#37: Many People Ask - Do fish go to the doctor?

There's no questioning that the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) is home to a lot of animals. Ever wonder what happens when one of them gets sick or injured? Is that why we have a nurse shark?

Enter the New England Aquarium's Animal Health Department (AHD) - also known as the 'Wet Vets'.

Yes, the Aquarium has an entire department dedicated to the health and well-being of all the creatures that call the New England Aquarium home. Comprised of veterinarians, medical technicians, interns, and volunteers, the AHD staff attend to any medical issue that crops up - from a tiny fish with a gas problem, to a 240 lb. shark with spine issues. The department is supported by a state-of-the-art medical facility that allows the vets to perform everything from radiographs (x-rays) to complex surgeries.

Here's a few pictures of the AHD facility:

AHD staff are always rolling up their sleeves (quite literally) and getting right into the thick of things - even to the point of making house calls into the GOT.

Every week, members of the veterinary staff meet with senior GOT staff in what's called 'rounds' to discuss and address any health issues regarding the inhabitants of the GOT.

Sometimes, as a result of rounds, we decide to do an animal extraction so the vets can get a closer look. This was recently the case with one of our green moray eels.

In the above video, Sherrie and I tease the eel out of its coral home and into a specially made eel catch bag.

Once out the tank the eel is carefully anesthetized (a great idea for both the eel's AND the humans' sake!) so the vets can obtain radiographs, blood samples and scan her insides with ultrasound.

Here's the ultrasound video:

Of course our wet vets wouldn't live up to their name without sometimes gearing up and going in. Here you can see Keiko, a Veterinary Fellow, and Deana, the AHD Lab Manager, getting a closer look at Retread's eyes to see if she should be pulled for a more detailed examination. Retread, one of our two loggerhead turtles, is a rescued turtle that had sustained damage to her eyesight when she was cold stunned and stranded off Cape Cod years ago.

It was determined that further examination wasn't necessary, so she could be left where she was. However the vets wanted a routine blood draw from her loggerhead friend, Carolina, so up she came - all 160 lbs. of her.

When restraining a large, powerful, and uncooperative turtle, some creative thought needs to be called for. Carolina is secured in a custom made sling and then suspended from a hoist. This prevents her powerful flippers from getting a purchase on anything.

Then there's our littlest turtle, Scute, a Kemp's ridley. She puts up no fuss at all as veterinarian Charlie conducts an untrasound examination.

As you can see, there's a small army of Aquarium medical staff digilently working toward maintaining the health of the Aquarium's aquatic residents, and they even make house calls.

So no, a sick fish definitely does not visit our nurse shark. That would be like Little Red Riding Hood visiting the wolf dressed up as Grandmother...

Happy diving.


#36: Our Reef Residents - New Green Moray Eel

Animal donations are a sensitive subject. We at the New England Aquarium make it a policy to not accept donations from pet owners. Some animals grow to an unmanageable size, and when this happens, some people unknowingly expect us to take their pet, which we simply cannot do. Also, never release a pet back into the wild. Its survival is unlikely and any released animals could spread diseases to local populations. Be responsible, educate yourself and do your research, and avoid any animals that will outgrow your aquarium.

Our newest green moray eel is an exception. He was a donation, but we only accepted him because he was a rescue. This is the story of how he came to find the Giant Ocean Tank his home. Dan D. and I made the trip out to Billerica, Mass. to catch the eel.

Out of his tank and into a temporary bin for the trip.

Loading him into the back of the Aquarium 4x4.

Once back at the Aquarium, he was transferred to a large pickle barrel and put into this large round tank behind the scenes for quarantine. After 30+days, he is ready for the G.O.T. Still inside his barrel, he awaits his dunk during one last treatment to ensure we're not infecting the tank with any diseases.

View from the top of the GOT. The barrel with eel laid on the bottom for 3 days, to allow him to acclimate to his new environment.

He wasted no time in coming out after I removed the barrel lid.
Many fishes were very interested in their new neighbor.

Here's me babysitting him while he explores his new digs.

After a few hours, he found a comfortable spot at the top of the reef.
He quickly learned to take dead food from the divers, as seen in this video.




#35: Octopus-in-a-Box - Guest Post

Today the Aquarium's 7-foot-long giant Pacific octopus completely entered a 15-inch-wide box! The octopus lives in its own exhibit on the third level and the boxes are used for feeding and enrichment. In this guest post, aquarist Bill Murphy answers some questions about the event.

What are the boxes made out of?
The boxes are made of acrylic and were created by one of our long time volunteers in the fishes department.

How many boxes are there?
There are 3 different size boxes with different locks that are puzzles for the octopus to open.

How do they work?
I place one or two live crabs inside the box and the octopus has to learn how to open the box to get the food. I start the octopus off with the small box and once he has mastered the lock I switch to another box and once he has mastered each individual box I put a box inside a box to keep him active and challenged.

What happened today?
The largest box was actually broken by another octopus here at the aquarium three years ago so today the octopus decided to go through that broken opening instead of unlocking the large outside box to get to smaller box inside with the live crabs. This is the first time it has been witnessed here at the aquarium because they don't always open the box immediately and will wait till the night when they are more active to hunt for food. It's been a very fun occasion for visitors and staff!