#54: What's Happening - Wetsuit Revenge!

Our co-op students are usually ready to get out of their wetsuits after completing five dives a day for five days straight. Not this week! Our newest co-op, Kimmie, just couldn't bear to part with her wetsuit. Well, actually she got stuck in at after her last dive of the day.

We use our dive gear several times daily and we're really tough on it. It seemed like Kimmie's wetsuit really wanted to put up a fight. After many attempts to free her we decided to bring in the big gun (a.k.a., John with his pliers.)

John cut the top of the zipper off so the suit wasn't badly damaged. Kimmie was able to go home in her regular clothes. I'm happy to say she came back this morning and is ready to dive again!




#53: Our Reef Residents - Giant Ocean Tank Shark Exams

The Giant Ocean Tank Dive Team and the Aquarium Health Division recently joined forces to begin a series of shark medical exams. After weeks of planning, the first two of four exams were scheduled for August 4 (Bimini the nurse shark) and August 6 (Markham the sand tiger shark).

Staff and volunteers arrived at 6:00 a.m. to begin the preparation process. Shark exams require an enormous amount of planning as well as a lot of highly specialized equipment.

Divers prepare for step one; the injectable anesthesia.

Waiting for the right moment....

Got it!

Once the injectable anesthesia has taken effect (shark is a bit groggy), divers use a wand attached to a spray bottle full of liquid anesthesia to further anesthetize the animal. The liquid anesthesia has a sleep like effect, much like anesthesia that is used on humans. Additional divers use long poles with tennis balls on the ends to help direct the shark towards the wand.

Once it is determined that the shark is drowsy enough to handle, divers use the poles to gently guide him into the stretcher.

Once the shark is secure in the stretcher, divers bring him to the surface.

The stretcher is then lifted out of the water using an electronic hoist

Staff carefully lower the shark into a fiberglass box especially designed for shark exams.

Bimini was a bit light on anesthesia, and made quite a fuss when placed in the exam box. She eventually settled down nicely.

A hose within a PVC tube that is attached to a pump is placed in the shark's mouth. This ensures a constant flow of water; important for respiration.

The veterinarians now prepare for the medical examination.

The shark is measured and a blood sample is taken.

The most challenging part of the exam is radiographs. The shark has to be taken out of the water and placed on the radiograph plate. When not breathing the anesthetized water, the shark can wake up, so this has to be done very quickly.

Once the exam is completed, the shark is returned to the exhibit in much the same way that he/she was removed. They are brought to the bottom in a stretcher, and observed closely by the dive staff until they are up and swimming.

Stay tuned the next exams will be in early September with Judith and Galilee ...

- Sherrie



#52: What's Happening - Counting Fish in New England

When I'm not feeding the more than 600 animals that call the New England Aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) their home, I'm fascinated watching animal behaviors that are always going on. While I love diving in the GOT on a regular basis, I got my start diving in the cool New England waters where I watched these same animal behaviors for the last 25 years.

These observations came in handy as the New England Aquarium Dive Club (NEADC) and the Reef Environmental and Educational Foundation (REEF) sponsored the 8th annual Northeast Great Annual Fish Count held up on Cape Ann, Massachusetts. This year, there were 119 divers who submitted 140 surveys and identified 45 different species! All three numbers were records for the eight year old event, which is the largest of it's kind in the country. These divers observed 4 or 5 species that were never observed before, like the Atlantic wolf fish and the Atlantic torpedo ray. So, what did we see and how did we count them? Using underwater slates with waterproof paper, as well as laminated fish ID pictures, we marked down only fish that we could positively identify. They were categorized using "single" for one fish, "few" for 2-10 fish, "many" for 10-100, and "abundant" for over 100.

After the dives, these observations were transferred to survey sheets back at the staging area and submitted. Then came the fun part! This year there were over $8500.00 dollars in prizes including a dive vacation, wetsuits, regulators, fins, masks and a rare opportunity to dive into the GOT here at the New England Aquarium, which is always one of the most sought after prizes!

There was quite a spread of food supplied by the New England Aquarium Dive Club afterward. This year the weather has been very wet but we had a beautiful day for the event. Underwater visibility wasn't the best due to all the rain we've had recently but that's New England diving. This year, there was participation from 7 or 8 different local dive clubs. While the prizes were great incentive, this also gives divers the opportunity to become "citizen scientists" and contribute to helping to address a variety of questions on marine life populations and species to marine scientists. Those of you who are divers, consider joining REEF and fill out a survey form for every dive you do. It's up to all of us to help protect our blue planet.

Be sure to check out the NEADC's Annual Tropical Fish Rescue coming up in September. Tropical fish in New England? Every fall, juvenile tropical fish travel up north in the Gulf stream and end up in the shallow waters in southern New England. As the fall weather begins to cool. so do the ocean temperatures and the tropicals can't handle the cooler temps, so NEADC collects these animals and some have even been introduced into the GOT!

So, don't forget to check out the GOT blog for details on what we found and rescued. It's the thrill of the hunt!




#51: Our Reef Residents - The Boxfishes, featuring "Wasabi" the Scrawled Cowfish

As you look into the Giant Ocean Tank you can see that the fish come in many different shapes and sizes. Some of our more uniquely shaped fish are a group call the boxfishes. They get their name for their less-than-streamline boxy shape. The way they hover and dart around the tank and how they will suck squid tentacles out of you hand like slurping spaghetti makes them a favorite of both the visitors and the divers.

Here are a few of the boxfish that you might find in the GOT.

Smooth trunkfish

Honeycomb cowfish

Scrawled cowfish

In this video you can see a trunkfish and the honeycomb cowfish swimming around. To distinguish them look for tiny horns above the cowfish's eyes.

Watch in this video as I feed some of our trunkfish and cowfish along with some of our other oddly shaped fish, like an ocean triggerfish, individual squid tentacles.

A little while ago the divers noticed the scrawled cowfish had sustained an injury to its dorsal fin. It was removed from the exhibit to a tank behind the scenes where the vets in our Animal Health Department sutured part of the dorsal fin back on. While under their care, the health department staff affectionately named the fish Wasabi. Wasabi spent some more time behind the scenes to rest and recoup, and I am happy to say that Wasabi is healed and is ready to go back into the Giant Ocean Tank.

Here is a picture of Wasabi in its tank behind the scenes recuperating.

Wasabi in a formalin dip awaiting his release into the GOT

After a day in an acclimation cave in the Giant Ocean Tank Wasabi was released and joined the rest of the boxfish slurping up squid tentacles.