#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!



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