Showing posts tagged as "monterey bay aquarium"
Thanks for your votes! Check out our new computer wallpaper, as chosen by our social media fans.
Thanks to Instagrammer Jim Perdue (@jimsiphone)
Have you shared your favorite jellies image on Instagram yet? You could win an Aquarium Adventure for four!
(Thanks to Randall Fox for the great blubber jelly photo.)
Seen any of these creatures lately? We doubt it, since they live thousands of feet underwater! They’re just a sample of the amazing, deep-sea animals found on the recent Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) Midwater Ecology Expedition, which is documenting the effects of declining oxygen concentrations on midwater communities.
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.
We’ve received amazing entries for our Instagram contest! Share your love of jellies and you could win an Aquarium Adventure for four.
Thanks to @juliadali, @seaturtle500, @kelatdavis, @trombgirl, @shawnmcconnell, @jumpingjewels.
The female giant Pacific octopus has laid eggs! Look for a cluster attached to rocks in the top left corner of the right-hand exhibit. A female lays tens of thousands of eggs, in strands of about 250.
It’s unlikely that these particular eggs are fertile or will produce baby octopuses, however. The urge to lay eggs comes just once, and usually marks the end of the octopus’s life. It’s all part of the natural cycle for these magical and intelligent animals.
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.
Animals living on the abyssal plains, miles below the ocean surface, don’t usually get much to eat. Their main source of food is ”marine snow”—a slow drift of mucus, fecal pellets, and body parts—that sinks down from the surface waters. However, researchers have long been puzzled by the fact that, over the long term, the steady fall of marine snow cannot account for all the food consumed by animals and microbes living in the sediment. A new paper by MBARI researcher Ken Smith and his colleagues shows that population booms of algae or animals near the sea surface can sometimes result in huge pulses of organic material sinking to the deep seafloor. In a few weeks, such deep-sea “feasts” can deliver as much food to deep-sea animals as would normally arrive over years or even decades of typical marine snow.
Ever wonder what things look like from INSIDE the Kelp Forest exhibit? Our divers get a seldom-seen view, including the cool #selfie you see here. Thanks to longtime volunteer Chad King for the great shots!
The Virtual Classroom: Aquarium Staff Brings Ocean Science to Remote Villages
How do you bring ocean science to a 250-person village in Alaska that’s covered in snow 10 months of the year? Our education staff, in partnership with Skype Education, found a way—all without leaving the comfort of our second-floor Discovery Lab.
Using webcams, a microphone and a live feed via Skype, they were able to teach—and converse—with the fourth- and fifth-grade students 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and another class on a remote island in Maine. It’s all part of the Skype in the Classroom’s Exploring Oceans initiative.
“My students are Inupiat Alaska Native from the far north slope of Alaska,” says teacher Megan Gunderson. “I have eight students in my class, four in fourth grade and four in fifth grade. Our village is inland 60 miles from the Arctic Ocean, located on the edge of a major river. All but one student have never traveled out of Alaska.” Learn more about Megan’s class.
At the other corner of the continent, Marcie Look teaches a class in the island community of Georgetown, Maine—also with the help of Skype and our education staff. Learn more about Marcie’s class.
Skype in the Classroom’s November theme is exploring oceans, so the Aquarium has more virtual classes planned for nearby Watsonville, California, as well as in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada. “Skype approached us with this wonderful opportunity to bring the kelp forest to students who might otherwise never get to explore it,” said the Aquarium’s Education Technology Manager Katy Scott. “It’s a chance for us to inspire students all over the globe. And it’s a chance for us to be inspired by their stories, as well.”
Special thanks to Education Technology Manager Katy Scott and School Programs Manager Jennifer Matlock. Learn more and support education programs at the Aquarium.