Posts Tagged 'behind the scenes'



Go Behind-the-Scenes with Aquarium Vets!

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Ever wondered how we care for the 17,000+ animals that call the Aquarium home?

I’m excited to share the news that we’ve just launched our first-ever Veterinarian Tour, which takes guests behind-the-scenes to learn all about the fascinating world of veterinary medicine!

At the National Aquarium, we currently have a staff of four veterinarians and three vet technicians that are in charge of the medical care for all of our animals.  These animals range in size and species from our rain forest tarantula up to our dolphins, and everything in between.

All of the veterinarians at the Aquarium have gone through specialized training to work with our invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. We are proud to say that two of our veterinarians are board-certified in at least one specialty, and our other two veterinarians are currently working towards their specialty certifications.

What it takes to become a veterinarian:
To become a veterinarian, you first need to get a bachelor’s degree from an undergraduate college.  After that, you need to apply and be accepted to a college of veterinary medicine.  Currently, there are only 29 schools in the United States with a veterinary college. This means that for approximately every 10 to 12 applicants to a veterinary school, only one person will be accepted.

After graduating from four years of veterinary school, you are able to go out and practice on any animal you would like to.  However, in order to become a certified specialist with any group of animals, more training is needed.  There are numerous internships and residencies available to provide this specialized training after graduating from veterinary school.

national aquarium vet tour

The next time you visit the Aquarium, take a moment to think about what it takes to keep our animals happy and healthy.

To learn more and to get a behind-the-scenes look at our line of work, check out an upcoming Veterinary Tour.

national aquarium Leigh Clayton

Animal Update – March 7

national aquarium animal update

Blue Hamlet in Atlantic Coral Reef

A blue hamlet has been added to our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

national aquarium blue hamlet

This fish, named for its iridescent blue hue, is native to Atlantic coral reef habitats (from the Florida Keys to Mexico).

Blue hamlets are typically very shy. They spend most of their days hiding in reef crevices.

Map Puffer in Blacktip Reef

Did you know? The map puffer is one of six species of pufferfish on exhibit in Blacktip Reef!

national aquarium map puffer

Map pufferfish can be found in reef habitats throughout the Indo-Pacific. Their oval shape and distinctive pattern make these fish easy to spot!

Map puffers are solitary animals. They mostly feed on invertebrates, sponges and algaes.

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

Animal Update – February 28

national aquarium animal update

Graysby in Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit! 

A graysby has been added to our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

national aquarium graysby

Did you know? Graysby fish are solitary and secretive animals. The often spend most of their day hiding in spots within the coral reefs where they make their home.

Graysbys vary in coloration from light grey to brown. These fish are covered in many small reddish spots!

national aquarium graysby

The graysby’s range includes the Western Atlantic Oceans from North Carolina to southern Florida, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

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

Animal Update – February 21

national aquarium animal update

California Moray in Kelp Forest

A California moray eel was recently added to our Kelp Forest exhibit!

national aquarium california moray

This species of moray, native to southern California (from Santa Barbara to Baja), varies in coloration from dark brown to green and can grow to be up to five feet in length!

California moray eels live in the crevices or holes along shallow reef areas. These eels feed mostly at night on crustaceans, octopuses, sea urchins and small fish.

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

Animal Update – February 7

national aquarium animal update

New Boat-Billed Herons in the Rain Forest! 

Two boat-billed herons, transported to Baltimore from the Buffalo Zoo, have been introduced into our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit!

national aquarium boat-billed heron

Boat-billed herons are found in forested areas near water from Mexico to Argentina.  These stocky birds feed mostly on fish, invertebrates, and small amphibians.

Did you know? The large characteristic beak that gives the bird it’s name is used for both food gathering and for social signaling between other members of the species!

 Both of our herons are females, estimated to be about six-years-old. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at one of our herons getting a quick exam before going on exhibit:

national aquarium heron exam

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

Animal Update – January 31

national aquarium animal update

Sailfin Sculpin in Surviving Through Adaptation

Two sailfin sculpins have been added to the Feeding gallery of our Surviving Through Adaptation exhibit.

national aquarium sailfin sculpin

Also known as the “eye-banded sailor fish,” sailfin sculpins are found through the eastern Pacific ocean – from Alaska to southern California. This species prefers to stay along the shoreline where there are lots of rocky, algae-covered crevices.

Did you know? Their common name is derived from the sail-like fin that sits on top of their heads!

Plumose Anemones Added to Surviving Through Adaptation

Two plumose anemones have also been added to our Feeding gallery!

national aquarium plumose anemone

Plumose anemones are common from southern Alaska to southern California. Young specimens will often form dense colonies on pilings, floats, breakwaters and jetties in bays and harbors.

These animals are easily recognized by their tall, column-like bodies, which are topped with a “plume” of many short oral arms.

To feed, these anemones sweep passing seawater with their tentacles to filter out zooplankton!

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

Get to Know Dolphin Discovery

For the 1.3 million people who visit us annually, there’s a lot to see and do at the Aquarium. However, there’s even more going on with our animals and staff behind-the-scenes.

Although our blog often offers sneak peeks into the everyday lives of our 17,000+ animals, we thought it would be fun to give our readers a breakdown from the perspective of our exhibits!

This week’s highlighted exhibit is Dolphin Discovery:

Dolphin Discovery, the Aquarium’s largest exhibit, first opened in 1990 and is home to our colony of eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins!

The Animals:

  • Six females: Nani, Jade, Spirit, Maya, Bayley and Chesapeake
  • Two males: Beau and Foster

Nani, our eldest dolphin at 42, is the mother to Beau and Spirit. Chesapeake was the first dolphin born at the National Aquarium and she is the mother to our youngest dolphin, Bayley.  Maya is a half sister to Chesapeake (via dam or mother) as well as half sister to Spirit (via sire or father).  Jade is the mother to Foster. All but one of our dolphins were born right here at the Aquarium. Nani came to us from another aquarium that had to close.

This colony structure represents a complex social group for the dolphins and provides them with essential relationships. Bottlenose dolphins live in a matriarchal society due to the level of care that females provide to their young; the males live in separate social groups consisting of a few members that are called bachelor groups or alliances.  Here are at the National Aquarium, we house our animals in what we call a nursery group which consists of all of our females ranging in age from 42 to 5 and our two males have formed a pair bonded group.

Exhibit Staff: In Dolphin Discovery, we have 13 marine mammal trainers, a Director of Marine Mammal Training, Allison Ginsburg, and our Director of Animal Programs, Sue Hunter. Our marine mammals team is responsible for the everyday care of our dolphins including medical care, diet and nutrition, teaching and learning, research, and of course a lot of playtime.

We have staff who work in this exhibit full time and we also have team members who assist with the care of dolphins. Our veterinary team, led by Dr. Leigh Clayton, provides state-of-the-art medical care to each animal on a routine basis. It’s not unusual for guests to come in and see our vet team checking in.

A Typical Day: A day in the Marine Mammal Department can start as early as 6:30 in the morning. It takes two full hours to sort and weigh out the 200 pounds of frozen fish that make up the dolphins’ diet. The dolphins get fed between 7-10 times per day, roughly every hour and half.

Sorting fish for the dolphins

Food is an essential part of their training through positive reinforcement. Our trainers work with the animals to create an enriching environment where they can learn new behaviors through play. Play is also a great way for us to build our relationship with the animals, which is key in all of the training that we do. We even help the dolphins learn certain behaviors to help us take care of them. For example, as part of regular their physicals, our veterinary team needs access to a dolphin’s fluke fin to take blood samples, so our trainers work with the dolphins through a series of play/reward sessions to obtain the desired fluke-raise behavior.

Our staff does some of this training work behind-the-scenes, but most are done during the day while guests are in the exhibit. There are many different types of sessions they participate in: some are focused on training these brand new behaviors, others are dedicated to husbandry and some consist entirely of playtime.

When we’re not working directly with the animals, we spend a majority of our time cleaning. This includes buckets, toys, the kitchen, all of our back-up areas and even the animals’ habitat. All trainers are SCUBA certified, which allows us to enter the water and scrub and vacuum each and every day.

In 2012, we changed over our Dolphin Discovery exhibit to allow our guests more access to the animals and our expert staff. Every day our dolphin exhibit is open for visitors to stop in as many times as they like for as long as they like during operating hours!

Stay tuned for next week’s highlight of Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes!


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