Myrtle Loves Shell Scratches

Did you know our sea turtles get back scratches? Myrtle especially seems to really enjoy a shell scratch. Sometimes the divers rub a shell on her back, other times she finds a way to scratch that itch herself.

Anyone who's clicked around on the internet has likely seen funny videos of little turtles getting their shell scratched by a toothbrush or their keeper's fingernails. In fact, turtles do have nerve endings in their shells and a scratch seems to feel good. Our big sea turtles are no exception! So the next time you visit and you see one of the turtles shimmying their shell under a finger of coral, now you'll know they're just enjoying a good back scratch.

Learn more about Myrtle on the Divers Blog.


Dispatches from Quincy: Hatching a surprise

This is a guest post from Shannon Mahoney, an aquarist working in our off-site Animal Care Center in Quincy, Mass. She helps care for animals before they go on exhibit. In this post, she explains how the Quincy team also rears larval fish from eggs laid in the exhibits on Central Wharf.

Every so often we add new fishes to the Giant Ocean Tank and each of them usually has a unique story about how they arrived at the New England Aquarium. Some are from our Bahamas expeditions, some are Gulf Stream orphans, and some of the newest additions are actually returning to the GOT, now as juvenile fish that we reared from eggs harvested from the tank nearly a year ago.

Giant Ocean Tank

But let's take a step back and talk about fish and their eggs. Almost all marine fishes release eggs that develop and hatch while exposed to the elements of the ocean. You can find some exceptions to that rule at the Aquarium, like live-bearing lined seahorses, but the majority of the fishes at the Aquarium are either pelagic spawners that release eggs into the water column, or demersal spawners that lay eggs on some kind of object or substrate in the tank.

Blue chromis | Photo: Mark Rosenstein

On June 7, 2015, GOT divers came across a demersal egg “nest” at the bottom of the tank that was being defended by blue chromis. We are in the early stages of developing a larval rearing program at NEAq and blue chromis are high on the list of desired species to raise in house, so we were all very excited to hear the news of a fresh nest. The nest was transported to our offsite facility where we have dedicated space for special larval rearing tanks and to culture live foods for larval fish. The eggs are super tiny and super sticky so they attach to individual sand grains as you can see below.

See the tiny, round eggs sticking to the grains of sand? 

It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out the best method to raise larval fish because every species can have different temperature, light and food preferences. Because of this we take careful notes of everything, and we try to take a lot of pictures to track the growth of the larvae. About 10 days after hatching we noticed dorsal spines developing on the larvae that were definitely not chromis-like. We started to wonder whether we actually had blue chromis growing in our tanks.

Day 7 after hatching, the tiny dorsal spine is appearing

By Day 12, there was no more wondering.  It was pretty clear we had some kind of filefish.  There are five species of filefish swimming around in the GOT (including orange filefish), so we weren’t completely sure which one we had until 65 days after hatching. By then the larvae were large enough so we could count the number of fin rays and confirm they were planehead filefish! Even though they weren’t the blue chromis we were aiming to grow, this was the first time that anyone has successfully raised planehead filefish from eggs!

Day 22
Day 32

We think the nest collected from the GOT last June was most likely a combined planehead filefish and blue chromis nest and the planeheads out-competed the chromis larvae for food early on in the game. Blue chromis are fairly small fish, but they make up for their small size with their aggressive temperament. Planehead filefish on the other hand are one of the more friendly species in the GOT, which makes us think the planehead filefish probably laid their nest first, then the blue chromis took the space over for their eggs and stayed to defend their nest.

A couple weeks after collecting the eggs, one of the GOT divers was able to take the video below of two planehead filefish laying a nest and you can see how difficult it can be sometimes to find a quiet spot in the GOT to lay some eggs.

We ended up with 64 juvenile planehead filefish and just recently put four of them back in the GOT. The remaining 60 animals were sent to other zoos and aquariums all over the country so other visitors can observe and learn about this species. In the years to come, our goal is to exhibit more and more fish that came from our breeding program, so stay tuned for more success stories like this one!

One of the new additions just before being released from its acclimation pen into the GOT general population


Celebrating National Pig Day, Aquarium-Style

There's a holiday for everything—pancakes, dragons, and lots and lots of animals. You might think that the Aquarium can't recognize the more terrestrial animals. But you'd be wrong. For National Pig Day, we honored the hogfish and porkfish in the Giant Ocean Tank!


In this video you can spot several types of hogfishes and the porkfish. Hogfishes are in the wrasse family, three species are featured in our tank. Spotfin hogfish are red and yellow and Spanish hogfish are purple and yellow. Both species act as cleaner fish as juveniles, snacking on larger fish's dead skin and ectoparasites. There are also several large hogfish that are pinkish in color. The largest in the tank is a super male and the smaller hogs are females in the harem. This species is hermaphroditic, meaning that the largest female can turn into a male if the super male dies or moves to another reef.

You can spot the porkfish by their striking yellow and black colors. This species of fish is in the grunt family. Grunts get their name because they make a grunting sound when their grinding teeth deep in their throats are amplified by their swim bladder.

Hope you had a Happy National Pig Day — Aquarium style!

Celebrating other holidays at the Aquarium: 


Selfies with Scuba Divers

Alfred Kyrollos is a volunteer who gives up most of his Saturdays to come to the Aquarium and help feed and care for the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank. In fact, we couldn't care for an exhibit as large as the GOT without our volunteers! It turns out that he and his fellow volunteers have a lot of fun, too. In this post, Alfred explains how the Saturday Crew is very social—in more ways than one. 

If you have ever been to the Aquarium, you have undoubtedly stood in awe in front of the Giant Ocean Tank. 200,000 gallons of pure awesome, a pristine example of a Caribbean coral reef. But it doesn’t stay that way on its own. To keep this tank going you need an elite team of highly motivated and trained individuals. I call them my friends, but you might know them as the volunteers.

Part of the Saturday crew, from left: Lindsay, Alfred, Lauren, Gabby

Chances are you’ve met or talked to a volunteer if you have been to the top of the tank or walked up the spiral of the GOT. We are often found target feeding or surface feeding from the two platforms at the top of the tank, or maybe inside the tank, feeding all our fishy friends or scrubbing the coral clean.


Over time a small tradition has developed among the Saturday volunteer team. It started at lunch one day while we were browsing Instagram posts with aquarium tags. To our surprise we had found that one of the divers had been posted. It was then that it really hit us. We are on display all the time, like art at a museum. Guests were walking by all the time, snapping photos of the divers doing what they do. We started scrolling through the posts, revealing more and more posts of divers. We immediately set off and set up rules of engagement, and the Saturday “Instagame” was born.


With an appointed commissioner (Jess) and rules jotted down on a piece of paper for authenticity, the race had begun, the ongoing race to appear in the most visitor posts. Essentially, when we had a spare minute in the tank, we would engage with guests through the windows and try to get a photo with them — whether it was intentional, a candid shot, or just a photo bomb (at which point they burst out laughing when they see the photo). We would have a great time and so would the guests.


This little Instagame of ours has really given the Saturday team a boost in all sorts of ways. It's brought a new facet of social media to the GOT, helped us engage with guests on a different level, and most importantly brought everyone closer as a team.


So the next time you see a diver in the tank, snap a photo or take a selfie and tag us with our location or the hashtag #newenglandaquarium on Instagram, and we’ll update our tally of who's first in the ranks :-)

— Alfred

Find us on Instagram and post your pictures with the divers! Instagram not your thing? You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+, too.

And ICYMI: Here's a classic post about diver-visitor interactions, with pictures from both sides of the glass. 


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!



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


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!


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


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”. 



Happy Thanksgiving!


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 :-)



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


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


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?


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


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!


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.

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