks are open which allows the aquarist staff to care for the animals and maintain the exhibit. It also poses a potential water safety hazard. Unless you have had the chance to join one of the Aquarium’s special Immersion Tours, you have not yet seen such behind the scenes sights as: the husbandry catwalk suspended above the 260,000 gallon Open Ocean shark tank, the quarantine pools for new arrivals, or the Pacific Octopus and Electric Eel (that can deliver a substantial shock!) from the top of their respective tanks. Each of these habitats represents its own challenges. Whether it is a small estuary tank or a 1.2 million gallon dolphin enclosure, there is an established safety protocol for each location.

Volunteer Divers at the National Aquarium complete the Divers Alert Network (DAN) Diving First Aid for Professional Divers course, as part of our job as an emergency first responder. The DAN programs and additional safety training are incorporated into everyday life at the aquarium. There are just under 200 volunteer divers and approximately 60 staff divers as well as most of the front line staff that receive this specialized instruction. Knowing how to recognize an emergency, properly use the available rescue equipment, and work as a team are essential skills to a successful rescue. 

My team and I getting ready for a water extraction from the Wings in the Water exhibit

To keep our skills sharp, the dive teams have practice drills in the exhibits during visitor hours. This gives us a more realistic training experience and also demonstrates to the public the importance of emergency training. Performing water rescue extractions from the exhibits (with upwards of 500 visitors watching) over dive platforms and through narrow gates is a true team effort… not to mention the added excitement of working around the occasional curious sea turtle, shark, or moray eel! We are trained how to assist during medical emergencies both in and out of the water. Additionally, there are strategically stationed pieces of rescue equipment; such as Automatic Emergency Defibrillators (AED), water retrieval/floatation devices, and emergency response buttons located throughout the Aquarium buildings.

Aquarium diving is a specialized form of SCUBA. Much like wreck diving, additional training is necessary to be safe in an enclosed and complex environment. Due to the nature of the sport and a desire to keep ourselves and our dive buddies safe, many of the volunteer divers already have some level of first aid certification. The National Aquarium’s required rescue training takes water safety and emergency preparedness to another level. Our Dive Safety Officer, Chuck Eicholz, and his staff have done an outstanding job of ensuring that we have what we need to safely enjoy doing our job. As divers and volunteer staff we are routinely offered opportunities for additional training provided by the Aquarium that benefits both staff and visitors alike.

The events in Baltimore associated with the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that centered in nearby Virginia on August 23, 2011 are a perfect example of the quality and efficiency of the Aquarium’s emergency planning. It was a day when all of the drills and training were put to the test. The entire Aquarium (both buildings in Baltimore) needed to be evacuated quickly and safely. The staff immediately went into action. Every Exhibit Guide knew the planned visitor evacuation routes, the Aquarist Staff saw to the needs of the animals in the collection, and everyone worked together to ensure the safety of all involved.

This safety-oriented mindset applies not just to our work as divers at the Aquarium, but also in our everyday lives. I realized this while chaperoning my daughter’s fifth grade field trip to a waterpark in June of 2011. Suddenly, I realized something was terribly wrong and found myself sprinting across the deck and into the water. A lifeguard was just coming to the surface with one of the children. No whistle, no splash. In fact, none of the other children nearby realized what had happened. As it turns out, one of the students had never been to a pool and the family did not tell the school that she couldn’t swim. On the lazy river ride, surrounded by friends and in only hip-deep water, she had suffered a near-drowning experience.

I was able to assist the lifeguard with the rescue and helped secure the child on a backboard for extraction from the water. It was amazing how fast everything happened and I was extremely grateful to have the training necessary to be of use when it was most needed. Recognizing an emergency, treating someone in the water, extraction with a backboard, basic first aid for shock, and working with the paramedics were all integral parts of my Aquarium training. Being certified to respond to emergency situations changes the way you look at your surroundings. For example, the way I had positioned myself to watch over the children at the pool reflected what I had been taught at the Aquarium. One of the Aquarium’s safety requirements is that there is always a “Surface Tender” present when divers are in the exhibits. This person must be a certified diver, wears a special radio, and is trained in emergency procedures. The Surface Tenders are also friendly, knowledgeable Aquarium volunteers who are available to answer guest questions and assist the Aquarists, but their first priority is the safety of the divers. What I realize now is that, during the field trip, I had positioned myself like a Surface Tender to watch over the children at the waterpark.

While this near-tragedy on the field trip was accidental, nothing about the rescue was. Working with other trained responders, I realized that it was the National Aquarium’s safety-oriented mindset and the comprehensive DAN training I had received that made the difference in my actions that day. You never know when your emergency skills may be needed.

Click here to read a full article, “Skills in Action”, about Stephanie’s pool incident. This feature was recently published in Alert Diver magazine’s winter 2012 edition.

#FreshThoughts Twitter Contest!

We have a very special surprise giveaway for you today!

To help kick off our Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Dining Series 2012 season,  the National Aquarium is giving our Twitter followers the chance to win a pair of tickets to tomorrow night’s Fresh Thoughts dinner at our Washington, DC location by participating in a special #FreshThoughts Twitter Contest! 

From 9am EST through 3:30pm EST today, Tuesday, February 28, post a tweet telling us why you want to join for tomorrow’s dining event. A random entry will win two tickets to our Fresh Thoughts event tomorrow night, Wednesday, February 29, featuring Guest Chef Xavier Deshayes and a Louisiana-inspired menu of sustainable seafood!

Here are the instructions:
1) Follow the National Aquarium on Twitter at @NatlAquarium
2) Tweet us your reason why you’d like to attend tomorrow night’s Fresh Thoughts dinner to @NatlAquarium and include the hashtag #FreshThoughts

Need some inspiration? Click here to check out what Chef Xavier has planned for the four course meal – there are at least four reasons why you’d want to attend right there!

Click here to find out more about our Fresh Thoughts Sustainable Dining Series at our Washington DC location!

Contest closes at 3:30pm EST on Tuesday, Feburary 28, 2012. A winner will be announced at 4:30pm EST on Tuesday, Feburary 28, 2012. Entrants must be 21 or older to win. Winner and guest MUST be able to attend event. If selected winner is unable to attend, the National Aquarium reserves the right to pick a new winner.  

#ToadallySmitten Twitter Contest

Looking for an amazing, unique place to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your special someone? Today, the National Aquarium is giving its Twitter followers the chance to win a pair of tickets to our romantic Valentine’s Day Date Night by participating in a special #ToadallySmitten Twitter Contest!

From 9am EST through 3:30pm EST today, Wednesday, February 8, post a tweet telling us what you love. A random entry will win two tickets to our Valentine’s Day Date Night on February 14th!

Here are the instructions:
1) Follow the National Aquarium on Twitter at @NatlAquarium
2) Tweet us about something you love (can be text or multimedia) to @NatlAquarium and include the hashtag #ToadallySmitten

Contest closes at 3:30pm EST on Wednesday, Feburary 8, 2012. A winner will be announced at 4:30pm EST on Wednesday, Feburary 8, 2012. Entrants must be 21 or older to win.

So what are you waiting for?! Show some love and win two tickets to celebrate with style this year!

Click here to find out more about our Valentine’s Day Date Night!


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