10/2/14

Hog and Parrot

Following up on the last blog about cleaner fish, I wanted to share something cool I caught on film recently.  I witnessed a stoplight parrotfish and a... well, just watch this video!



The cleaner is a spanish hogfish, known for removing parasites and debris from larger fishes. The cleanee—her patient—is a stoplight parrotfish, a fish that we've been keeping an eye on for a few weeks because of discoloration around its mouth.  But it's still healthy and behaving normally, and we'll continue to monitor it for any changes. This is the only stoplight in its juvenile/initial phase in the Giant Ocean Tank. Stay tuned for more on parrotfish phases!

Juvenile stoplight parrotfish


9/6/14

Cleaning crew: neon gobies!

We are always talking about how BIG Myrtle is, and answering questions like "What's the biggest fish in the tank?" and "What's the wingspan of the southern stingrays" and "How long are the moray eels"... but perhaps one of the most interesting fish in the Giant Ocean Tank is also the smallest resident: the neon goby!  Neon gobies are cleaner fish and congregate in cleaning stations waiting for fish to require their services.  Check out this video of our Nassau grouper at the "neon goby spa".



Neon gobies, Elacatinus oceanops, reside in the Gobiidae family, which has 38 species alone in the Caribbean.  They typically don't grow any larger than 2" long, and as is obvious by their name, are recognizable by the electric blue body stripe running from eye to tail.

Nassau grouper in profile. This fish loves getting its picture taken!

Neon blue goby | Photo: Jmk7 via Wikimedia Commons

Moray eels also like to visit the cleaning station

As do some divers

You'll find neon gobies in another part of the Aquarium, too! Check out this video of neon gobies cleaning the Goliath groupers in the Blue Hole exhibit on Level 2.

8/30/14

Come chat with a diver

There's a teensy bit of graffiti hidden away in the Giant Ocean Tank. And the only way you might be able to see it (besides being a diver in the big tank, of course) is to attend the daily diver presentations at 2:30 p.m.

Visitors can listen to divers speaking underwater while giant high definition video screens (not seen in this picture)
relay scenes from deep within the Giant Ocean Tank

A new diver communication system was one of the high-tech additions during the renovations to this central exhibit. Divers fly a hand-held camera deep underwater, feeding live video to the top of the tank, while wearing a special mask that lets them hear questions from visitors at the top and respond to them—from 23 feet underwater! Not only can visitors find themselves in the middle of feedings or schools of fish, they can ask the divers about their favorite fish, explore those secret nooks that aren’t visible from the windows and even see what visitors look like on the other side of the glass.

Dan models the gear that makes all this possible

The divers speaking underwater require hours of specialized training and some fancy scuba gear. Here are the tools of the trade for divers and educators sharing the insider perspective of the Giant Ocean Tank.


Divers breath and speak through a full-face mask with a microphone.
Without a regulator in their mouth, divers can easily speak.


A vibrating disc near the diver’s ear lets them hear the educator at the top of the tank. Since sound travels easily underwater, divers swimming nearby can eavesdrop.


The hand-held camera is shiny and sleek, about the size of a can of soup. Some of the fish are very curious about it, so they often have cameos.


A long cable connects the camera, earpiece and microphone to the broadcast systems. That’s because water is too dense for WiFi—imagine, no WiFi!

These interactive talks provide: exciting visuals that you can’t get anywhere else, plus an insider’s perspective on the animals and ecology of Caribbean reefs. So if you want to dive deeper and learn more about the Giant Ocean Tank and its residents, check the daily schedule of presentations during your next visit and make sure you’re at the top of the tank for these interactive diver talks.

Bet you never knew there was graffiti inside the Giant Ocean Tank

Oh yeah, and about that graffiti... At the very bottom of the exhibit, in the dark tunnel that cuts through the reef, you'll find the signature of the artists who created this coral reef. Peter Brady tagged the reef the first time in 1984, when the reef was first made. He signed it again last year when the Giant Ocean Tank was completely renovated. Ask your friendly scuba diver with the camera to show it to you during the next diver talk from inside the tank!

8/8/14

A greener green sea turtle

We are sure that most of you have heard of Farm to Table, but how about Farm to TURTLE?

Farmer Erica

This week at the Giant Ocean Tank we had some special visitors. Erica and Dave from Rustic Root Farms in Farmington, ME, brought some of their organically-grown produce down for our favorite vegetable-eating green sea turtle to sample! (That would be Myrtle, of course.)

Along with about twenty Aquarium employees, Myrtle receives a weekly delivery of produce from the farm. They are all members of a CSA, which is short for Community-Supported Agriculture. Being a CSA member is a bit like being a shareholder in a business, except that you get to eat your weekly return! What was on the menu this week?  A tasty salad of zucchini, cucumber, red beets, bok choy, romaine lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and beet greens.

Yummy

We knew she’d love the romaine lettuce – it’s a regular staple in her diet here – and were pretty sure she’d like the red leaf too, but everything else was a bit of a mystery for us!  And even we were surprised by some of what the Brussels sprout-loving reptile liked and didn’t like.

Feeding Myrtle at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank 

Myrtle turned her beak up at the beet greens, and would only eat the zucchini and cucumber when stuffed inside a squid! The bok choy was hit or miss. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all? It was Myrtle diving down into the water to chase down the red beets! She gobbled them right down while beet juice squirted all around!

Myrtle on a beet pursuit

Erica and Dave (who is also the Manager of Visitor Experience here at the Aquarium) wanted to bring their vegetables to the Aquarium to show people that you can live blue by eating green (or more specifically, by eating your greens). Here are 10 ways you can make a difference for our blue planet.

Getting your produce locally means that food hasn’t had to travel lots of miles to your plate and is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. So be like Myrtle and buy local and sustainable – and support your neighborhood farmers!

8/2/14

SHAAAAAARKS!

Have you visited the Giant Ocean Tank recently?  If so, you may have noticed... we have sharks! We have two species: the bonnethead shark and the blacknose shark. Both species are well suited for a reef exhibit of the Giant Ocean Tank's size, and are thriving, evidenced by their comfort cruising the entire tank including up and over and around the reef — as seen below. Check it out!



Bonnethead sharks (Sphyrna tiburo) resemble hammerhead sharks and are taxonomically located in the same family, though only grow to a max of 4 to 5 feet, which is why the GOT is a fitting home for them. Both of our bonnetheads are female and are named after Florida Keys: Largo and Pigeon. Pigeon is recognizable by her many "freckles" as compared to Largo. We feed them a variety of fresh and frozen seafood including mackerel, shrimp, capelin, squid and salmon.

Bonnethead shark

Blacknose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus) are in the requiem sharks family — cousins with bull sharks, tiger sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks among many others — and look more like a typical shark. They are named for the dark smudge on their snouts, however it does fade as they grow older. Their max size is similar to bonnetheads at five feet in length, again making them suitable for the confines of the GOT. We feed them a variety of fresh and frozen seafood including bluefish, salmon, haddock, mackerel and squid. Meet our blacknose sharks:

Acro — the only male, his name comes from the scientific name for blacknose: acronotus
Tortola — female, named after a Caribbean island where blacknose can be found
Berry — female, named after an island in the Bahamas, a popular Expedition collecting site

Blacknose shark

Come see these beautiful sharks cruising the reef! Plan a visit to the New England Aquarium.

7/30/14

GOT Larval Fish: Redfin Needlefish Larvae Hatch

Fish in the GOT are frequently observed spawning, or laying eggs, and we have been hard at work trying to collect some of these eggs in the hopes of hatching them out. These baby fish, or larval fish, can then be raised up in special tanks to hopefully one day make their way back into the GOT as adults.



Redfin needlefish | Photo: Floret's Guide

Redfin needlefish (Strongylura notata) eggs were collected from the GOT and placed into a special fish egg hatchery. The hatchery blows water over the eggs simulating ocean currents and making sure they receive adequate oxygen.

This is a redfin needlefish egg. The numerous hairs help the eggs attach to floating sea weed in the wild
After the first week the fish embryos started to take shape within the developing egg
The clear sphere attached to the fish's belly is the remaining yolk from their egg. The larval fish are unable to feed for a few days after hatching and must gain nutrients from this yolk
Pigment develops in the fish's eyes a few days after hatching
By the end of the second week twelve larval fish had hatched out of their eggs


In the wild fish lay thousands upon thousands of eggs and only a small handful survive to become adults. With only twelve larval fish we may not have any that reach adulthood. But the lessons we learn now will help us become more successful in the future when working with this species.

Ripples, fish and corals at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank

These larval fish are behind the scenes, and it likely will be a long time before you would see them on exhibit. But you can look for the adult needlefish at the top of of the Giant Ocean Tank. They can dart around just below the surface, racing for a morsel of food or to scoot out of the way of hulking sea turtle surfacing for a breath. Plan your visit to the Aquarium this summer and get to know these fish and dozens of other species in this 200,000-gallon Caribbean reef exhibit!

7/24/14

Meet the snake eel

Snake eels share an Order (Anguilliformes) but are in a separate Family (Ophichthidae) than morays (Muraenidae). They are named so because of their strong resemblance to snakes, and you may know a diver that claimed to have seen a sea snake while diving in Florida or the Bahamas. Sea snakes do not inhabit these waters. They likely saw a snake eel!

Of the 300 or so species of snake eels, five are represented in Caribbean waters. Meet 1 of them: the goldspotted eel, a new addition to our Giant Ocean Tank.


Distinguishing the goldspotted eel from other snake eels is easy.  Look for the bright gold spots with black borders around them.  In comparison, the sharptail eel - a past GOT denizen - has gold spots but no border.


Goldspotted eels can grow to almost 3 1/2 feet in length, though 1-2 1/2 feet is more common.  Ours is a little longer than 2 feet presently.



Goldspotted eels - like morays - are nocturnal and feed mainly on crabs.  This guy hasn't eaten yet (as far as we know) but is being offered shrimp and clam tongue pieces daily.  In fact, every day during the 10:00 dive, we seek out all of our eels (6 morays, 1 snake eel) to offer seafood to each one.  Typically, only 1 or 2 eels will eat per day.  If you are at the Aquarium, look for a diver with a yellow stick (safety first!) and a blue catch bag.


The best spot to possibly catch a glimpse of our goldspotted eel, is at the top of the reef, in the center... though no guarantees - he likely will move around a lot!

Chris

Now don't you want to see this cool animal? Get in the door quicker. Buy your tickets online and print them out at home.

6/29/14

Moray Eel Checkup

We love our morays, I mean after all "that's amore."  Sorry for that.  Honestly though, our green morays are an awesome group of the Giant Ocean Tank population of fish. They look menacing, yet are docile animals. We offer them food every day (though some eels will not eat for weeks on end), and because of that we are quick to notice any odd behavior or physical issues. One day recently it was observed that our largest moray had a distended abdomen and a swollen vent, so we decided that a trip to the Aquarium Medical Center (just down the hall) was in order.  How do you catch and transport an eel anyway?

 


Once out of the tank and behind the scenes, she is wheeled down the hall to the medical center, where the vets take over.  First step--after closing all the doors just in case--is to add anesthesia to the water and wait for the eel to go into a sleepy state.

Having a look to see if she is asleep from the anesthesia yet



An inside view

Moving her to the exam table



After turning her 180 degrees to get closer...

...she began to expel eggs.  A LOT of eggs.

Like, almost 3 GALLONS of eggs!

Stitching her back up

And a quick blood draw for tests

Back in the eel bag she goes

Once back in the eel bag, she is put back in the barrel and wheeled back down the hallway for her return to the Giant Ocean Tank.  I'm pretty sure she feels much better :-)




Green morays, Gymnothorax funebris, typically range between 3 and 5 feet when seen in the wild, however this eel is close to 8 feet long and is the biggest of the five we have in the Giant Ocean Tank.  Green morays are nocturnal by nature, but it is not too uncommon to see one of ours swimming around the tank during the day. Come have a look and see if you can spy all five as you spiral up the Giant Ocean Tank ramp.


6/27/14

Aquarium to Aquarius: Hanging Out With a Friend


Recently we were able to spend some time with former Aquarium diver and aquarist Liz Magee, who is living underwater at the Aquarius research station in the Florida Keys. Liz is program coordinator of the Three Seas Program at Northeastern University in addition to serving as Northeastern's Diving Safety Officer. She is spending two weeks unerwater at Aquarius, and she gives Aquarium Senior Educator Sam Herman the lowdown on what it's like.

Here's the full Google+ Hangout on Air:


For reference, here's links to some of the things Liz and Sam discussed.

You can learn more about Liz and her adventure on her blog.

6/21/14

Tripletail

Meet our tripletails!  The Atlantic tripletail, Lobotes surinamensis, is a recent addition to our Giant Ocean Tank. We have two of them and they can be seen up near the surface, usually around (and sometimes under) the diver platform, because that is where they are most comfortable, just like our needlefish.  In the wild they are often found floating on their sides under floats of Sargassum.  In fact they never seem to stay 'upright' as you can see in some of these pictures.

Listing to the left

Listing to the right


Under the diver platform

Our tripletails our currently under 12" in length, but they are voracious eaters, and can grow to three and a half feet long!  They are certainly growing fast, so it may not take long.  Actually, we currently are working on a target feeding station for them.  Stay tuned on that.



A permit cruises by

Always near the surface... notice the reflection

Wait, so why are they called tripletails?  It's simple.  Because their rear dorsal and anal fins are very large - larger than what most fish have - and it gives the impression that they have three tail fins.  So come on up to the 4th floor to get an up close glimpse of our tripletails - the top of our tank is open to the public!

6/14/14

Wet Rounds: House call with the vet

The Aquarium has its own Animal Health Department, with veterinarians on staff.  Weekly, we have rounds with them to update each other on the health of our fish and turtles, and review medical cases and determine if we need to pull any of the critters out for checkups.  But... sometimes it's just easier to perform these exams underwater!

That's where Julie the vet comes in.  She's a certified scientific diver and joined us in the tank at the 10:00 dive—our first dive of the day. We had a short list of patients written out on an underwater slate, two of them being Ari our Kemp's ridley sea turtle and Myrtle the green sea turtle (who always seems to be involved with everything), as seen in this video:



It wasn't just turtles that needed attention.  Some fish were on the list too, including a couple of our green moray eels (stay tuned for an upcoming moray blog post) and a trunkfish who is being treated for a facial lesion and lives in one of our acclimation barrels temporarily.

Getting a close look at a trunkfish patient
Thanks to our vet staff for keeping our animals healthy :-)

5/22/14

Spring Turtle Exams

At the end of April all of the Giant Ocean Tank sea turtles were given their spring exams. All four of our sea turtles were lifted out of the GOT so that our Animal Health team could take a closer look and collect blood samples.

First up: our 500-lb green sea turtle Myrtle. Sometimes Myrtle needs a little encouragement to enter into her lifting box and a leaf of romaine lettuce works every time!



Once in the lifting box Myrtle is brought out of the water for her exam
A young visitor helps our veterinarians get a closer look at Myrtle by holding a flashlight
Sea turtles have tough skin that can make drawing blood a real challenge. But Myrtle does a great job staying calm to allow our veterinarians to collect a sample
After getting her check up Myrtle is returned to her home in the Giant Ocean Tank
 Next is our Kemp's ridley sea turtle, Ari.

Ari is much smaller than Myrtle but she isn't a baby. Rather Ari is a completely different species of sea turtle

Ari was very patient with us during her exam




Finally our two loggerhead sea turtles Carolina and Retread have their turn.

Carolina and Retread look very similar but their shells have different patterns which help us tell them apart

Drawing blood from Retread required a few extra hands to help keep her steady,
but after a brief moment she was all done
Overall it was a very successful morning and all four of our turtles were given a clean bill of health!

All the turtles are healthy and back swimming in the Giant Ocean Tank!