2/6/16

Foraging with the Goatfish

We pay a lot of attention to what our 1400+ fish in the Giant Ocean Tank are eating on a daily basis - that's the main job of a GOT diver in fact. We have broadcast feedings and we have target feedings, and some fish just take matters into their own, uh... fins! One fish that finds food on its own is the yellow goatfish, Mulloidichthys martinicus.



Yellow goatfishes uses their pair of chin barbels to rifle through the sand for food, including molluscs, crustaceans, worms and other small invertebrates. It's a pretty cool adaptation that seems to work really well for them!

-Chris


1/8/16

Even Fish Need P.T.

We often say that our animals get the best possible veterinary care. This is the kind of stuff that happens behind the scenes.



Physical therapy for a fish?! My thoughts originally, too.

Well, I have to say that this guy is doing much better after the regimen prescribed by our veterinary staff. It all started when we noticed a curve in the spine of our Atlantic needlefish. The vets examined the fish and decided the best course of action would be to plan a trial of physical therapy for vertebral compression. That meant the fish was pulled from the Giant Ocean Tank over a series of treatments and gently massaged.

Each time the fish needed a treatment, the divers would take it behind the scenes and place it in a pool that had been treated with a minor sedative. Charlis Innis, VMD, our head veterinarian, would gently massage its back in a couple spots—as you saw in the video. Between treatments, the fish would rehab in a pen at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank.

The needlefish in its rehab pen.

For a more in-depth understanding of the physical therapy process, I'm sharing parts of some emails from our Aquarium vets:
"Warm up of 15 seconds of dorsal-ventral movement at 3 points on body (due to length of body) and then 15 seconds of lateral movement at 3 points of body as well.  Increased to 30 seconds at each of the 3 points for both dorsal ventral movement and then lateral movement. Focus was then done on area of vertebral compression with 1 minute of dorsal ventral movement, 1 minute of lateral movement, then repeat. Ended with 2 minutes of dorsal ventral movement and 2 minutes of lateral movement. Animal recovered smoothly (was ventilating on own throughout procedure) and was placed in a floating pen in the GOT for holding afterwards."
That's definitely a lot of technical information. But in short—the treatments appear to be working! Today, the fish is looking much straighter. In fact, he's being released from the pen on Sunday, after five sessions. Just another example of the compassionate and top-notch care that our vets provide for all the animals at the Aquarium.

— Chris

12/25/15

Christmas Underwater

Just a few snaps from our day at the Aquarium—without another soul around except for the aquarists, divers and biologists taking care of the animals. Yup, the Aquarium was closed today, but the animals were well cared for by Emily, Daire, Luigi, Glenn, Liliana and Christine.
Emily, Daire, Luigi, Glenn, Liliana, Christine and Keith

Christmas underwater
Photographer Keith Ellenbogen also came by with one of his nifty cameras. Hopefully we'll get to see his 360˚ pictures of the Giant Ocean Tank soon!

Photographer Keith Ellenbogen brings a spherical underwater camera into the
big tank to snag some 360˚ photos of the reef and its residents.

Hope you enjoyed the day, whether you spent it with family by a Christmas tree, enjoying this unseasonably warm weather or underwater! Happy Holidays!

Don't forget that the Aquarium will be open again tomorrow morning, so you can see all the Giant Ocean Tank residents for yourself starting at 9 a.m. School vacation times can be busy, so here are our top five tips so you can plan a trip to Central Wharf like a pro!

12/17/15

A guest diver brings her camera

See the turtles in person! Plan a visit to the New England Aquarium. Buy tickets now.

Recently photographer Esther Horvath slipped into the Giant Ocean Tank with her camera to meet our loggerhead sea turtles, Retread and Carolina. Esther has been working on a long-term project documenting sea turtle rescue, which included spending a lot of time with our rescue and rehabilitation team.

Sherrie with one of the loggerheads

Since Retread and Carolina also came through our rescue and rehab program and were deemed unable to be released, Esther wanted to include them in her rescue and rehab documentary.

Sherrie gently redirecting our blind loggerhead Retread

Most of the time her photo focus was on them. But then she met Myrtle. Of course she fell in love with the stage stealer, and her focus changed. She was really interested in how Myrtle interacts with the staff, so she took a lot of photos of me and Myrtle hanging out.

The stage stealer
Lettuce, lettuce all the time
Queen Myrtle

Through the course of two days and many dives, Esther managed to capture some lovely images of our beloved reptiles. She even found time to connect with visitors through the glass, including this charming moment shared with a young person, which was also documented from the other perspective and shared on Facebook.

From the inside looking out, remember this post?

Esther's work has appeared in Hungary's National Geographic. While we cannot read the article it is a thrill to see the Giant Ocean Tank sea turtles and the team that keeps them healthy get some international attention. We are grateful to her that she shared her images so that we can share them with you, too. See more pictures of Esther's time at the Aquarium on her website.

— Sherrie

12/14/15

Naptime for Turtles

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a.......turtle?


With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, many families will be reading Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”. Even if you aren’t familiar with the poem, the winter solstice is a few days away, bringing with it the shortest day of the year. With dark and cold conditions aplenty, it’s certainly a good time for a nap. And no one does napping better than the sea turtles of the Giant Ocean Tank!

Myrtle snoozing
Visitors often see a seemingly lifeless turtle on the bottom of the GOT and become quite concerned about the turtle’s well-being. Believe it or not, these turtles are just snoozing! Like many of us, the turtles like to get some much needed shuteye. And as they can stay underwater for two hours or more, visitors may see the turtles in the same spot at both the beginning and the end of a visit!

Mid-nap back scratch!
Sea turtles were built for life under the waves, as that’s where they spend most of their time eating, mating, migrating or sleeping. So how can they stay underwater for so long? A bunch of things! First of all, sea turtles are really quick at breathing. Just a couple of seconds are needed at the surface to replenish their lungs with new air, allowing for a quick oxygen fuel-up before a dive. Waiting to see Myrtle break the water surface of the GOT? Don’t blink…you might miss it!

Loggerhead turtle up for a quick breath

Once the air is in the lungs, there’s a lot more surface area than us humans for gas exchange, and more oxygen can be absorbed quickly into the body. With that newly-absorbed oxygen in their lungs, blood and tissues, turtles are really efficient at utilizing ALL of it. And because they are not using as many muscle groups when they are napping, metabolic rates slow down and oxygen lasts longer. Add in other things like specialized respiratory passageways and a tolerance for low oxygen conditions and you’ve got some turtles that can take crazy long naps for several hours!

Lungs filled? Check. Ready to find a good nap spot...

With three turtles currently in the exhibit, you may think it’s easy to see them. It may be tricky, however, as each one of them takes several naps throughout the day.  Fortunately, there are favorite nap spots in the exhibit. Take a look under the coral overhangs by a bottom sandy section of the exhibit and you may find a loggerhead turtle. For Myrtle, check on the top of the coral reef. In either location, you may just see a turtle “settled down for a long winter’s nap”. 

Ahhh...naptime!

11/26/15

Happy Thanksgiving!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM THE DIVE TEAM!

Here's a glimpse into a day in the life of Thanksgiving at the Aquarium (we are closed today).

All quiet downtown and walking through the park to the Aquarium

Just signs and sculptures in the main lobby

Food prep like every other day in the 4th floor kitchen

Fish (and turtles) gotta eat


So do the divers - we had a potluck feast in the deserted cafe

The gang, watching a...
movie on the big screens at the top of the GOT! "Planes Trains and Automobiles"


Special thanks to these 5, who volunteered to come in today
Left to right: Glenn, Emily, Lindsay, Daire, Kat
I hope you have a wonderful thanksgiving with your friends and families like we did :-)

-Chris

11/24/15

Myrtle's Pre-Thanksgiving Feast

Like them or not, many families will sit down to a big bowl of Brussels sprouts at their Thanksgiving feast this week. That's a dish right up Myrtle's alley. Brussels sprouts are her favorite vegetable!
Since the Aquarium is closed to visitors this Thursday, we treated the 550-pound green sea turtle to a pre-Thanksgiving feast of a stalk of Brussels sprouts, along with another favorite—squid.

 

Myrtle normally isn't served sprouts on the stalk so this experience must have been interesting for her. Fortunately, I was in the water to help her when she seemed to have a bit of trouble with it. But even sprouts on a stalk weren't intriguing enough to keep her interest once the squid was introduced!



Myrtle has been celebrating Thanksgiving at the Aquarium since 1970. And like every year before, the divers will be at the empty Aquarium taking care of the animals and making sure they get their own Thanksgiving feasts, too. Hope you and your families enjoy a delicious and happy Thanksgiving!

— Chris

11/19/15

Curious Little Trunkfish

Following up on my last post, I wanted to introduce Toby, our smallest trunkfish, who is a very curious little fellow. Toby was very nervous during his first couple weeks in the big Giant Ocean Tank, but is settling in nicely and has gotten comfortable with the mammals in the tank: the divers!



— Chris

11/14/15

Meet the Boxfishes

Our annual census is right around the corner, so I thought some fish ID would be fun.  In this post I want to introduce our boxfishes (family Ostraciidae) which includes 4 species in the Giant Ocean Tank.  These guys are unique because of their bony box of armour - you may also see one of these species in the "armoured tank" in the Tropical Gallery on the 1st floor.

In our GOT, our boxfishes get their own special feeding station which helps them eat without competition from some of our more aggressive species.  More on that station in a later post.

The boxfishes are divided up into 2 groups: cowfishes, which have a spine over each eye; and trunkfishes, which lack these spines.

Lactophrys trigonus, (common) trunkfish

Lactophrys triqueter, smooth trunkfish

Acanthostracion polygonia, honeycomb cowfish

Acanthostracion quadricornis, scrawled cowfish
And here's a pic of some of them harassing a diver for some food!

Can you spot the boxfishes?

-Chris

We posted about boxfish feedings a while back, and it's adorable. Here's a peek at the feeding, more video soon!

11/4/15

Making Connections: No Words Required

Diving in the Giant Ocean Tank with stingrays and sea turtles and eels is a thrill. But sometimes the most memorable moments don't involve animals at all. They involve the captivated individuals on the other side of the glass—so yes, the divers can see you! Sometimes those enchanting connections are felt on both sides of the glass. We were immediately bowled over by this touching moment shared via Facebook by visitor Lynne Mailhot.

Lynne Mailhot wrotes, "My 3-year old had an amazing time at the New England Aquarium today!"
Photo: Lynne Mailhot via Facebook

Lynne wrote, "My 3-year old had an amazing time at the New England Aquarium today! Special thanks to the diver who took the time to interact with her while we were watching the fish in the Giant Ocean Tank. Our daughter was in awe and it made her day! :)"

3 year-old Gabriella is in awe of a scuba diver seen through the GOT glass
Photo: Esther Horvath

The diver was professional photographer Esther Horvath, who is working on a long term documentary project called Baby Giants about the conservation efforts for endangered sea turtles. You can see some of her work on our Rescue Blog. She was in the tank to photograph our loggerhead sea turtles, both rescues that came through our Rescue and Rehabilitation Dept.

From the perspective inside the tank, Esther writes, "She was so-so cute, looking at me for a long time, and we touched each other's hands through the glass window."

These two images tell a story of a special moment shared on both sides of the glass. It's connections like these that inspire us here at the Aquarium. Maybe a young visitor connects with a diver and will grow up to be a scuba diver, advocating for the protection of wild reefs where they dive. Or maybe a visitor is captivated by an animal and will go on to study marine science in school. Whatever the path, we hope to engage visitors—young and old—and motivate them to become future ocean protectors.

Thank you for exploring our blue planet with us, Lynne and Gabriella! And thanks for sharing your picture, Esther!

9/17/15

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.

8/5/15

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!

7/18/15

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!

-Chris

7/11/15

Hungry Hungry Loggerheads

In our Giant Ocean Tank we currently have two species of sea turtles — green 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.

-Chris