3/21/14

Feedings: Loggerhead feeding time

Mealtime for the loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) is one of the most exciting feedings in the whole tank. When they're hungry, they can put down a lot of squid, capelin, mackerel and shrimp! And visitors get front row seats for the whole feast. The feeding happens every other morning at the bottom of the Giant Ocean Tank overlooking the colorful, oversized coral sculptures in the Curious George Discovery Corner. (There are some steps at these windows that make it easy for the smallest visitors to get a good look.) 

Our loggerhead sea turtles—Retread and Carolina—in place for their feedings

The feeding starts when a diver sinks down to the sandy landing and rattles a PVC pipe filled with bits of metal. It clanks and clatters enough so that it's audible all around the tank. That's the queue for Retread and Carolina to head down to their feeding station.

Sean rattles the shaker indicating it's mealtime for the loggerheads
Retread is blind (both our loggerhead turtles are rescues that would not be able to survive in the wild), so the audible queue lets her know it's time to eat. Sometimes the divers have to guide her into position to be fed.

Coming in for a landing
Besides the shaker, the divers also carry a yellow feeding stick. The fish is thread onto the stick and each turtle is offered a bite. Chomp!—the diver pulls stick out of the turtle's mouth just before their jaws close on a tasty morsel. Because the loggerhead's jaws are so powerful, the stick ensure the diver's fingers won't get nipped by accident. Each turtle can put down several fish in a single feeding!

The tools of the trade: Feeding stick and pvc shaker

Sean's hand is safely out of reach of that powerful beak!

The feeding also tends to draw a crowd inside the tank, too. You'll see plenty of porkfish, angelfish and other smaller fish grubbing for scraps that the turtles miss.

The loggerhead feeding draws a crowd—both outside the tank and inside!

Loggerheads eat mostly seafood, as opposed to green sea turtles that eat a considerable amount of plant matter. Loggerhead sea turtles are currently endangered. In fact, all sea turtles in the wild face considerable threats including accidental bycatch in fishing gear, boat activities such as dredging the ocean floor and human intrusion on their nesting beaches.

But you can help! Make a difference by choosing ocean-friendly seafood options that aren't caught in ways that threaten loggerhead sea turtles.

Back to bed

After a tasty meal, the turtles might settle in for a nap—and that's a blog post for another day! In the meantime, come visit the turtles in the Giant Ocean Tank.

3/5/14

New to the reef: Orange filefish

The Giant Ocean Tank is teeming with hundreds of fish, so you might not know to look for some newcomers. But once we introduce the orange filefish, you'll find they're pretty easy to pick out of the crowd.

It's not hard to tell why these fish are called orange filefish!

The orange filefish (Aluterus schoepfii) can grow to be about a foot long, but they have a very compressed, pancake-like body shape. You can see just how thin they are when they turn toward you. Their coloration varies from olive gray to rich orange-yellow or even white on the dorsal side with some mottling. Irregular blotches are also normal.

An interesting characteristic about this species is that they often swim with their head pointing downward. It's believed they're trying to camouflage with seagrasses while hiding from predators and prey alike. They also have incredibly small mouths but formidable teeth with triangular incisors. Think of it like a cookie cutter meets a melon-baller.

See if you can notice any of these characteristics when observing the orange filefish in this video:



This species is not usually eaten by people. Their conservation status is unknown. But they can often be found in aquariums. We have not exhibited this species for some time now, so it's exciting to see these fish against the backdrop of the newly-renovated reef. We haven't had them on exhibit for 10 or 12 years! Come visit the Giant Ocean Tank and see if you can spot these new neighbors on the reef!

There are many different kinds of filefish, many of them living in the Giant Ocean Tank right now. Here are just a few from the blogs:

3/1/14

Feeding: Video of Parrotfish Grazing

In this previous post, we introduce a crafty way to feed our parrotfish and help them maintain healthy teeth. They scrape away at a block of plaster of Paris in pursuit of some tasty peas. In the process, they're helping to file down their fused front teeth. It is similar to their behavior in the wild, where they graze on algae covering coral rock.

Well, as promised we're sharing the diver's perspective of that feeding:



There's lots more to learn more about feedings in the Giant Ocean Tank. Take an e-stroll through the blogs and get a hint at all that's done every day to keep these animals happy, healthy and sated. Here are a couple links to get you started:


2/25/14

Feedings: Plaster of Paris for the Parrotfish

Did you know that parrotfishes actually EAT coral? It's true. Well, kind of. Here's what happens: Parrotfishes have fused teeth that form "beaks" which are used to scrape algae from dead coral rock, which is made mostly of calcium carbonate. In the process, large amounts of coral are taken in, ground up by bony teeth plates and the algae is extracted for consumption.

You can see the peas embedded in the block

Our GOT coral is artificial, made of fiberglass and urethane, so the parrotfish can't perform the usual grazing. But also made mostly of calcium carbonate is—you guessed it—Plaster of Paris, so it's perfect for these bricks of peas we put in the GOT for our parrotfishes. It keeps them happy and healthy :-)

A diver places the block on a coral ledge, giving visitors a great view

The block tends to draw a crowd

But it's the parrotfish that really benefit from this particular feeding

The action of scraping their teeth on the plaster can file down their teeth, keeping them healthy and trim

And they get a tasty treat—always eat your vegetables!

The parrotfish, and other fishes, dine on these crafty blocks of Plaster of Paris every week or so. So now if you see a curious white brick nestled amid the colorful corals, you'll know about the specialized feeding that's taking place inside the Giant Ocean Tank.

Learn more about parrotfishes from our researchers and global explorers.

Oh, and we'll be posting a video of this feeding event soon. Stay tuned!

— Chris

2/15/14

Feedings: The Zooplankton Block

With hundreds of little fish in a 200,000 gallon fish tank, it's impossible to know if every single small fish has gotten a morsel of food.

Evie feeds little fishes

But we do our best to make sure they all at least have the ability to eat if they so choose. So some of the feedings are geared towards this: Instead of targeting individual fish, it's a scatter or broadcast feeding. Nothing expresses this better than our twice-a-day zooplankton feed. Our walk-in freezer is filled with a stack of 35# blocks of this zooplankton.


Before it goes into the Giant Ocean Tank, it's cut up into smaller blocks. Twice a day a diver swims it around, spreading as much as they can throughout the water before it melts completely.

Mmmm...tasty, no?

Check out this video to see what I'm talking about.  Notice that some of the bigger fish like the zooplankton too (i.e. cownose ray :-)



2/5/14

Snow Day at the Aquarium

We were closed today due to the snow… but just like Christmas and Thanksgiving some of the aquarists head on into work to take care of the animals.  Props to the MBTA for getting us there safely!

Snow falls on the Aquarium and front plaza

Penguins, sea turtles, fishes—all need to eat and be cared for rain or snow or shine

Just another day at the office feeding the loggerhead sea turtles

And of course, Queen Myrtle doesn't like to miss a meal

2/1/14

Feedings: The boxfishes

We have several different feedings in the Giant Ocean Tank. Some are broadcast feeds (meaning we scatter the food), some target our larger predators and some target the smaller shyer fishes. This squid tentacle feeding is specifically for the boxfishes: cowfishes and trunkfishes... and sometimes for smaller puffers that come looking for a handout.



As you can see, it's not always that easy to only feed the boxfishes. Others come by, knowing they may be able to snag a morsel or two. The biggest culprit? The porkfish (yellow and black fish) are notorious tentacle thieves, and most divers feel accomplished if they can keep them from getting any (don't worry, they have ample opportunity to eat during other feedings).

Our local followers might recognize this boxfish—a honeycomb cowfish, Acanthostracion polygonia. This fish appeared on some of our splashy advertising this summer announcing the reopening of the Giant Ocean Tank.

Smooth trunkfish, Lactophrys triqueter
Scrawled cowfish, Acanthostracion quadricornis

Some of the divers call this the cuteness feeding. Because did you see all those little fish lined up for their snack in the video?! If you want to get a look for yourself, we're usually feeding these fishes around 11:15 each morning (though of course that could always change day-to-day, depending on the animals' needs).

And stay tuned for more about the other feedings inside the Giant Ocean Tank.

12/25/13

Merry Christmas from the Giant Ocean Tank

It may have been Christmas morning and the Aquarium was closed but the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank still needed lots of food and care. In the spirit of the holidays we also prepared some special treats for some of the GOT’s inhabitants.

Daire gave Myrtle some special attention today in the form of a “back-scratch” by scrubbing her shell.

Our striped burrfish and porcupinefish got a special treat today that they really love – crabs!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Giant Ocean Tank Divers! 

- Sean, Daire, Mack and Alex

12/18/13

A curious onlooker: The bridled burrfish

Divers, mostly volunteers, hop into the tank with scrub brushes every day. They're charged with scrubbing our colorful new corals so they can remain vibrant and lovely. It's a job that has to happen every day. After all, if you have bright lights you're going to get some happy algae.

In this video, Daire has a curious onlooker while he's scrubbing the algae at the top of the reef.

 

This bridled burrfish is related to all of our other spiky puffers: balloonfish, porcupinefish, spotted burrfish and striped burrfish. But perhaps he thinks this brush is his kin!

12/11/13

Signs of happy fish

One of the roles of a GOT Aquarist is to ensure that all of the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank are happy and healthy. On each of our dives we make observations and monitor the behaviors of the animals as a way to keep track of animal health.

Divers observe all the fish—big and small—inside the Giant Ocean Tank each day

Occasionally we are rewarded with something really exciting!

Can you tell what this is? I’ll give you a hint: It is one of the signs of a happy and healthy fish.

Fish that are well-fed and relaxed are able to spend energy on things that are not critical to their individual survival. In the GOT this sometimes results in fish spawning, or laying eggs.

Each speck is a tiny fertilized Sergeant major egg

Some fish release their spawn into the water while others, like our Sergeant majors, lay their eggs on a surface.


One of the small adult Sergeant majors currently in the Giant Ocean Tank

A while back we talked about where baby fish come from and raising fish at the Aquarium, and it is great to know that post-renovation the fish are happy with their new home.

Under the microscope you can see the yolk (the purple sphere) that provides the fish with energy to grow

After a couple days eyes develop and more colors start to appear 

Through our continuing partnership with Roger Williams University and recently with other institutions across the United States and we are working on methods to collect and hatch these eggs. Eventually we hope to use these captive bred fish to augment our tropical collecting efforts allowing us to further reduce our impact on wild populations.

11/28/13

Happy Thanksgiving from the divers

The Aquarium is closed but "the fish gotta eat!"  So do the turtles.  So do the divers!

Thanksgiving Day dive team: Marcus, Mack, Chris, Shannon, Jess


Homemade goodies by Shannon, baker extraordinaire - this if for us, not the fish ;)

Myrtle's feast: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, gel, clam, squid, shrimp and pollock

Jess is Myrtle's personal server today

Dropping in her food - this takes more skill than you might think (some of our fish are thieves)

Myrtle eating a healthy snack of "turtle gel"

All quiet on the public side — the Aquarium is closed on Thanksgiving (and Christmas)



Thanksgiving Day dive team SELFIE
A special thanks to Shannon, Jess and DJ Mack for volunteering their time on this holiday - it does not go unappreciated!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


11/23/13

Our Little Hamlets

I took the GoPro into the GOT today to well, "get something cool". I didn't really have a set goal, but I was optimistic I'd find something neat to take a video of. Perhaps some mating behavior or even the opposite of that: aggression from one fish to another. What evolved was a video of all four species of hamlets that live in the Giant Ocean Tank!

Blue Hamlet, Hypoplectrus gemma
Hamlets are members of the sea bass family, Serranidae, which also includes basses and groupers. Unlike many groupers and basses, hamlets are quite small—never getting bigger than 4-5" long, and look like miniature versions of our larger groupers.

Barred Hamlet, Hypoplectrus puella
Hamlets are found mainly around coral reefs in Florida waters and throughout the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas. There are 11 known species. We have four of them in our big tank.

Indigo Hamlet, Hypoplectrus indigo
Hamlets do tend to be shy, but in the GOT they have gotten used to divers, which made it possible to get these shots.

Yellowtail Hamlet, Hypoplectrus chlorurus

Come by sometime and see if you can spot these beauties among the hundreds of fish darting among the coral!

11/2/13

VIDEO: The Black Drum

As promised in this last post, here's video of the black drum navigating the new corals inside the Giant Ocean Tank. As he swims overhead you can clearly see the barbels that make this fish look bearded. Pretty appropriate given our bearded World Champion Boston Red Sox!


Another unique thing about black drums is that they - like all drums in the Giant Ocean Tank - have the ability to produce a low-pitched drum-like (hence the name) resonant sound by vibrating the muscles surrounding their swim bladders.  This is likely for mating or territorial purposes.  However, it's very rare to hear this in the GOT... Toronto is our only black drum.



Today Red Sox nation is swarming over the city, wearing their pride on their sleeves and caps, cheering for the home team at the victory parade. Here in the Giant Ocean Tank, the divers are getting in on the act, too.

Red Sox: Number One

Ascend? Nope, a big thumbs up for the home team
So after the confetti has fallen and the duckboats have passed, come on down to the Aquarium and see the divers in their Red Sox gear. You might get to see the shy black drum, too! See lots more pictures of him here.

10/26/13

Fish Fun & Fright!

Our annual members only Halloween event—Fish Fun and Fright!—happened last night. In GOT-land, that can only mean one thing: divers in costume!!

Fish Fun and Fright! at the New England Aquarium, downtown Boston


We train our spooky eels to come out during this event (not really)

Julio the Ninja

Marcus AKA Super Pumpkin

Mad Scientist (Anna) and Crazy Surgeon (Conor)

Myrtle apparently would eat a plastic lab rat if given the chance

Crazy surgeon swimming around with his severed arm

Daire is Sergeant Pepper and Mike is Grim Reaper (he always befriends guys in red)

Hard to tell but if you look closely I have a squeegee and spray bottle, sitting on a platform, as a window washer

Jack O' Lantern and 3 angelfishes (they like pumpkin)