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!


4/24/14

Feedings: Watch the loggerheads eat

In our last post, we talked about how the loggerhead sea turtles are fed. And here's an up-close underwater look at a live feeding!



Notice how the turtles—once down at the feeding station—associate the diver with their food. Carolina in the beginning thought I was going to feed her (all I had was the GoPro though). Also, sometimes it can be tough to get the turtles situated before beginning the feeding. However, Evie got the turtles lined up nicely, and fed them their 2.5 lbs of squid and capelin (we call them squid tacos) without a hitch.

Success!

Loggerhead looking for breakfast

People often ask us if it's dangerous to dive in the Giant Ocean Tank. The answer is no, but that's only because we are safety-minded. The loggerhead feeding is a good example. Without the use of the stick, we would run the risk of getting our fingers or hands bitten by these strong-jawed sea turtles.

Learn more about the sea turtles in the Giant Ocean Tank and beyond:

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.