#17: What's Happening - Costumed Divers!

If you weren't in the Halloween mood before, you will be now. Watch Chris the Astronaut defy gravity underwater!

Here he tests his balance and gets up close to the camera:

And here he gets up close with one of the Giant Ocean Tank's sand tiger sharks:


#16: What's Happening - Halloween Costume Diving

It's my favorite time of year - Halloween! Each year, the Aquarium throws a party exclusively for members and their guests, called Fish, Fun & Fright. To add to the festivities, we carve a few dozen pumpkins and put the Jack-O-Lanterns into the Giant Ocean Tank around the reef with glow sticks inside. Myrtle and some of the angelfishes like it when we do this, as some of them find pumpkins tasty!

decoration/turtle foodUm... is that a shark?

Many of the guests come in costume, so since we don't like for everyone else to have all the fun, we dive in costume in the GOT as well! It can be a bit tricky coming up with a costume that will work underwater. You have to consider the material, reduced gravity, being able to equalize your ears, entanglement, etc. We had seven unique and fun costumes this year.

Here is Mike as a clown, always a crowd favorite.

Don wore a Davy Jones (from Pirates of the Caribbean) mask, which he said prevented him from seeing much of anything during his dive.

Paul, for his costume, borrowed a vest and a hardhat from Turner Construction Company, who is heading up the construction of the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center (coming Summer 2009).

Andrea's idea was to incorporate the SCUBA backpack into her costume, and was a Ghostbuster.

Liz (right) was a fairy and had a lot fun casting spells on the visitors through the windows. She won 'best underwater costume', as voted by all costumed divers. I (left) dressed up as a man on the moon, and walked around weightless-like on the bottom of the tank.

Sam, arrrgh, dove in as a pirate (with a fake sword I promise), and took 2nd prize.

Happy Halloween!




#15: What's Happening - Lost Wedding Ring is Found!

In early July, a guest diver lost his wedding ring while SCUBA diving in the Giant Ocean Tank. Bob, a creative director with Boston area advertising agency Mullen, was given the chance to dive in the GOT after helping create the award winning marketing campaign for the "Sharks & Rays" exhibit. After the dive he realized that his wedding ring was missing! His best guess was that he lost it while scrubbing the shell of Myrtle, our 560 pound green sea turtle.

Bob Pirrmann (left), lost his ring in the GOT. Mike (right) found it.

Three months later, I was vacuuming up food debris in the sandy area between some finger coral during the 1:15 cleaning dive. When the debris was gone, I noticed a round shape that I thought was a coin. After vacuuming some more, I realized what it was. It was the ring!

Mike passes the Bob his wedding ring in the Giant Ocean Tank.

As divers, we often find things that drop into the GOT. We have a collection of sunglasses, cameras, cell phones, and baby pacifiers. But was a unique find and it felt great to return the ring back to Bob. He even came back for another dive so I could show him where his ring has rested for the last few months.


P.S. This story is making the rounds! Find out more about it from the press release. The story also appeared in the Metro, The Boston Globe, WBZ TV News and the Attleboro Sun Chronicle.



#14: Our Reef Residents- Fish Sounds

I remember when I first started scuba diving one of the things I liked best about it was the peace and quiet; all you hear is the sound of your own bubbles. However, after several dives in the Giant Ocean Tank, I began to hear other things. To my surprise, the fish were making noise! The first sound I heard was a loud grunting noise, clearly coming from one of our Nassau groupers. It appeared to be territorial, as when he did it, a smaller Nassau grouper quickly left the area. After that experience, I began listening carefully whenever I was under water. Since then, I've heard hundreds of different noises--grunting, drumming, clicking, crackling, and squeaking. Some sounds I can identify, some I can not. Some fishes are named for the sounds they make.

For example, the black drum (left and above) makes a drumming sound, while the French grunt makes a grunting sound. Fishes make sounds for a variety of reasons. Some sounds are intentionally produced to ward off predators, discourage competitors, attract mates or as a response to fright. Involuntary sounds are usually the result of feeding or swimming. The way fishes make sounds depends on the species. Some fishes hit or rub bones together while others use muscles to contract and expand the swim bladder.

Click play to listen to the sound a black drum makes:

- Sherrie



#13: Dive Buddies - A Day in the Life of A Dive Volunteer (Don)

Today started out as every day--arrive at 8 a.m. and start food prep. First feeding is at 10 a.m. and it's the biggest feed, so lots to do. Shark food to prep, turtle food to prep, fish to chop, shrimp to clean. In total about 30 pounds of food to get ready for the day's feedings in the Giant Ocean Tank.

Ten a.m. dive and I am on the dive platform helping the staff divers get ready to do the first feed of the day. I am also getting ready to feed the barracudas, the needlefish, porcupinefish and, yes, of course, Myrtle the green sea turtle.

All the feeding I do is from one of two platforms over the top of the Giant Ocean Tank. The first platform is the one from which the divers enter and exit the tank. From this platform, barracudas, needlefish and porcupinefish are my feeding responsibility. Both barracudas look hungry this morning, and since they are one of the apex predators in the tank, I want to make sure they get fed right away.

This, of course, upsets the self-proclaimed queen of the tank, Myrtle, the Green Sea Turtle who circles impatiently awaiting her first food of the day. Feeding the barracudas is one of my favorite activities of the day. You get their attention by slapping the surface of the water. I guess it makes them think there is an injured fish nearby. Both have very different feeding personalities.

The little barracuda stops and remains motionless in the center of the tank at the surface awaiting a capelin tossed a foot or so in front of her face. As soon as the fish hits the water, she (or he, not sure what sex either of them are!) darts forward quickly grabbing the fish just as barracuda do in the wild. But the big barracuda is lazy. He (or she) hears the slapping on the water's surface and swims directly toward the dive platform. But if the capelin isn't placed right in front of his face, and only a few inches in front for that matter, he will swim right by the fish. The first attempt is about two inches above his mouth and not on target, so he swims right by and the capelin glides right over the top of his head. A permit swims by and grabs the wayward fish. I guess the permit isn't as fussy about where he gets his or her food!

Second attempt to feed the big barracuda is on target. I hold the capelin about six inches below the surface of the water and release it just before the big barracuda gets to it. Chomp! Down it goes. About 10 capelin later both barracuda are full and no longer circling the dive platform. Finally, it's Myrtle the Green Sea Turtle's turn to get fed and boy is she not happy that I have been so slow to pay attention to her.

I leave the dive platform and head over to the smaller platform that is used exclusively for feeding Her Majesty, the Queen of the GOT. A pound of Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage, a third of a pound of fish and squid and a third of a pound of Myrtle's special gelatin mixture are gone in no time and she still could eat more, but that will have to wait for the next feeding dive at 11:15 am.

All the while as I am feeding, I am answering questions from visitors to the Aquarium. There's the usual questions: Why don't the sharks eat the other fish? (They're too full from all the food we offer them.) Aren't the divers afraid of the sharks? (No, Sand Tiger Sharks look ferocious, but are fairly docile animals and our three Sand Tiger Sharks are accustomed to having the divers around.) How old is Myrtle? (About 70-75 years old.) How much does Myrtle weigh? (about 540 lbs last time we weighed her.) It is a busy day for school groups. At one point I have twenty 9- or 10-year-olds firing questions at me three at a time and barely giving me a chance to answer any of them. But I love it. The kids (and most of the adults) are great to interact with and if I can answer their questions, get them interested in the marine world and maybe just stimulate some thoughts of pursuing a career that will help save the marine environment, then my 12 years here as a volunteer will be a great success.

The best part of my day today (and most Fridays) is the 1:15 dive. This is my chance to get into the GOT. No feeding, but various maintenance tasks to perform. Today it is scrubbing algae off the artifical coral. It may sound like a tedious task, but it's not. There is something satisfying about seeing a section of the artificial reef encrusted with a thick growth of red algae at the start of the dive and then, after creating a billowing cloud of red and watching the angelfish swoop in for a bite of the newly released algae chunks, looking at that same brightly colored yellow and purple and maroon and white reef section at the end. Who knew that there were colors on this artificial reef other than red!

Also, during reef scrubbing, I am not far from the windows and waving to the kids, making faces at them and generally acting goofy to make them smile is all part of the job. And that part makes it fun.

A simple wave to a three year old brings a big smile to their face, while a wave to another toddler evokes a trembling lower lip followed by a wail and grasp for their parents. They didn't realize their was something in the tank that could see them! That always makes me laugh and flood my mask (and usually makes the parents laugh as well).

Near the end of the dive I head into the big sand tray--a large open area at the bottom of the tank. In this area one of the four pipes that shoot clean water into the Giant Ocean Tank is located, concealed in a fake sponge on the bottom. I call this cleaning station time. I pile up a bunch of the gravel from the bottom of the tank and hold handfuls of the gravel in front of the effluent pipe and it blows out into the water column. This always attracts a large crowd of various fish. Today, one of the large hogfish comes down, mouth wide open to allow the gravel to blow across its body and through its gills. The bar jacks descend to join the crowd, as do a number of angelfish and tangs. They all position themselves to let the blowing gravel sweep across their bodies. I think it is kind of like a back scratch for them!

The rest of the day is spent mostly on the dive platform doing surface feedings of the needlefish and answering the questions of the visitors. Hundreds of questions a day. Many the same, but all asked with the same curiousity. And all answered with the same enthusiasm. Yes, it does sometimes get tiring answering the same question for the 100th time in a day, but I wouldn't trade this job for anything. Come on in and see me some Friday. I'll tell you why the sharks don't eat the other fish.




#12: What's Happening - Shark Transports

Our last blog entry focused on how we ship small fish from our Bahamas collecting expedition, but what about the big guys? Transporting sharks is a whole different story. It requires a lot of specialized equipment and a huge team of experienced staff and volunteers. Senior staff develop a plan weeks before the actual transport. One of the most important preparations is equipping the transport truck with the necessary life support system.

For a large sandtiger shark, we use a 9-foot fiberglass tank with a rapid sand filter and hayward pump to keep the water clean and flowing. It is also essential to continuously bubble oxygen into the water. While on the road, dissolved oxygen and temperature are monitored constantly to ensure the best water quality for the duration of the trip.

Once the transport team arrives at the Aquarium, they are met by another team who will assist in getting the shark from the transport truck to the Giant Ocean Tank exhibit (GOT). First, a large stretcher designed specifically for shark handling is lowered into the transport tank.

Once the shark is gently coaxed into the stretcher, several staff and volunteers lift the shark up and out of the truck.

With the shark now out of water, time is of the essence. Staff must get the shark from the loading dock on the first floor to the GOT on the 4th floor as swiftly as possible.

Once at the top of the exhibit, the stretcher is attached to an electronic hoist and slowly lowered into the GOT.

Two staff divers accept the stretcher, and bring the shark to the bottom of the tank. Once the stretcher is opened, it generally it takes anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes for the shark to come out and begin swimming. Check out this video of divers introducing the shark to the Giant Ocean Tank:

We currently have three sand tiger sharks; all were acclimated to the GOT using this transport method.