Posts Tagged 'maryland'

Happy Maryland Day!

government affairs and policy update

Every year on March 25th the Old Line State celebrates the rich history of all things Maryland. Did you know? It was on this day in 1634 that colonists ventured up the Chesapeake Bay and arrived on Maryland soil!

Here at the National Aquarium we take pride in our Maryland roots. 70,000 Maryland schoolchildren, teaches and chaperones visit the Aquarium every year. Hundreds of National Aquarium staff and volunteers work tirelessly to restore the Chesapeake Bay. And the seals, sea turtles, and whales that get stranded off of Ocean City and other Maryland  beaches? National Aquarium resumes, rehabilitates and releases them back into the wild.

But the Aquarium’s Maryland pride does not stop there – we also have a strong representation of Maryland animals throughout our exhibits, both species native to our coast and ones that rely on the calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay to survive.

Everyone is quick to recognize Maryland favorites like blue crabs and terrapins, but here are some not-so-obvious animals that can be seen in Maryland waters: 

Lined Seahorse

This pale yellow seahorse has dark lines across its head and body that help it camouflage into Bay grasses.

lined seahorse

This species of seahorse can be found year-round in the middle and lower regions of the Chesapeake Bay, extending north to regions such as Calvert County and Kent Island. While usually found amidst the grasses in the Bay’s shallow waters, they can also be seen clinging to ropes and crab pots.

Sandbar Shark

Usually found along the North American Atlantic coast, these stocky brownish sharks can be seen in the shallows of the middle and lower regions of the Bay in Summer and Fall.

Sandbar shark

These Chesapeake Bay visitors are usually large schools of juveniles, usually ranging only about 2-3-feet in size, however, spotting an adult 7-foot sandbar shark in the Bay would not be unheard of. The Bay has become one of the most important sandbar shark nursery areas on the East Coast and young sharks often feed on native blue crabs. The sharks prefer the protected waters and stay near the smooth sandy bottoms of the Bay before heading back into the southern waters when the weather gets cooler.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Adult loggerheads are common in the lower Bay from May to November, but can also be seen as far north as Kent Island during summer months.

Loggerhead turtle

They come to feed on blue crabs and horse crabs and to hatch their young. The lower Bay is an important growth area for young loggerheads before they are large and strong enough to make it back into the open ocean.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins visit the lower and middle Chesapeake Bay in the summers, usually to Cape Charles and the James and Elizabeth Rivers.

dolphin count

They can go into fresh water for short periods and feed on a variety of the Bay’s fish, crabs, and other shellfish. You can find them traveling in pods ranging anywhere from 2 to 15 dolphins, staying in the Bay and rivers for a summer vacation before heading back to the open water when the weather gets cooler.

Cownose Ray

With a wingspan of up to 3 feet, cownose rays can also be found traveling in schools in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay during summer months.

national aquarium cownose ray

The schools traverse the lower and middle parts of the Bay, sometimes going as far north as Kent Island, from May to October, before heading back to southern coastal waters when autumn comes. They come to the Bay to search of oysters and clams and a safe place to mate in the late summer from June to July. The schools can be large and visible as they move through the Bay.

How are you celebrating Maryland Day? Tell us in the comments section! 

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Animal Update – August 2

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

Blue crab added to our Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit! 

A feisty blue crab has been added to our Tidal Marsh gallery!

blue crab

Did you know? Blue crabs have three pairs of legs and primarily walk sideways.

Loss of habitat, combined with the blue crab’s popularity as a food for humans, has led to serious drops in populations. The population of Chesapeake Bay crabs has grown since 2001, but the future remains uncertain.

blue crab

Habitat restoration is essential for crab recovery. The National Aquarium invites you to help us restore marshes throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

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

2013 Dolphin Count Results Are In!

Staff from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue program were joined by volunteers today for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count. This year, 113 dolphins were sighted!

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

Volunteers of all ages braved the rain to help record dolphin sightings at four locations along the Eastern Shore of Maryland – three beach locations in Ocean City and at the Assateague State Park Day Use Area.

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

In Ocean City, our team also spotted numerous pelicans and osprey diving for fish!

pelicans ocean city maryland

Annual dolphin counts help marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot look at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health. Looking at the population numbers over the years can help to determine the health of the coastal ecosystem as well as the abundance of prey.

national aquarium dolphin count 2013

We want to send out a big thank you to all those who joined our team today!

Click here for more information on National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program and how the general public can assist with rescue efforts!

Re-cap: Wetland Restoration in New York

Last week, our conservation staff traveled to upstate New York to engage students in local wetland restoration projects. Two schools, Chenango Forks High School and Ridge Road Elementary School, participated in a modified version of our Wetland Nursery program.

ny wetland restoration

For the students who live in the northern end of the watershed, it can be difficult to understand the connection between their community and the Chesapeake Bay. But after learning about and caring for different kinds of wetland plants, the students began to see how wetlands in their area can help clean-up waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A total of 95 students from Chenango Forks High School and Chenango Forks Elementary School planted 1,500 freshwater wetland plants in a swamp on their school’s property. Additionally, the students removed four trash bags of invasive plants to make room for the native species.
Thirty-two students from Ridge Road Elementary School planted 1,500 freshwater wetland plants in a vernal pond at Tanglewood Nature Center. Afterwards, they took a tour of the Nature Center and the beautiful property around it.

ny wetland restoration

The Wetland Nursery Program aims to create a lasting connection between students and the Chesapeake Bay. By raising wetland plants and helping to restore a local wetland, students become invested in the health of the ecosystem and feel a closer connection to their watershed.
The students’ hard work did not go unnoticed; check out the local news channel’s coverage of the planting event.

A special thank you to our partners on this project: Elmira Corning Community Foundation, the Upper Susquehanna Coalition and Tanglewood Nature Center!

 

Thoughtful Thursdays: Promoting Environmental Education in Baltimore

Masonville Cove is an Urban Wilderness Conservation Area and environmental education center that is creating habitat and educating residents right in Baltimore City. This site was reclaimed as waterfront access through a series of community enhancements carried out by the Maryland Port Administration as mitigation for the adjacent Dredged Material Containment Facility. More than 3,000 students per year pass through the doors of the Environmental Education Center, operated by Living Classrooms Foundation since 2009; as of October, 2012 the facility is open to the public!

This week the center is hosting its annual Environmental Education Festival for area 5th grade students, and the National Aquarium will be on site to lead them in planting salt bush shrubs along a living shoreline. Nearly 200 children will split their time between educational activities and planting a collective 300 shrubs. This will help control erosion along the water as well as provide valuable habitat for the critters that call Masonville Cove home.

masonville cove

Local students planting along the shoreline at Masonville Cove.

In addition to the shrubs, this living shoreline will also be the new home to four thousand marsh grasses grown as part of our Wetland Nursery program. Students from Benjamin Franklin High School and Curtis Bay Elementary Middle School have been caring for the wetland grasses in ponds on their school grounds since last fall, and finally have the chance to make them part of the restoration of their own local cove!

Now the Cove needs your help! If you want to have a hand in the restoration, join us on Saturday, June 22nd for a volunteer Field Day! Activities will include marsh grass planting and debris cleanup along the shore, as well as native garden maintenance and bird box installation. The event is family-friendly, however the minimum age is 10 and those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

A Blue View: Vernal Pools

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.

April 17, 2013: Vernal Pools

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss what vernal pools
and the important role they play for our woodland ecosystems. 

When most of us think of aquatic ecosystems, what usually comes to mind are oceans, rivers, bays, lakes, and streams. But there is another essential body of water, one not commonly known, that provides critical habitats for many woodland animals.

Vernal pools are similar to swamps or small ponds in appearance, but there’s one key difference: They fill and dry cyclically throughout the year. These temporary woodland ponds occur in shallow depressions and typically fill in the spring and dry out during the summer only to fill once again in the fall. Small in size, usually less than an acre, vernal pools are often surrounded by woodlands.

Several species of frogs, toads, salamanders, and numerous invertebrates use these pools as their primary breeding habitat, making their role in landscapes in the northeastern United States even greater than one might expect given their small size and temporary nature.

Vernal pools usually are at their deepest in the spring, which is where these pools get their name: vernal comes from the Latin “vernus,” meaning “belonging to spring.” They fill with rainwater, snow melt, and runoff from higher areas, and though small, they are literally teeming with life. The first warm rains of March and April set off mass migrations of frogs and salamanders from the surrounding woodlands into the pools, which provide a space for all sorts of plants, insects, and other animals to grow and thrive.

Take marbled salamanders, for instance. At summer’s end, many of the vernal pools are completely dry. By the end of September, prior to the onset of fall rains, hundreds of female marbled salamanders assemble and lay up to 200 eggs in depressions under logs, vegetation, and leaves in the lower areas of a vernal pools. The eggs are guarded until rains fill the low-lying areas, and the eggs hatch soon after coming into contact with water.

Fairy shrimp eggs that have been lying dormant in the dry mud also start hatching when these pools fill with water. Species such as wood frogs and spotted salamanders almost exclusively utilize vernal pools for breeding. Even mollusks, such as fingernail clams, can be found in vernal pools, surviving by remaining dormant in pool sediment during the dry season.

This wetland-then-drought cycle means that fish and other species that depend on permanent water cannot survive, providing an ideal habitat for the aquatic larvae of insects and amphibians. Any frog or salamander that lays its eggs in a vernal pool benefits by not having its offspring eaten by fish. These species would otherwise be challenged with competition or predation from larger aquatic species. The inhabitants of these vernal pools aren’t without predators, however. In April and May, snakes, turtles, birds, and mammals visit the vernal pools to feed on amphibians and their larvae. As the year progresses other species are drawn to vernal pools as well for food, water and shelter.

In addition to the providing a diverse ecosystem for wildlife, vernal pools help to gather and hold runoff from heavy rains, serving as storage tanks and settlement ponds for areas such as the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Without vernal pools, the runoff and silt load is increased and delivered directly into larger water sources.

Despite their vast importance, these wetland ecosystems are threatened. Because they are temporary, they are often not protected by wetlands laws. The study of these vernal pools is evolving, and ecologists are steadily increasing their understanding of these pools as a healthy habitat and breeding ground for many species.

This spring, you can see these vibrant ecosystems for yourself as you hike or bike through the forests of Maryland. These specialized, woodland wetlands can often be located by following the sounds of calling frogs. Take care not to disturb them, but by all means pause and look at the diversity of life that exists in these vernal pools.

Re-Cap: Eastern Neck Tree Planting!

Last weekend, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) hosted a tree planting event at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Eastern Neck is a 2,285-acre stopover area for migratory and wintering waterfowl at the mouth of the Chester River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Funded through the US Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and National Wildlife Federation, community volunteers, students and partners planted 15,000 native hardwood trees creating a 300 foot forest buffer along the river. Since 2000, we have restored more than 12 acres of wetland habitat, demonstrating the beneficial use of dredge material. The wetlands provide refuge to a variety of wildlife including terrapins, birds, snakes and small mammals.

In total, 80 students from Rock Hall Elementary, Kent County High School and Aquarium On Wheels (an after school program for Baltimore City Youth) participated alongside 18 Maryland Conservation Corps, 19 Aquarium Conservation Team and 36 community volunteers. Our planting project at Eastern Neck is part of a larger initiative to educate local school children on the importance of marsh habitat around the Chesapeake Bay using these restored wetlands as a living classroom.

US Fish and Wildlife Staff will continue to monitor trees over the next several years to assure success of the newly-planted seedlings!

Want to get out in the field and give back to our local wildlife? Join us at our of our upcoming conservation events


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