Posts Tagged 'Exhibits'



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!

2013 Re-cap: The Making of Blacktip Reef

This year, many of us here at the Aquarium had one thing on the brain – Blacktip Reef

From demolition to animal acquisitions, construction to animal introductions, countless hours of work from all of our departments went into the creation of this $12.5 million dollar exhibit!

As 2013 comes to a close, we’d like to take a moment to look back at how Blacktip Reef was made: 

Animal Transports

Before construction could begin on our new exhibit, the animals in our old Wings in the Water exhibit had to be safely removed!

Many of the animals that called Wings in the Water home, like our zebra sharks (Zeke and Zoe) and green sea turtle (Calypso) were moved behind-the-scenes, where they could patiently await the creation of their new home. Others were moved to other exhibits at the Aquarium or to other accredited institutions.

Want to see how we transport animals like our 500+ pound sea turtle? Check out our video:

[youtube http://youtu.be/3m4UlV2aAhU]

Construction

After all the animals had been safely removed from the exhibit space and the necessary demolition was finished, the construction phase could begin!

Blacktip Reef‘s construction process included the installation of a 28 foot acrylic window and the individual placement of over 3,000 coral pieces, creating the perfect re-creation of an Indo-Pacific reef habitat.

Want to see how all of that coral was crafted by hand? Check out our video: 

[youtube http://youtu.be/0OlzqnatA8s]

Animal Introductions

The process of introducing animals into the exhibit began in early July, with the transport of Calypso!

Calypso

After Calypso and a few hundred fish had acclimated well to their new home, all 20 of our blacktip reef sharks were added to the exhibit.

In October, our last animals were introduced into the exhibit! Over the period of two weeks, we added three wobbegong sharks and a huge Napoleon wrasse!

national aquarium humphead wrasse

It has been an incredibly busy and rewarding year. From all of us here at the Aquarium, we’d like to sincerely thank everyone for their continued support!

Here’s how YOU can support the continued growth and evolution of our newest exhibit!

The bubbles are back!

What is it about the bubble tubes that makes people smile? Why is it that every child who enters the Aquarium’s lobby runs to give them a hug?

Whatever the reason, this simply designed exhibit holds a fascinating, almost whimsical ingredient for success.

Millions of visitors have come to recognize the bubble tubes as one of the most familiar and iconic features at the Aquarium. After 30 years, the bubble tubes were showing their age, so we replaced them and made the lights more energy-efficient at the same time. 

Check out this video about the renovation:

Of course, this being the National Aquarium, we didn’t just throw the old tubes away! They were donated to a nonprofit animal sanctuary, where they’re being turned into enrichment items for the animals!

With the newly completed renovations, these lobby staples are brighter, clearer, and bluer (and “greener,” thanks to the new energy-efficient LED lighting). They continue to be a reminder that in our realistically simulated world there is indeed magic in water…and bubbles.
Bubble Tubes

The anatomy of an exhibit

Ever wonder what it takes to create an exhibit at an Aquarium? It’s a huge team effort with two goals:  to offer a 090430-waterloghealthy habitat for the animals and a great visitor experience. We have been working dilligently for the last year to create Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance, opening Memorial Day weekend. With less than a month go, let’s take a look back at the process.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to bring a new animal collection into the fold. First, there is the issue of space―there is only so much of it. Jellies require much more water than the frogs that previously occupied the same area of the Aquarium. So the first order of business was to provide for sufficient water flow and drainage to the area.  Workers distributed water from the main building, poured a new concrete floor and created a trench drain system. Most of this work had to be done off-hours to minimize visitor inconvenience. Continue reading ‘The anatomy of an exhibit’


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