Myrtle on TV: Outtakes

Aquarium fans may have noticed our most famous resident on TV recently. Myrtle's photo shoot happened last spring with photographer Keith Ellenbogen, and she was a willing model because we had some delicious leafy greens to keep her interested. Here are a couple outtakes from that shoot.


So about that lettuce... A lot of people ask about Myrtle's food. What does a 550-pound sea turtle eat? Mostly vegetables, believe it or not. As a green sea turtle, she would normally eat a large quantity of sea grasses and algae (she'd also get an occasional crab or fish while foraging). So we give her a wide variety of greens—like lettuce, some protein (shrimp, clam, squid, or small fish) as well as an assortment broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, green pepper zucchini and Brussels sprouts (her favorite). Daily vitamins are also on the menu. What a healthy gal—even on Thanksgiving! (See how Myrtle's healthy eating is helping the planet, too.)

A glimpse of the variety in Myrtle's diet

If you want to see Myrtle eat her healthy smorgasbord, visit the Aquarium and grab one of our daily schedules. Pretty much every time divers are in the water Myrtle gets a meal. Otherwise, she's constantly hounding the divers during every feeding! This gives the divers time to feed all the other animals in the tank—like the loggerheads, the parrotfish, the boxfishes and other schooling fishes.

Buy your timed ticket online! Take advantage of waived online ticketing fees right now.


New Arrivals: Needlefish

We recently added a few new fish to the exhibit, including needlefish. These fish were collected during our spring expedition to the Bahamas and have undergone a routine quarantine in the meantime. But they look spectacular schooling at the surface. Here's the school from our perspective.

Visitors can climb to the top of the Giant Ocean Tank to take a look at these fish, too. It's not a stretch to see why they're called needlefish! These are some of the fish that we've collected eggs from before. See what larval needlefish look like.

Skinny little needlefish stick to the top of the tank.

Come by and see them sometime!


Meet the Turtles: Ari the Kemp's Ridley

Meet Ari our Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtle. Ari - formerly known as Kate - arrived at the New England Aquarium on 9/9/09, after a rehabilitation stint in New Orleans at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (AAOA).

In June of 2007, Kate was found injured (suspected boat strike) on Rutherford Beach, Louisiana, and transferred to Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the following day to AAOA.  Her injuries were assessed: fractured skull from eye to eye, left eye with missing tissue around the socket, an exposed salt gland, and a deep 5cm long dorsal scute laceration. In October she was transported to an orthopedic surgeon for an operation using rods and plates to pull the skull and scales up and together, in addition to have the laceration to her shell wired together.  By January of 2008, Kate was swimming and eating on her own!

The damage to her left eye was severe and permanent, and in the end she lost sight in that eye, making it very difficult for her to hunt live crab and capture it. Therefore, it was deemed she was non-releasable due to the fact that she could not fend for herself in the wild.

Word of this sea turtle needing a home made it to Boston, and before long she was on a flight to Logan airport for her introduction into the GOT!  So that's how we came to acquire Kate, whom we renamed Ari which is short for arribada: large-scale nesting of some species of sea turtles including Kemp's ridleys.
"During an arribada, hundreds of thousands of these 2-foot-long turtles (the smallest [sea turtles] in the world) gather off certain beaches, and over several days, come ashore to dig holes in the sand and lay eggs." — Susan Scott, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 28 Sept. 2009
Come see her swimming around the Giant Ocean Tank... if she's not napping of course ;-)

Kemp's ridley sea turtles are the smallest and most endangered species of sea turtle in the world. They are also the species of sea turtle our marine animal Rescue and Rehabilitation team treats most frequently during cold-stun stranding season. That's why it's great to be able to show visitors what this species looks like! They are much more petite than the other species on exhibit—loggerhead and green sea turtles. And Ari definitely has a personality.

Come meet Ari and learn what it takes to rescue sea turtles during our Turtle Rescue Team program this summer!



Hungry Hungry Loggerheads

In our Giant Ocean Tank we have 3 species of sea turtles - green, Kemp's ridley and loggerheads.  Each species gets their own feeding station, and our loggerheads - Carolina and Retread - are fed at the bottom of the tank, in what we GOT divers call "turtle alley".  Each morning at 10:00 AM we feed them a specified amount of "squid tacos", our jargon for squid stuffed with fish, usually capelin.

Come along on a snapshot journey of a feeding I did just this week.

The squid tacos are prepared and put in red bags, one for each turtle.  Other tools needed are... 1 pair of gloves (for safety), 1 feeding stick and 1 rattle - a PVC pipe filled with nuts and bolts and capped on both ends to make it waterproof.

Then it's time to head underwater and down to the feeding station in "turtle alley".  As soon as I break the surface and look down, I see that both girls are awake and likely hungry.

As I descend to the bottom I begin shaking the rattle... while clearing my ears and staying aware of my surroundings.

Carolina is the first to arrive, and she looks hungry!  I continue to shake the PVC rattle.

I get my 2 red bags situated in the sand, ready to feed the turtles.

But oops, Carolina gets confused and goes the wrong direction.  I shake the rattle some more.

After a minute of her not understanding where she's supposed to go, I lend a hand and pull her in.

One squid taco for you!

Both sea turtles get vitamins along with their meal - I use my hands to guard the squid taco from getting stolen by a thieving fish.

Though as soon as I turn my head, an Atlantic spadefish swoops in and steals one of the capelin, argh!

Retread still hasn't shown up by the time Carolina has finished her meal, but I look up and see her above me so I head up in the water column to help her down to the feeding station.

Carolina doesn't think her meal is over though.  She gets in my face for more squid tacos please!

Retread is certainly hungry and she eats her whole meal.  She is completely blind so in order to feed her you must tap her on the chin and then present the taco in front of her mouth.  Sometimes, she'll just bite at the water hoping to snag something.

Success - feeding is over and I head back up to the surface... [Watch video of loggerhead feeding time here!]

...And wave at some kids on the way up of course.

As I said we feed our loggerheads daily at 10:00 AM, so for your next visit come early and look for us through the GOT windows on the first floor.



Sea Turtle Siesta

You may see a seemingly lifeless turtle on the bottom of the Giant Ocean Tank during your next visit. You may even wonder if it's alive. Well, I'm here to tell you that it is!

Retread snoozing
Yep, that turtle is just snoozing and, in fact, our sea turtles love a good nap now and then. They all have their favorite spots to rest and some have more than one. They are able to stay underwater for a couple hours or even more, so siestas are quite common among our marine reptilian friends in the GOT.  Have a look at this video for proof!

Join the Aquarium's animal rescue team! The Aquarium is a global leader in saving endangered turtles. Come see rescued turtles in the Giant Ocean Tank! These turtles were treated but deemed unable to survive in the wild. Plus, our newest interactive exhibit gives you hands-on experience with the process of diagnosing, treating and rehabilitating these fascinating animals. 


World Turtle Day 2015

Happy World Turtle Day from the Giant Ocean Tank turtle gang!

This green sea turtle needs no introduction.  Queen Myrtle of the Giant Ocean Tank.

Carolina, loggerhead sea turtle

Retread, loggerhead sea turtle

Ari the Kemp's ridley sea turtle, hangin' with her bff

And I can't resist showing this picture after that last one.  Yes our turtles do have quarrels sometimes.

turtle tiff



Smallmouth Grunts and Their Journey to the GOT

The majority of the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank collection come from Aquarium expeditions to the Bahamas. (Certified divers are welcome to join us on these expeditions where we work with Bahamian wildlife officials to sustainably bring back fish.) These animals go through an incredible journey as they travel up from the Bahamas to their new homes in Boston.

Smallmouth grunts school on reef | Photo: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble via Wikimedia Commons

But not all of animals in the GOT come from the wild and over the last year, in partnership with several institutions, close to 750 smallmouth grunts, which had been raised from eggs, arrived at aquariums all over North America—including the New England Aquarium.

Frenetic smallmouth grunts schooling in the Giant Ocean Tank

The smallmouth grunts (pictured above), along with other species of grunts, tend to school down near the bottom of the GOT. In past years, our smallmouth grunts came from the Bahamas. But these new arrivals had a totally different journey.

Their journey began when our larval science partner, Roger Williams University, purchased several thousand fertilized smallmouth grunt eggs from FishEye Aquaculture in Florida.

Over 6000 eggs fit in 4 mL of water!

A microscopic view of a grunt egg

The New England Aquarium has partnered with researchers at Roger Williams University on past aquaculture projects, such as rearing queen triggerfish. This work continues our sustainable ornamental fish initiativemuch of this work being funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. As before, these microscopic fish eggs were given expert care and hatched into larvae so small they were barely visible.

2 day old smallmouth grunt larvae

The larval smallmouth grunts were held in special round tanks with black bottoms. This can make them very difficult to see but improves their chances of survival

The larvae spent several months growing into tiny fish at the lab at RWU's Center for Economic and Environmental Development. Figuring out the appropriate live food that must be even tinier than the larvae is a budding science that is being carefully studied by our partners at Roger Williams. Eventually, the half-inch-long fish were transported up to our Animal Care Center in Quincy, MA.

The young fish during transport to the Quincy facility

The smallmouth grunts continued to grow and were moved to larger tanks to keep them happy. After several months, they were large enough to start being shipped around the country—and north to Boston! Grunts were sent to the North Carolina Aquarium - Fort Fisher, the Albuquerque BioPark Aquarium and Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in Toronto.

The barrels stay in the tank for possible refuge until the grunts are completely comfortable out in open water

The remaining 500 smallmouth grunts were recently added into our Giant Ocean Tank. The grunts were acclimated in large barrels for a few days but now they are out and look great! Here's a video of their journey from larval fish behind the scenes to the beautiful schools in the Aquarium.

These smallmouth grunts are part of our sustainable animal acquisitions. By breeding large numbers of these fish, we are able to show them in the Giant Ocean Tank in densities much closer to what a diver would see on a wild reef. By not focusing on large schools like these grunts, future Aquarium expedition teams can work on increasing the diversity of the animals we do bring back.

Next time you are visiting the New England Aquarium, take a moment to appreciate the sizable school of smallmouth grunts in the Giant Ocean Tank. And be sure to ask where our animals have come from—the journey our animals go though can be quite an exciting story!


Happy St Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day from the dive team...

Chris is thinking green thoughts inside the tank.

and from Myrtle the GREEN sea turtle...

Green sea turtle

and from all of our GREEN moray eels!

Green moray

Meet some more green animals around the Aquarium!


Snowy day view from the office

Most people around Boston aren't at the office today. In fact, the Aquarium is closed and most of the employees are safe at home. But there are a few divers in the office today. Who else is going to make sure Myrtle gets her lettuce?! They make arrangements to stay nearby so they're on hand to feed and care for all the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank. All the while, the storm raged outside. Here's the view from their window.

All quiet at the IMAX theatre
Visibility is pretty limited looking across the harbor at the courthouse.

And inside the big tank, it's all tropical and tranquil.

We're old hands at this snow storm routine. Check out last year's snow post!


How sea turtles are just like us

If you stand at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank for any length of time, you'll likely hear the hiss and huff of a sea turtle taking a breath.

Ari the Kemp's ridley turtle breaks the surface for a breath

Seeing a turtle break the surface to breathe is an interesting way to connect with these giant reptiles. They are the only air breathers inside the exhibit—like us!—so they must return to the surface every now and then for a gulp of oxygen.

But here's something you don't usually see. This is what it looks like from the divers' perspective! Retread—our blind, rescued sea turtle—bumbles her way to the surface for a breath of fresh air.

Sea turtles breathe air into and out of their lungs through their nose and mouth. Our large turtles can hold their breath for several hours when they're resting (don't worry, that motionless sea turtle wedged in the coral is just napping).

Zzzzz. This motionless turtle at the bottom of the tank is taking a nice, cozy nap.

When they're active for feeding or checking on the divers in the tank, the turtles breathe more frequently. Try standing at the top of the GOT for a spell and see if you can see all four sea turtles!

Retread (loggerhead) and Myrtle (green)

The turtles (justifiably) get a lot of time of the blog. Check out these posts for more sea turtle awesomeness!


Identifying Parrotfishes

As you know, we just wrapped up our annual census. Counting all of the animals is surely a challenging task, especially when it comes to the species that have different markings and coloration depending on their age or sex.  Parrotfishes—Family Scaridae—are prime examples!

Parrotfishes are categorized into three phases: juvenile, initial and terminal... and some species even display intermediate phases between the three primary phases.  We have six species of parrotfishes in the Giant Ocean Tank. That's a lot of different fish and phases to ID. Let us help you out a bit. Here are some of the fish you might see during your next visit and their phase of maturation!

Notice the somewhat protruding forehead of this blue parrotfish.  The initial phase has a conical head whereas the terminal phase has a very squared off head.
Blue parrotfish, intermediate phase 

This midnight parrotfish is one of the few species of parrots where all phases are essentially the same in appearance... though I did see some very large midnights in the Bahamas this past October that had more white and yellow coloration around their mouths.
Midnight parrotfish

The thick white body stripe gives away this species, a queen parrotfish.
Queen parrotfish, initial phase

This rainbow parrotfish, in its initial phase, has a distinct squared-off tail and scales that are green in the center and orangish on the edges.  The terminal phase rainbows have an orange-brown head and bright green rear body.  These guys can grow to 5 1/2 feet in length!
Rainbow parrotfish, initial phase

The red belly and white spots mean this is a stoplight parrot in its initial phase.  Remember this guy from the cleaning station?
Stoplight parrotfish, initial phase

And surprising to even us aquarists is how different the terminal phase stoplight parrot looks.  See the yellow spot above the gill cover?  And the orange-yellow crescent on the tail?  That's how you know it's a stoplight!
Stoplight parrotfish, terminal phase

This one's kind of hard to tell, but these are two striped parrotfishes in their initial phases.
Striped parrotfish, initial phase

Look for the linear markings - what I would call squiggly lines - on the tail.  This is a striped parrotfish in its terminal phase.
Striped parrotfish, terminal phase

Stay tuned for more about these fish—videos to come!

With so many parrotfish species and their interesting characteristics, you can bet they've been on the blogs before. Check out these posts: