Merry Christmas from the Giant Ocean Tank

It may have been Christmas morning and the Aquarium was closed but the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank still needed lots of food and care. In the spirit of the holidays we also prepared some special treats for some of the GOT’s inhabitants.

Daire gave Myrtle some special attention today in the form of a “back-scratch” by scrubbing her shell.

Our striped burrfish and porcupinefish got a special treat today that they really love – crabs!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Giant Ocean Tank Divers! 

- Sean, Daire, Mack and Alex


A curious onlooker: The bridled burrfish

Divers, mostly volunteers, hop into the tank with scrub brushes every day. They're charged with scrubbing our colorful new corals so they can remain vibrant and lovely. It's a job that has to happen every day. After all, if you have bright lights you're going to get some happy algae.

In this video, Daire has a curious onlooker while he's scrubbing the algae at the top of the reef.


This bridled burrfish is related to all of our other spiky puffers: balloonfish, porcupinefish, spotted burrfish and striped burrfish. But perhaps he thinks this brush is his kin!


Signs of happy fish

One of the roles of a GOT Aquarist is to ensure that all of the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank are happy and healthy. On each of our dives we make observations and monitor the behaviors of the animals as a way to keep track of animal health.

Divers observe all the fish—big and small—inside the Giant Ocean Tank each day

Occasionally we are rewarded with something really exciting!

Can you tell what this is? I’ll give you a hint: It is one of the signs of a happy and healthy fish.

Fish that are well-fed and relaxed are able to spend energy on things that are not critical to their individual survival. In the GOT this sometimes results in fish spawning, or laying eggs.

Each speck is a tiny fertilized Sergeant major egg

Some fish release their spawn into the water while others, like our Sergeant majors, lay their eggs on a surface.

One of the small adult Sergeant majors currently in the Giant Ocean Tank

A while back we talked about where baby fish come from and raising fish at the Aquarium, and it is great to know that post-renovation the fish are happy with their new home.

Under the microscope you can see the yolk (the purple sphere) that provides the fish with energy to grow

After a couple days eyes develop and more colors start to appear 

Through our continuing partnership with Roger Williams University and recently with other institutions across the United States and we are working on methods to collect and hatch these eggs. Eventually we hope to use these captive bred fish to augment our tropical collecting efforts allowing us to further reduce our impact on wild populations.


Happy Thanksgiving from the divers

The Aquarium is closed but "the fish gotta eat!"  So do the turtles.  So do the divers!

Thanksgiving Day dive team: Marcus, Mack, Chris, Shannon, Jess

Homemade goodies by Shannon, baker extraordinaire - this if for us, not the fish ;)

Myrtle's feast: lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, gel, clam, squid, shrimp and pollock

Jess is Myrtle's personal server today

Dropping in her food - this takes more skill than you might think (some of our fish are thieves)

Myrtle eating a healthy snack of "turtle gel"

All quiet on the public side — the Aquarium is closed on Thanksgiving (and Christmas)

Thanksgiving Day dive team SELFIE
A special thanks to Shannon, Jess and DJ Mack for volunteering their time on this holiday - it does not go unappreciated!



Our Little Hamlets

I took the GoPro into the GOT today to well, "get something cool". I didn't really have a set goal, but I was optimistic I'd find something neat to take a video of. Perhaps some mating behavior or even the opposite of that: aggression from one fish to another. What evolved was a video of all four species of hamlets that live in the Giant Ocean Tank!

Blue Hamlet, Hypoplectrus gemma
Hamlets are members of the sea bass family, Serranidae, which also includes basses and groupers. Unlike many groupers and basses, hamlets are quite small—never getting bigger than 4-5" long, and look like miniature versions of our larger groupers.

Barred Hamlet, Hypoplectrus puella
Hamlets are found mainly around coral reefs in Florida waters and throughout the Caribbean, especially the Bahamas. There are 11 known species. We have four of them in our big tank.

Indigo Hamlet, Hypoplectrus indigo
Hamlets do tend to be shy, but in the GOT they have gotten used to divers, which made it possible to get these shots.

Yellowtail Hamlet, Hypoplectrus chlorurus

Come by sometime and see if you can spot these beauties among the hundreds of fish darting among the coral!


VIDEO: The Black Drum

As promised in this last post, here's video of the black drum navigating the new corals inside the Giant Ocean Tank. As he swims overhead you can clearly see the barbels that make this fish look bearded. Pretty appropriate given our bearded World Champion Boston Red Sox!

Another unique thing about black drums is that they - like all drums in the Giant Ocean Tank - have the ability to produce a low-pitched drum-like (hence the name) resonant sound by vibrating the muscles surrounding their swim bladders.  This is likely for mating or territorial purposes.  However, it's very rare to hear this in the GOT... Toronto is our only black drum.

Today Red Sox nation is swarming over the city, wearing their pride on their sleeves and caps, cheering for the home team at the victory parade. Here in the Giant Ocean Tank, the divers are getting in on the act, too.

Red Sox: Number One

Ascend? Nope, a big thumbs up for the home team
So after the confetti has fallen and the duckboats have passed, come on down to the Aquarium and see the divers in their Red Sox gear. You might get to see the shy black drum, too! See lots more pictures of him here.


Fish Fun & Fright!

Our annual members only Halloween event—Fish Fun and Fright!—happened last night. In GOT-land, that can only mean one thing: divers in costume!!

Fish Fun and Fright! at the New England Aquarium, downtown Boston

We train our spooky eels to come out during this event (not really)

Julio the Ninja

Marcus AKA Super Pumpkin

Mad Scientist (Anna) and Crazy Surgeon (Conor)

Myrtle apparently would eat a plastic lab rat if given the chance

Crazy surgeon swimming around with his severed arm

Daire is Sergeant Pepper and Mike is Grim Reaper (he always befriends guys in red)

Hard to tell but if you look closely I have a squeegee and spray bottle, sitting on a platform, as a window washer

Jack O' Lantern and 3 angelfishes (they like pumpkin)


Black drum: This fish has a beard

Beards are IN here in Boston. It's October and the Red Sox are in the World Series! And some would argue that the beards are what got them there. So, no better time than now to feature our only "bearded" fish in the Giant Ocean Tank.

The black drum has what you could call a beard
Meet our black drum (Pogonias cromis), Toronto—named after the Toronto Zoo where he lived before coming to us in 2006. He is a medium size drum right now, he'll likely grow to be bigger. Black drums are the largest in the drum family and others have grown to be 4 to 5 feet long in the Giant Ocean Tank.

His "beard" consists of about a dozen dangling chin barbels, which are sensitive and used to sort through the substrate to find food. Toronto doesn't really exhibit this behavior in the GOT, as he's gotten used to being hand fed. He likes shrimp and squid and small fish.

This animal is usually pretty shy, but it comes around during feeding times

Toronto will be keeping his beard... go Sox!
Good times to see this fellow are during the feedings with the whole fish bucket (when we serve the fish he likes) which happens at 11:15 am, 2:30 and 3:30 pm. When it's not feeding time, he typically hides out of the public eye but you might catch a glimpse of him cruising along at the bottom of the tank.

And this diver isn't trimming his beard until after the World Series

We'll have more videos of Toronto in the tank going up on the blog very soon. Stay tuned!


Meet a Diver: Sean

Hello everyone! My name is Sean and I am the newest addition to the team of divers that helps care for and maintain the Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium. My love of diving started at a relatively young age and out of that passion grew a deep appreciation for all things related to marine life.

I first started SCUBA diving in high school and was very fortunate to spend several vacations diving with my family.

Practicing a safe ascent rate while in Hawaii with my younger brother Josh

Feeding a southern stingray at Stingray City, Grand Cayman also with my brother as my dive buddy

It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Northeastern University that I began seriously exploring career opportunities in marine science. I started as a volunteer, and later an intern, in the Lobster Research and Rearing Facility at the New England Aquarium assisting with research into lobster shell disease.

Juvenile American lobster used for research. The numbers below the lobster indicate that this was the 859th lobster to develop past the larval stage in April 2010

The following year I participated in a research diving program at Northeastern called Three Seas. During Three Seas I spent many hours conducting marine ecological field research on the Massachusetts North Shore, studying the health of coral ecosystems in Panama and exploring kelp forests in Washington state.

Collecting subtidal algae in Nahant, MA for a Three Seas research project

This rock beauty was one of the many species I studied in Panama and you can also see them in the GOT

Large brightly colored nudibranchs, like this clown nudibranch, were very abundant in the San Juan Islands, WA

During the summer of 2012 I worked as an intern for the Giant Ocean Tank and after graduating Northeastern in December of that same year I was hired as a full-time aquarist.

Feeding shrimp to a large southern stingray as a GOT intern

I am very excited to be working at an institution that helps people explore the mysteries and majesty of marine life. I believe that sharing my passions and experiences can help inspire others to take action and work to protect our oceans. So the next time you visit the New England Aquarium don’t hesitate to wave, say hello or ask a question. I love to talk about my work!

Swimming in the newly renovated Giant Ocean Tank


A Sea Turtle Has a Checkup

Ari is our Kemp's ridley sea turtle. She arrived from New Orleans in 2009 after being rehabilitated at the Aquarium of the Americas following a boat strike in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, she's lived her life in the Giant Ocean Tank (as well as the Penguin exhibit during our 10-month GOT renovation).  Twice a year, our vets perform regular exams on all of our sea turtles and this week it was Ari's turn.

Unlike some of her larger turtle friends, Ari is generally a well-behaved patient

Blood draw

One of the things that we learned from recent past blood tests is that her hormone levels are higher than normal, which could be the cause of her current extended fast.  Therefore, she received implants for attempted suppression of ovarian activity, one in each shoulder.  Hopefully this will bring back her appetite.

Receiving her deslorelin implants

Ready to return to the tank Ari?

Kemp's Ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, is listed as critically endangered.  Ari is living in the GOT only because she would not be able to survive in the wild.  We are fortunate to have her because it gives visitors a reason to learn about them and potentially become stewards for their survival.

Unlike Myrtle, she fits in the "turtle box" with plenty of room to spare

Intern Alex and aquarist Sherrie moving Ari back into the GOT

Having her picture taken by a visitor
Ari is back in the tank safe and sound and continuing to wow the visitors (with her abilities to nap).