Showing posts tagged as "exhibit updates"
What’s the most entertaining thing you’ve ever seen our sea otters do on exhibit? Ivy, our youngest otter, likes to play with her food, and her antics have earned her the nickname, “Wild Child.” We found her stranded as a pup in 2011.
©Michael Yang Photography
It’s a big deal when a penguin chick hatches at the Aquarium. Learn how we’re raising a little one right now—and helping preserve this endangered species.
Can sea turtles fly? Ours will! The young loggerhead sea turtle that’s been displayed in our Open Sea galleries is winging it back to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores right now and will soon be returned to the wild. If all goes well, a new baby sea turtle wil take its place Friday night! Follow the journey on Twitter at #TravelingTurtle.
Thanks to US Airways for their assistance flying turtles to and from North Carolina!
Learn about the variety of birds you can spot just off our decks and in Monterey Bay, in our latest podcast.
Just in time for your #Thanksgiving weekend! Our two giant green sea turtles are back on exhibit. We also have extended operating hours Thursday November 28 through Sunday December 1: 9:30 am-6:00 pm with early opening at 9:00 am for members. Have a great holiday!
Attention, “Finding Nemo” fans: we just added several dozen baby clownfish in our Splash Zone exhibit. And there’s more to come—we’ve got 250 behind the scenes, just waiting to make their debut alongside other “Finding Nemo” characters at the Aquarium.
“We patiently waited for the eggs to develop as the dad clownfish took great care of them,” said Raymond Direen, who cared for the brood with fellow aquarist Jenn Anstey. “The dad constantly used his pectoral fins to fan the eggs and keep them clean. After about two weeks, they separated from the father, and morphed into little baby clownfish.
“We’re pleased with the success and expect them to grow up good and healthy!” says Raymond.
Sea star populations along the Pacific Coast from southern California to Alaska are dying in massive numbers due to a disease outbreak called “wasting syndrome.” If a sea star becomes infected, it will develop lesions, lose bits of arms or entire arms, then disintegrate into a gooey mass. At least 10 species are vulnerable, and up to 95 percent of populations in some tide pools have died.
Scientists—including Aquarium staff—are working hard to determine a cause. It could be environmental factors, a virus or bacteria. Wasting syndrome actually describes a set of symptoms apparently with no universal cause. In the past, warmer ocean waters have appeared to contribute, but this isn’t an El Niño year. According to our veterinarian, Dr. Mike Murray, it’s less likely to be an infection that’s spreading than it is a variety of factors that are contributing to separate outbreaks.
Our animals affected
Unfortunately we’ve lost some animals in our exhibits and seen firsthand the rapid progress of “wasting syndrome” in affected animals. We’re also taking steps to limit further infection in our sea star collection. The good news is that the problem is limited to sea stars. As far as we know, there’s no indication it could pose any concern for human health. At the Aquarium, it doesn’t seem to be affecting other echinoderms like sea urchins and sea cucumbers – just sea stars.
UC Santa Cruz’s Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Program has been collecting data on sea star deaths since June, after Washington’s Olympic National Park found up to a quarter of its sea stars were diseased. Our colleagues at Seattle Aquarium and Vancouver Aquarium, as well as our own veterinary medical staff, are also involved. Our own Dr. Mike is particularly involved as a member of the research team conducting the investigation into what’s causing the disease and current outbreak.
It may be part of a larger problem. The sea stars’ decline may have serious consequences for the ocean’s diversity. One example? The purple sea star eats mussels, which might otherwise crowd out other species on the rocky shore.
Back to the Wild: Releasing an Ocean Sunfish
Visitors love seeing ocean sunfish (Mola mola) when we have them in the Open Sea exhibit. As with great white sharks, they’re majestic – and temporary – members of our living collection. They’re with us for a while, then destined for return to the wild.
So, what happens when they leave? Where do they go?
Finally, we’re starting to get some answers.
Since 2008, we’ve tagged and tracked 17 ocean sunfish – nine that were caught and released in the wild, and four others tagged after they’d been with us at the aquarium, either on exhibit or behind the scenes. We’ve also collaborated with colleagues in Japan to tag four of the 17 several Mola mola on their side of the Pacific Ocean: three in the wild and one released by a Japanese aquarium.
A dozen tags reporting
Twelve of the 17 tags have reported back, and we’re gaining new insights into the sometimes far-ranging travels of ocean sunfish. Consistently, the sunfish tagged in Monterey Bay headed south and sometimes far offshore after release. Many tags popped up off as far south as Baja California or San Diego.
The information is limited for now, since the ocean sunfish released from our exhibit have carried 28-day tracking tags and wild-tagged sunfish 180-day tags. But it’s encouraging in other ways.
“We’ve learned that animals we bring to the aquarium are surviving after release,” says Senior Aquarist Michael Howard, the project lead in our ocean sunfish program. “That’s huge, and gives us confidence as we continue to work with them in the future.”
So much to learn
It’s just one element of what we’re learning about the Mola mola – the largest bony fish in the ocean.
“Not every sunfish we collect adapts to conditions in the Open Sea exhibit,” Michael explains. “In those cases, we’ll hold the animals off site as part of other ongoing studies, including our work to document how rapidly they grow.”
We know they grow quickly. One sunfish we successfully released was collected in October 2011 when it was just under two feet long and weighed 25 pounds. When we released it in Monterey Bay a year later, it weighed 421 pounds and was almost five feet long!
The next tag?
Our Mola mola tagging efforts will continue, Michael says. In 2014, we hope to tag up to four more wild ocean sunfish in Monterey Bay, as well as others we release from the aquarium. That could include the sunfish we placed on exhibit in October.
We hope that additional data we collect will document “some baseline or normal behavior that we can compare with the behavior of animals that we release from our exhibit and from aquariums in Japan,” Michael says.
That way, these odd-looking and incredibly popular fish can continue to inspire people to care more – and do more – to protect their ocean homes. And they’ll keep teaching us when we release them back to the wild.
Have you spotted them? We’re seeing elephant seals on Hopkins Marine Station beach, next door to the Aquarium. Worth the brief walk down the bike path if you’re visiting!
Ever wonder about our largest hammerhead shark? She’s more than 11 years old and weighs 150 pounds!