#42: Dive Buddies - Meet Chris B

Being a Giant Ocean Tank (G.O.T.) diver, as you can imagine, is a dream job. Diving in the tank, however, is only part of what I do here at the Aquarium. First off, I got my start back in 2005 as a penguin volunteer, so I still visit them from time to time, and help out with daily tray tasks and feedings. It takes effort to remember who's who, as the colony is constantly growing, but it's very fun and rewarding.

I received in-house dry suit dive training back in 2007, so that I could partake in outside collecting and off-site collection trips. I had a wonderful time this past Fall, during our Eastport collection trip, where we gathered specimens for the tanks of the coldwater marine gallery, one of which is where our giant pacific octopus resides.

While not underwater in Maine, I am the supervisor of 23 volunteers and interns of the G.O.T., most of which dive in the tank. It's a very fun part of my job, for we have a nice wide variety of personalities, ages and nationalities. The majority of them are in only one day per week, so every day is different!

Other minor things that I take care of include departmental purchasing (everything from shark vitamins to tile & grout brushes for scrubbing the reef), management of our walk-in freezer (storage for thousands of pounds of frozen seafood) and maintenance of the G.O.T. anodes (which prevent the tank frames from eroding).

We divers, and the sharks and turtles that we take care of, are very popular with the media. I have been on TV more this past 3 years than any period previously in my lifetime, and even made it in the Sunday Boston Globe. This is me with "Chronicle" host Anthony Everett, who is feeding Myrtle the turtle after interviewing me for their Odd Jobs piece.

If you've been following our blog, you know that we like our holidays here at the Aquarium. October brings my favorite event of the year - Fish, Fun, and Fright! I rally as many divers as I can, including volunteers, interns, co-ops and other staff, and partake in the fun myself. In 2006 I dressed as a sushi chef and chased the fish around with my fake wooden knife. I think I may have scared some kids. Last year I dressed as an astronaut (here's the video).

Previous to my employment with the Aquarium, I was a fisheries biologist in Alaska, helping the National Marine Fisheries Service in regulating our fishing industry. It was a tough job, but the experience was life-changing. I spent many months out on the Bering Sea, ultimately leaving this job and ending up in Boston because I met a girl--my wife Emily.

One of my passions is long distance running, and have started and finished the last 5 Boston Marathons, as well as NYC, Seattle, Arizona, Maine, Outer Banks, Chicago and Philadelphia. I hope to progress to ultra marathons and/or triathlons in the near future.

Hiking is also a passion of mine. In fact, so much so, that I am taking the next 5 months off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with Emily. 2,655 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington. This will be my last post for awhile. If you want to follow our progress, you can access our personal blog via my profile page.

Happy Trails!

- Chris



#41: Dive Buddies - Jim and Brooks Check Out the Giant Ocean Tank

New England Aquarium Overseer Jim Andrew was a guest diver in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) on April 11. On that same day, his son Brooks celebrated his 8th birthday at the Aquarium with a special behind-the-scenes tour for his friends and two brothers. Enjoy their post.

Jim and Brooks

Brooks - First of all it was really fun! I got to see my dad go SCUBA diving with the big sharks and eels. It was really exciting to see the sharks collide, and then they swam right past my dad's head when he wasn't looking!

Jim - Let me start by saying that the dive far surpassed the most optimistic expectations I could imagine. Here is how it went down for me.

Frankly I was a little apprehensive about diving in the GOT. It had been almost 10 years since my last SCUBA dive and the idea of jumping into a tank full of BIG animals, with teeth no less, caused some anxiety. Thanks to help from Dan and the other Aquarium staff and volunteer divers the reality could not have been more different, or the overall effect more powerful.

Brooks - All my friends loved the behind the scenes tour with Jessica (above). We got to see a 21 pound lobster and an octopus that was so strong they covered it with a 50-pound cage so it wouldn't escape and eat all the fish. I didn't know there were venomous fish in the world but I was glad they were in a tank backstage and not in the big tank with my dad.

Jim - The first surprise was how much space there was in the tank. The big central reef is honeycombed with passages and open spaces where the fish (and I) could hide. The next big surprise was finding that the big fish were docile and the smallest fish, especially the nesting trigger fish were aggressive if I got in their way.

The animals were very approachable. In particular the big moray eels seemed to enjoy being petted (above). They felt impossibly soft and smooth. Myrtle the giant green sea turtle especially liked having her shell rubbed with sand from the bottom of the tank. The smaller turtles shied away.

That bottom sand held another surprise. It is full of shark teeth that these magnificent animals shed frequently. Dan helped me find 3 teeth that I slipped into my wet suit for my 3 boys.

Brooks - After dad's dive my friends and I went to the top of the tank, I got out on the platform over the open water of the giant tank and fed Myrtle some fish. She was really big but very gentle and friendly. My dad met me on the platform to watch me feed her (above). Then he reached into the wrist of his dive suit and took out a shark's tooth just for me. This was the best birthday ever. All my friends agreed.

Jim - There was something very powerful about being in such close proximity to these large, magnificent animals. All I can say is the experience made me even more convinced about the mission of the New England Aquarium, to preserve the oceans for these incredible creatures and for us.

-Jim and Brooks



#40: What's Happening - Please Vote for the Aquarium

We're asking for everyone to help us by voting for the Aquarium in this year's Partners in Preservation grant contest. You can vote EVERY SINGLE DAY until May 17th. Cast your vote on the Partners in Preservation website. You can also sign up to get reminders form the Aquarium to vote.

What is the contest?

American Express, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has identified historic places throughout the Boston area that reflect the region's rich and diverse cultural heritage, and we're in the top 25! If the Aquarium gets the most votes we will get a $100,000 grant to restore the interior concrete to its original finish.

Why are we being recognized as a historic structure?

The Aquarium is considered to be the first modern aquarium. Its architecture and habitat-based exhibits influenced future aquariums. The centerpiece 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank was the first of its kind, and is considered a milestone in aquarium layout and design. Among other firsts was the tide pool touch tank, now an aquarium standard. The Aquarium was the first commission for Cambridge Seven Associates, which has since designed 11 aquariums worldwide. This significant and daring project helped stimulate redevelopment of Boston's run-down wharf district and was a catalyst for the revival of Boston's historic waterfront.

Here's a picture of the Giant Ocean Tank when it was first built:

You can vote once every day, so please get out there and show your support! The sharks, rays, sea turtles and fishes will all appreciate it :)





#39: Many People Ask - What's in a Name?

Our visitors often ask if we name our animals. The answer is yes and no. With over 600 individual animals in the Giant Ocean Tank, it would be impossible to name them all, but we do name our sharks, rays, and sea turtles. Here are the names of some of our more prominent animals in the GOT.

This is Carolina, one of our loggerhead sea turtles. She was named for the many loggerhead nesting beaches in the Carolinas.

This is Retread, another loggerhead sea turtle. Retread came to us through our rescue and rehab department. When found, she was so lethargic due to a condition known as cold stunned, that she was thought to be dead. Luckily one of the biologists noticed a faint flipper movement and she was saved. According to Mirriam-Webster, the word "retread" means to press back into service or to make over as if new.

This is Scute, our Kemp's ridley sea turtle. She was named for the individual plates on a sea turtle's shell, which are called scutes.

Our three sand tiger sharks, Judith, Markham and Galilee. Judith (Point Judith) and Galilee are named after harbor communities in Rhode Island where sand tiger sharks can be found. Markham is named after the Markham 75FSW, a sunken ship that is part of North Carolina's artificial reef program. Sand tiger sharks are commonly seen in the area. The first shark in the frame is Judith, then Markham and finally Galilee.

This video shows our Southern stingrays, Daisy and Ripley. Daisy got her name from the scientific word for southern stingray, Dasyatis americana. Ripley was named after the institution she came from; Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. The first ray is Daisy, the second is Ripley.

And last but certainly not least, Myrtle will always be Myrtle.



#38: Our Reef Residents - AMAZING DISCOVERY!!!

A little known fact about the Giant Ocean Tank is that the entire reef structure is hollow and sealed off from the tank proper by a hatch, what we call the 'cave door.' We do this to prevent the tank's inhabitants from wandering up into that dark and creepy place. Periodically senior dive staff enter this cavernous space in order to do various maintenance tanks (see a future blog entry for more on that!), but it's not a place for the faint of heart. (Nor the untrained!)

So imagine my surprise when I opened the hatch today and was confronted by the probing tentacles of a giant squid that must have been hiding in there for decades!!!

Luckily Chris was there to catch the monster on camera before it withdrew back into the inky darkness ...

Oh, wait...

Never mind...

April Fools!!!

(Sorry, but I had to do it.)

- John