Myrtle Loves Shell Scratches

Did you know our sea turtles get back scratches? Myrtle especially seems to really enjoy a shell scratch. Sometimes the divers rub a shell on her back, other times she finds a way to scratch that itch herself.

Anyone who's clicked around on the internet has likely seen funny videos of little turtles getting their shell scratched by a toothbrush or their keeper's fingernails. In fact, turtles do have nerve endings in their shells and a scratch seems to feel good. Our big sea turtles are no exception! So the next time you visit and you see one of the turtles shimmying their shell under a finger of coral, now you'll know they're just enjoying a good back scratch.

Learn more about Myrtle on the Divers Blog.


Dispatches from Quincy: Hatching a surprise

This is a guest post from Shannon Mahoney, an aquarist working in our off-site Animal Care Center in Quincy, Mass. She helps care for animals before they go on exhibit. In this post, she explains how the Quincy team also rears larval fish from eggs laid in the exhibits on Central Wharf.

Every so often we add new fishes to the Giant Ocean Tank and each of them usually has a unique story about how they arrived at the New England Aquarium. Some are from our Bahamas expeditions, some are Gulf Stream orphans, and some of the newest additions are actually returning to the GOT, now as juvenile fish that we reared from eggs harvested from the tank nearly a year ago.

Giant Ocean Tank

But let's take a step back and talk about fish and their eggs. Almost all marine fishes release eggs that develop and hatch while exposed to the elements of the ocean. You can find some exceptions to that rule at the Aquarium, like live-bearing lined seahorses, but the majority of the fishes at the Aquarium are either pelagic spawners that release eggs into the water column, or demersal spawners that lay eggs on some kind of object or substrate in the tank.

Blue chromis | Photo: Mark Rosenstein

On June 7, 2015, GOT divers came across a demersal egg “nest” at the bottom of the tank that was being defended by blue chromis. We are in the early stages of developing a larval rearing program at NEAq and blue chromis are high on the list of desired species to raise in house, so we were all very excited to hear the news of a fresh nest. The nest was transported to our offsite facility where we have dedicated space for special larval rearing tanks and to culture live foods for larval fish. The eggs are super tiny and super sticky so they attach to individual sand grains as you can see below.

See the tiny, round eggs sticking to the grains of sand? 

It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out the best method to raise larval fish because every species can have different temperature, light and food preferences. Because of this we take careful notes of everything, and we try to take a lot of pictures to track the growth of the larvae. About 10 days after hatching we noticed dorsal spines developing on the larvae that were definitely not chromis-like. We started to wonder whether we actually had blue chromis growing in our tanks.

Day 7 after hatching, the tiny dorsal spine is appearing

By Day 12, there was no more wondering.  It was pretty clear we had some kind of filefish.  There are five species of filefish swimming around in the GOT (including orange filefish), so we weren’t completely sure which one we had until 65 days after hatching. By then the larvae were large enough so we could count the number of fin rays and confirm they were planehead filefish! Even though they weren’t the blue chromis we were aiming to grow, this was the first time that anyone has successfully raised planehead filefish from eggs!

Day 22
Day 32

We think the nest collected from the GOT last June was most likely a combined planehead filefish and blue chromis nest and the planeheads out-competed the chromis larvae for food early on in the game. Blue chromis are fairly small fish, but they make up for their small size with their aggressive temperament. Planehead filefish on the other hand are one of the more friendly species in the GOT, which makes us think the planehead filefish probably laid their nest first, then the blue chromis took the space over for their eggs and stayed to defend their nest.

A couple weeks after collecting the eggs, one of the GOT divers was able to take the video below of two planehead filefish laying a nest and you can see how difficult it can be sometimes to find a quiet spot in the GOT to lay some eggs.

We ended up with 64 juvenile planehead filefish and just recently put four of them back in the GOT. The remaining 60 animals were sent to other zoos and aquariums all over the country so other visitors can observe and learn about this species. In the years to come, our goal is to exhibit more and more fish that came from our breeding program, so stay tuned for more success stories like this one!

One of the new additions just before being released from its acclimation pen into the GOT general population


Celebrating National Pig Day, Aquarium-Style

There's a holiday for everything—pancakes, dragons, and lots and lots of animals. You might think that the Aquarium can't recognize the more terrestrial animals. But you'd be wrong. For National Pig Day, we honored the hogfish and porkfish in the Giant Ocean Tank!


In this video you can spot several types of hogfishes and the porkfish. Hogfishes are in the wrasse family, three species are featured in our tank. Spotfin hogfish are red and yellow and Spanish hogfish are purple and yellow. Both species act as cleaner fish as juveniles, snacking on larger fish's dead skin and ectoparasites. There are also several large hogfish that are pinkish in color. The largest in the tank is a super male and the smaller hogs are females in the harem. This species is hermaphroditic, meaning that the largest female can turn into a male if the super male dies or moves to another reef.

You can spot the porkfish by their striking yellow and black colors. This species of fish is in the grunt family. Grunts get their name because they make a grunting sound when their grinding teeth deep in their throats are amplified by their swim bladder.

Hope you had a Happy National Pig Day — Aquarium style!

Celebrating other holidays at the Aquarium: 


Selfies with Scuba Divers

Alfred Kyrollos is a volunteer who gives up most of his Saturdays to come to the Aquarium and help feed and care for the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank. In fact, we couldn't care for an exhibit as large as the GOT without our volunteers! It turns out that he and his fellow volunteers have a lot of fun, too. In this post, Alfred explains how the Saturday Crew is very social—in more ways than one. 

If you have ever been to the Aquarium, you have undoubtedly stood in awe in front of the Giant Ocean Tank. 200,000 gallons of pure awesome, a pristine example of a Caribbean coral reef. But it doesn’t stay that way on its own. To keep this tank going you need an elite team of highly motivated and trained individuals. I call them my friends, but you might know them as the volunteers.

Part of the Saturday crew, from left: Lindsay, Alfred, Lauren, Gabby

Chances are you’ve met or talked to a volunteer if you have been to the top of the tank or walked up the spiral of the GOT. We are often found target feeding or surface feeding from the two platforms at the top of the tank, or maybe inside the tank, feeding all our fishy friends or scrubbing the coral clean.


Over time a small tradition has developed among the Saturday volunteer team. It started at lunch one day while we were browsing Instagram posts with aquarium tags. To our surprise we had found that one of the divers had been posted. It was then that it really hit us. We are on display all the time, like art at a museum. Guests were walking by all the time, snapping photos of the divers doing what they do. We started scrolling through the posts, revealing more and more posts of divers. We immediately set off and set up rules of engagement, and the Saturday “Instagame” was born.


With an appointed commissioner (Jess) and rules jotted down on a piece of paper for authenticity, the race had begun, the ongoing race to appear in the most visitor posts. Essentially, when we had a spare minute in the tank, we would engage with guests through the windows and try to get a photo with them — whether it was intentional, a candid shot, or just a photo bomb (at which point they burst out laughing when they see the photo). We would have a great time and so would the guests.


This little Instagame of ours has really given the Saturday team a boost in all sorts of ways. It's brought a new facet of social media to the GOT, helped us engage with guests on a different level, and most importantly brought everyone closer as a team.


So the next time you see a diver in the tank, snap a photo or take a selfie and tag us with our location or the hashtag #newenglandaquarium on Instagram, and we’ll update our tally of who's first in the ranks :-)

— Alfred

Find us on Instagram and post your pictures with the divers! Instagram not your thing? You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+, too.

And ICYMI: Here's a classic post about diver-visitor interactions, with pictures from both sides of the glass. 


Foraging with the Goatfish

We pay a lot of attention to what our 1400+ fish in the Giant Ocean Tank are eating on a daily basis - that's the main job of a GOT diver in fact. We have broadcast feedings and we have target feedings, and some fish just take matters into their own, uh... fins! One fish that finds food on its own is the yellow goatfish, Mulloidichthys martinicus.

Yellow goatfishes uses their pair of chin barbels to rifle through the sand for food, including molluscs, crustaceans, worms and other small invertebrates. It's a pretty cool adaptation that seems to work really well for them!



Even Fish Need P.T.

We often say that our animals get the best possible veterinary care. This is the kind of stuff that happens behind the scenes.

Physical therapy for a fish?! My thoughts originally, too.

Well, I have to say that this guy is doing much better after the regimen prescribed by our veterinary staff. It all started when we noticed a curve in the spine of our Atlantic needlefish. The vets examined the fish and decided the best course of action would be to plan a trial of physical therapy for vertebral compression. That meant the fish was pulled from the Giant Ocean Tank over a series of treatments and gently massaged.

Each time the fish needed a treatment, the divers would take it behind the scenes and place it in a pool that had been treated with a minor sedative. Charlis Innis, VMD, our head veterinarian, would gently massage its back in a couple spots—as you saw in the video. Between treatments, the fish would rehab in a pen at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank.

The needlefish in its rehab pen.

For a more in-depth understanding of the physical therapy process, I'm sharing parts of some emails from our Aquarium vets:
"Warm up of 15 seconds of dorsal-ventral movement at 3 points on body (due to length of body) and then 15 seconds of lateral movement at 3 points of body as well.  Increased to 30 seconds at each of the 3 points for both dorsal ventral movement and then lateral movement. Focus was then done on area of vertebral compression with 1 minute of dorsal ventral movement, 1 minute of lateral movement, then repeat. Ended with 2 minutes of dorsal ventral movement and 2 minutes of lateral movement. Animal recovered smoothly (was ventilating on own throughout procedure) and was placed in a floating pen in the GOT for holding afterwards."
That's definitely a lot of technical information. But in short—the treatments appear to be working! Today, the fish is looking much straighter. In fact, he's being released from the pen on Sunday, after five sessions. Just another example of the compassionate and top-notch care that our vets provide for all the animals at the Aquarium.

— Chris