3/19/15

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!

3/17/15

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!

1/27/15

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!

1/16/15

How sea turtles are just like us

There are four sea turtles in the Giant Ocean Tank—two loggerhead sea turtles, a Kemp's ridley sea turtle and a green sea turtle. If you stand at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank for any length of time, you'll likely hear the garbled huff and slow intake of one of them 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!

1/7/15

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:

12/28/14

Time to count some fish!

December is a busy month for all of us in the Giant Ocean Tank. As we try to wrap up projects and meet deadlines at the end of the year we also undergo a massive project that requires all of the staff and volunteers to work together. This project is our end of the year census which involves counting every animal in the GOT to ensure that everyone is accounted for. With over 1200 animals in the exhibit this is quite the feat!

Taking notes
We use underwater slates and pencils to write down our counts during each dive.

Slate with a list of fish. Yup, we use regular old pencils to take the notes.

The census is also an excellent opportunity for us to practice our fish identification skills. It is easy to get rusty on over 120 species IDs if you don't practice.

This year we are also trying something new. We are working to establish an average length for each fish in order to estimate a weight for that species. These PVC sticks are taped with sections of varying lengths to help us make these estimations.

A measuring stick allows us to approximate a fish's length.

At the end of our dives we record the number of fish we counted onto a worksheet which will get totaled and submitted at the end of the month. These totals are then made available to national organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Fancy spreadsheet help when you have lots of fish to count

Having an accurate record of our collection is important because it also helps us better develop our collection plan for the following year. (Check out the blogs from our most recent collecting trip.) We aim to have as minimal an impact as possible when collecting animals and knowing how many individuals we have in the collection helps us ensure that goal.




12/25/14

Happy Holidays!

The Aquarium may be closed today but the animals inside still need to be fed and cared for. Some of our awesome GOT volunteers came in this morning to help care for the exhibit. Thanks guys!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas from the GOT Divers!


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12/22/14

The Twelve Days of Fishmas

Maris Wicks recently joined Aquarium divers on an expedition to the Bahamas. She was inspired by her trip, and spending so much time with all those beautiful fish, to create a holiday post for the Divers Blog. Enjoy! And best wishes for a delightful holiday season. — The Dive Team

Greetings humans!  It's me, Maris (previously seen on the Global Explorers blog).

Maris experiencing her very own Fishmas miracle with some salmon.


I was feeling quite festive this holiday season, and I thought that I would share with you one of my favorite carols: The Twelve Days of Fishmas. You heard me correctly: FISHMAS. This song celebrates just a few of the inhabitants of the New England Aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank (aka the "G.O.T."). Enjoy (and please feel free to sing along):

The coral reef habitat inside the GOT is actually made of fiberglass! Even though it's not real coral,
it still provides shelter and a place to rest for many of the tank's residents (including this parrotfish).

There are actually four sea turtles in the GOT: one green sea turtle (Myrtle), two loggerhead sea turtles
(Carolina and Retread), and one Kemp's ridley turtle (Ari).  Shown here are Myrtle and Ari.
Oh, and I would also like to mention that turtles are NOT fish; they are reptiles!

French grunts are often found schooling in the lower area of the GOT (and obviously not
in the above formation...they usually swim together in a group,
but not for any fancy Olympic-style synchronized swimming moves).

Peacock flounder, to be exact!  You kind of have to sing this one "Flooooouuunnnder" to make it work with the song.


What would the GOT be without its divers?  They go into the tank five times a day to feed the more than 1,000 animals that call the GOT home, and to clean and maintain the 200,000 gallon tank.  Oh, and divers are NOT fish; they are mammals!

The green moray eels are some of the largest fish in the GOT.  If you see one, it already looks likes it's
caroling on account of the way they open and close their mouths. They are not actually singing;
they are getting more water to pass over their gills via their mouth.
Follow this link to see how we care for our morays.

Snappers are another schooling fish; look for them hanging out with the French grunts!

There are three barracuda in the GOT, and they are most often found at the surface. Look for their black
spots on their back! Oh, and same with the Flounder, sign this one "Barr-a-cuda" to make it work with the song.

This is a rather utopian portrayal of damselfish considering how territorial they tend to be. The defense of
their habitat is not unjustified; damselfish are often protecting a clutch of eggs and have been
the focus of a breeding program here at the New England Aquarium.

ANOTHER schooling fish, lookdowns are often found swimming higher up in the GOT
(hence the whole "lookdown" part of their name).

Pufferfish, balloonfish, porcupinefish...they all have the ability to inflate when threatened
 (see this article for some recent research about HOW they do that).

The GOT is home to one big black drum that likes to hang out on the bottom. Black drums have little fish-beards (ok, the correct term is BARBELS) that help them sense prey. But that's not even the coolest thing about them; they actually DRUM!  Well, they make a noise like a drum. Listen for yourself. Black Drums make this sound with the help of a specialized
organ called a swim bladder. Normally, the swim bladder is used for controlling buoyancy, but in some species of fish,
it also makes sounds.

I hope that you've enjoyed my stirring rendition of The Twelve Days of Fishmas. May your holidays be filled with hot cocoa damelsfish and Candy Cane Shrimps on a Snowy (Grouper) night!

cheers,
maris

12/9/14

H2O! Frozen parody features GOT

Our volunteers are a talented bunch, and former intern turned GOT volunteer and Aquarium marathon team runner Lauren Mack is no exception. She created this fantastic parody of the hit song from Frozen, featuring the Aquarium and even some behind the scenes video from our food prep kitchen and dive support areas. Just try not to sing along with this one!




Lauren and our other 30 or so volunteers and interns are the heart of our operation regarding taking care of all of the Giant Ocean Tank denizens.  From keeping the support area spotless, answering questions from the public, feeding our sea turtles and surface fishes, and of course prepping all of the food for over a thousand fishes each day, they work their tails off... and we are so appreciative!

When she's not chopping food for the fish or scrubbing corals in the big tank, Lauren will be training for the Boston Marathon® with the New England Aquarium. She's fundraising to support the Aquarium education outreach programs, which bring ocean programming to local classrooms in underserved communities. So while her video raises awareness about all that goes on at the Aquarium, these outreach classes raise awareness about our oceans and what we can all to do protect them in the community.

When she's not chopping food for the fish, you might find her scuba diving in the big tank

Because as Lauren sings in her song:
I know what I must do
to teach the public how we all live blue
It's cool to be ocean-friendly—like me!
H-2-O, H-2-O
It's the basis of life on earth.
H-2-O, H-2-O
It's a resource with so much worth!
If you liked her video, you can support Lauren's marathon fundraising here.

11/27/14

Feasting, Underwater

Thanksgiving is a time of traditions—turkey, football, family, you know the drill. Here in the Dive Department we have our own traditions. One that's taken root over the years is the holiday blog post. So in honor of all the feasting across the country, we give you feasting in the Giant Ocean Tank.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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.