Posts Tagged 'national aquarium'

A Delicate Balance: Inside the Jellies Lab

Described as mesmerizing, beautiful, even otherworldly, jellies are unique in the animal kingdom. Not technically fish, they have no heart, brain, blood or bones and are 95 percent water.

Most closely related to corals and anemones, their pulsing translucent bod­ies drift an unchoreographed dance based mostly on water currents, not choice.

The full life cycle of these incredible animals actually takes place at the Aquarium, as baby jellies grow up and are cultured by skilled aquarists in what is referred to as the jellies lab.

Bringing Up Jelly

Jennie Janssen, Manager of Changing Exhibits, is in charge of the jellies lab, located on Pier 5 in the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, and Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance on Pier 4 inside the National Aquarium.

Janssen and her team of aquarists are responsible for many species, includ­ing moon jellies, lion’s mane jellies and Atlantic sea nettles.

In the lab, the Jellies team cares for a community of jellies, raising them until they are large enough to go on exhibit. Sometimes there are hundreds of babies being cul­tured, at other times as few as five or six.

During a visit to Jellies Invasion, guests can sometimes see what look like baby jellies pulsing alongside the adults, but in fact they are more like teenagers. Jelly babies are extremely small, developing from tiny polyps (resembling small sea anemones) that attach to the inside of their exhibits.

Polyps are collected from exhibit walls and viewing windows and allowed to attach to petri dishes in the lab. There, they are fed, kept clean and encouraged to strobilate, releasing free-swimming ephyrae. At just 2 millimeters, these ephyrae are easy to miss, except by those with a trained eye.

moon jelly polyps

Once the ephyrae are released, they ride the water flow into a larger container where they grow until they are big enough to be put on exhibit.

There’s No Place Like Home

While specific jelly species have different exhibit needs, they are generally cared for in the same ways. Jellies eat zooplankton, small fish and other jellies in the wild. Jellies at the Aquarium eat brine shrimp, grown by the Jellies team, two or three times per day. As the jellies grow, their food gets larger as well.

A precise balance of water flow, salinity and tem­perature is critical to a viable jelly-breed­ing program, and sophisticated water measurement technology allows aquarists to keep careful watch over the conditions.

jellies lab behind the scenes

The size and shape of the tank, in addition to the direction and speed of water flow, are important in ensuring the jellies don’t rub against the walls or become tangled. The aquarists on staff are constantly tweaking the instruments and engineering the tanks to make sure that flow is perfect for these drifters.

In fact, Janssen says that getting that water flow rate just right is one of the hallmarks of a great jelly aquarist. And the Aquarium’s Jellies team is among the best. Not only do aquarium-raised jellies appear on exhibit here in Baltimore, but many are sent to other aquariums for their exhibits…kind of like a jellies invasion!

Happy World Turtle Day!

There are approximately 300 different types of turtles, including seven species of sea turtles. It is estimated that turtles have existed for over 200 million years, making them some of the oldest living creatures on Earth!

Turtles are best known for their hard outer shell, also called a carapace, which protects them. Turtles don’t have teeth, so they use their sharp beaks to tear up their food.

Currently, more than half of the world’s turtle species are threatened or endangered due to centuries of  poorly regulated trade, habitat loss and hunting.

In addition to terrestrial threats, the more the ocean is filled with plastic and debris, the more it is becoming a treacherous environment for sea turtles. Did you know? Plastic bags, for example, can look like jellyfish underwater, causing hungry sea turtles to devour them.

Marine Debris - Plastic Bags

If you were a turtle, could you tell the difference?

The bags are hard for the turtles to digest, and can be fatal if the plastic causes blockages in their digestive system. Research shows that young, ocean-dwelling turtles are eating twice as much plastic as turtles their age did 25 years ago.

Since plastic bags are petroleum-based, they do not biodegrade. By recycling plastic bags or using reusable bags, we can decrease the amount of plastic in the ocean and other water sources, therefore helping out our turtle friends!

Help us celebrate World Turtle Day by taking our 48 Days of Blue pledge to carry all of your purchases with reusable bags!

On Thin Ice: An In-Depth Look at Endangered Species

With overflowing landfills, the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and a reliance on unsustainable energy sources, among other factors, the human population’s carbon footprint is ever-expanding. From melting polar ice caps to ocean acidification, the environmental impact is becoming increasingly evident.

The implications of a species disappearing reach far beyond the loss of a single organism. Extinction occurs when the last individual of a species dies, and the disappearance of just one plant or animal can have a cascading effect on an ecosystem.

Leveraging Legislation

On December 28, 1973, Congress passed a monumental piece of legislation—the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the ESA was enacted to protect and restore populations threatened with extinction and their critical habitats.

More than 1,500 species are currently recognized as threatened or endangered by the ESA. The ESA prevents the “take” of those listed species from their habitat and limits trade and poaching of endangered species.

The ESA is a federal law, but it has the benefit of trickling down to state level. States, in many cases, create additional legislation to further the protection of species deemed to be endangered or threatened within their state boundaries.

Simple Changes

Too often the focus of the conversation of endangered species is the harm humans have on the environment. More important, however, is that simple behavioral changes can go a long way toward caring for and reviving the natural world.

Take palm oil.

This vegetable oil, a substitute for the partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats, can be found in everything from cereals and canned soups to baby formula and cosmetics. Through everyday purchases, many of us may be perpetuating the destruction of a habitat that boasts some of the greatest species diversity on Earth.

Palm oil plantations are popping up across Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries at the expense of tropical forests. The many species that depend on these forests, including endangered orangutans, face extreme peril.

orangutan

Something as simple as checking the ingredients before purchase could help save a species thousands of miles away.

A Global Connection

A healthy habitat is one of the most important factors when it comes to protecting endangered species. Under the ESA, regions can be designated as “critical habitat,” or areas essential to the survival of a species, but here is where it gets tricky.

Labeling an area critical habitat does not necessarily prevent the further development of that land. Essentially, the designation serves as a reminder to federal agencies to take extra precautions, even to modify projects, in order to minimize harm to these vital natural spaces.

From the water we drink to the air we breathe, humans rely on healthy ecosystems, and every species contained in an ecosystem plays an integral role in the success of that network.

A Proactive Approach

Not every species will be as lucky as the gray wolf, but it is not all doom and gloom. The diamondback terrapin, for example, though never listed as an endangered species in Maryland, has a history of exploitation.

diamondback terrapin

In the 19th century, terrapins were considered a delicacy and hunted for their use in stews. The demand for the terrapin, combined with other factors, caused their numbers to drop dangerously low.

Recognizing the risk, Maryland passed a law in 2007 ending the commercial harvest of terrapins in state waters. And while it is too soon to quantify the impact, alleviating pressure on a struggling population is a step in the right direction.

Bald eagles, American alligators, the Virginia northern flying squirrel, grizzly bears—there have been numerous success stories. In the best circumstances, a species will be “de-listed” from the ESA, meaning the population recovers to a point where it no longer requires protection under the law.

Do Your Part

Here are a few ways to show you care about the world’s endangered species, no matter where you live:

  1. Be a conscious consumer – Purchase products that are organic, locally grown or sustainably sourced.
  2. Back legislation that impacts the environment – Every comment counts, so if there is an issue you support, call or write a letter to your representative. Learn more about the National Aquarium’s legislative priorities at aqua.org/legislation.
  3. Contribute to a conservation organization – Provide financial support if you can. If you don’t have money to give, donate your time! Visit aqua.org/care to learn about opportunities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  4. Start in your own backyard – Planting native plants in your garden will attract native wildlife, including invaluable pollinators that help to preserve the natural environment.
  5. Reduce, reuse, recycle –  Join our 48 Days of Blue movement and learn how simple actions can make a big difference in protecting our natural world!

Thoughtful Thursday: The Next Frontier

You would think that by time we had the technology to send people to the moon, we’d be experts on our own planet; but the truth is, more than 95 percent of our underwater world remains unexplored, leaving us nearly clueless as to what lies far below the water’s surface.

In space travel’s short history, we’ve sent 536 humans into the cosmos. Yet only three explorers have braved the depths of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Its lowest point rests 36,070 feet (nearly 7 miles) below the water’s surface. To give you some context: If you dropped Mount Everest into the Mariana Trench, its peak would still be more than a mile underwater.

Exploration Above and Below

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard made the first descent to the bottom of the trench, called the Challenger Deep, in 1960. Two descents were later made by unmanned vehicles, and most recently in 2012, an expedition was made by James Cameron—yes, that James Cameron, as in the filmmaker behind movies like “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

With only four descents made to this day to that part of the ocean, it’s no surprise the ocean remains a mystery to us. We do know that some basic life forms somehow exist down there, despite the freezing temperatures and intense pressure (8 tons per square inch, the equivalent of being crushed by 50 jumbo jets). Mud samples and observations by the explorers have discovered more than 200 different microorganisms, plus everything from giant crustaceans and sea cucumbers to enormous amoebas (4-inch, single-celled organisms) and jellyfish.

Some truly bizarre-looking creatures are also able to thrive in the midnight zone, the deepest, darkest ocean light zone (in which the Mariana Trench resides). Among them is the anglerfish, a bony fish that appears to have a built-in fishing rod attached to its head that pulses with glowing bacteria. This serves as a lure to attract prey and mates.

Joining this curious creature in the midnight zone is the vampire squid, which also uses bioluminescence to survive in this dark abyss. When threatened, it flails around frantically and ejects bioluminescent mucus containing orbs of blue light to confuse its predators. Check out our infographic on bioluminescence to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon.

The possibilities of what else exists at these depths are endless, but until we dedicate more resources to exploring our deep seas, we’ll never know the secrets hidden within our own planet.

Thoughtful Thursday: Inspiring the Next Generation of Ocean-Lovers

Our celebration of National Volunteer Appreciation Week continues with a special story about one of the Aquarium’s volunteers and her students!

Abbe Harman has been a volunteer supporter of the National Aquarium for 28 years and a teacher for for Frederick County Public Schools for 25 years. As an Enrichment Specialist at Middletown Elementary School, Abbe works closely with fifth grade students, teaching them about the Chesapeake Bay watershed and coral reef ecosystems!

Yesterday, Abbe hosted a large group of her fifth graders for a special field trip tot he Aquarium! The students were able to see their teacher in-action, as she led an interactive lesson and fed the animals in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit!

national aquarium volunteer diver

In the weeks leading up to their field trip, Abbe’s students also had the opportunity to enter an essay contest for the opportunity to go on a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Aquarium.

Abbe, from all of us here at the National Aquarium, thank you for being a longtime supporter of our mission and an impactful educator.

Do you volunteer? Share your story with us in the comments section and online using #NVW14!

Did you know? Today is Manatee Appreciation Day!

Sometimes called sea cows, manatees are a large, but graceful, endangered species that thrive in warm-water environments ripe with vegetation. The West Indian manatee, one of three living species, can be spotted off the coast of Florida year round.

manatee

Here are ten things you may not know about manatees! 

  1.  Manatees are a migratory species, sometimes traveling up the East Coast in the warmer summer months—some have even been spotted in Maryland.
  2. These herbivores feed on patches of vegetation on the sea floor and can eat up to 1/10 of their body weight in just one day!
  3. With a diet sometimes rich in sand, Manatees’ teeth are made for grinding, not biting, and are constantly being replaced.
  4. Some waterways in Florida have manatee “speed zones” to protect these gentle creatures from boat collisions, one of the leading causes of injury and death in manatees.
  5. Manatees’ closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes, small mammals found in Africa and the Middle East.
  6. Slow moving, manatees typically travel at about 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim faster in short bursts.
  7. Some manatee species can travel freely between salt and freshwater.
  8. Manatees have to visit the surface for air, but can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes while at rest.
  9. Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers for up to two years. When a calf is born, its mother must help it to the surface for air, but most can swim on their own shortly after birth.
  10. It is believed that the legendary “mermaids” spotted by sailors throughout history were actually manatees.

Being the gentle, slow-moving animals that they are have put manatees at risk of extinction in the face of oil spills, increased motorboat traffic and entanglement. These animals were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and their population numbers have increased in recent years, but there is still much work to do protect manatees and the habitats they depend on.

To learn more about how to get involved in manatee conservation efforts in here in the United States, click here

Do You Know Where Your Seafood is REALLY From?

maryland crab cake infographic

By now, you know that over 1/3 of the seafood purchased in the United States is mislabeled.

According to a comprehensive study by our partners over at Oceana, some seafood is intentionally mislabeled to inflate the value of the fish or to hide illegal fishing practices, which directly impacts restaurant and market owners who then misrepresent their products to the consumer.

Here are some important things to know about seafood labeling procedures/regulations in the US:

  • Ninety-one percent of our seafood is imported from other countries, with a large portion of that product coming from Asia.
  • Only 2 percent of seafood imported into the US is inspected and just .001 percent is inspected for fraud.
  • Over 1,700 different species of seafood are available for sale in the US, including species found both domestically and internationally.
  • The most commonly mislabeled fish types discussed in Oceana’s study were: snapper, tuna, cod, salmon, yellowtail and halibut.
  • Nationwide, the mislabeling of seafood is most prevalent in California, New York City and Miami.
  • Outside of some guidelines put forth by the Food and Drug Administration, there is no current federal legislation to combat seafood fraud (both intentional and unintentional).
  • Some states, including our home state of Maryland, have put forth legislation to regulate these processes.

Have questions/comments about seafood labeling practices in the United States? Share them with us below! 


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