Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Find the nearest octopus

The hot and steamy days of summer are upon us, and those uber-cool cold-water superstars in our brand new octopus exhibit are the hottest sea creatures in the city.

You may have seen these eight-armed brainiacs and their tentacled cousins on light posts, subway billboards, and towering over Kenmore Square.

Tentacles Take Hold in Park Street
And soon you'll see them squirt across your small screen.

So. It's about time that you get to the Aquarium and see these mind-boggling tentacled animals in person. Here are some tips to help maximize your tentacle time during the busy summer season:
  • Arrive before 10:30 a.m. or after 3:30 p.m. to avoid peak times.
  • Take advantage of our summer hours and carouse with the cuttlefish even later in the afternoon — until 6 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays.
  • Save on parking fees (and live blue) by using public transportation. 
  • And save paper by buying tickets online and showing them on your smart device (also a great way to skip the line).  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Anaconda Checkups

This week, the New England Aquarium pulled the anacondas from one of its Amazon exhibits for their annual physical exams. The largest of them measured in at 14 feet, the other two measured 12 feet 7 inches and 12 feet 4 inches in length.

Wilson, a 12 foot, 55 pound anaconda, just underwent her annual physical exam at the New England Aquarium
Wilson is the smallest of the group. She weighs only 55 pounds while her tank mates Marion and Kathleen are a more robust 77 and 90 pounds each.

So what is a done during an anaconda physical? Many of the same things that are conducted in a thorough exam for people with some slight variations:
  • Weight
  • Length versus height
  • Vital Signs: Resting pulse for an adult anaconda is 32 versus 72 for people. Respirations are just a reptilian 3 per minute versus 12–20 breaths for humans because of higher metabolisms
  • Blood draw
  • Echocardiogram
  • Ultrasound for pregnancy or to be able to better see soft tissues
  • X-rays, if needed
  • Cloacal wash, which is the equivalent to providing a stool sample
And of course, the major question is HOW. Beyond the schoolyard response of “very carefully,” slight sedation works wonders in anxious patients of whatever species! Get a gander at these behind-the-scenes pictures to see what anaconda exams look like.

Everyone checked out just fine and were returned to their exhibit. Here's a video of their homecoming!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Announcing the new Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium

On World Oceans Day, the New England Aquarium celebrated the launch of its new Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life in Boston, a scientific endeavor focusing on fisheries conservation and aquaculture solutions, marine mammal research and conservation, habitat and ecosystem health, and marine animal health – a major new initiative for the Aquarium.

“The New England Aquarium has done excellent research and conservation work for 40 years,” said Nigella Hillgarth, the Aquarium’s President and CEO, who marked her second anniversary in late May and sees the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life as the culmination of her work to date to raise the profile and public understanding of the Aquarium’s vital marine science work internationally.

A scuba diver swims over corals | Photo: B. Skerry

“The idea of combining our strengths to create a center of excellence that can focus on solving some of the anthropogenic problems of the oceans was the right thing to do,” particularly around climate change, said Hillgarth who lead the creation of the Anderson Cabot Center so scientific research can help shape international conservation policy.

Matthew A. Beaton, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, President and CEO, New England Aquarium, Donna Hazard, Chair, Board of Trustees, New England Aquarium, and Carl Spector, Commissioner of the Environmental Department, City of Boston, at launch event for Anderson Cabot Center.

Hillgarth and the Aquarium’s Board of Directors joined Massachusetts Environmental Secretary Matthew Beaton, National Geographic underwater photographer and Aquarium Explorer in Residence Brian Skerry along with other dignitaries on Wed. June 8 to celebrate the launch at the Aquarium’s Simons IMAX Theatre.

Brian Skerry, New England Aquarium Trustee and National Geographic Photographer, Linda Cabot, New England Aquarium Trustee, and Ed Anderson at launch event for Anderson Cabot Center.

Linda Cabot and Ed Anderson of Westwood are the lead donors of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. Longtime sailors and founders of North Bridge Venture Partners, they have devoted their lives to the ocean and feel that the ocean is vulnerable and in need of more critical scientific understanding and protection.

“The ocean is the earth’s life force in many ways, in terms of providing nearly half the oxygen we breathe, protein for most of humankind, and in determining our weather,” said Cabot who has been on the Aquarium’s board of trustees since 2014. “There are tipping points. There is a time to take action. There is a necessity to try to address these issues. We feel now a sense of urgency like never before.”

Anderson Cabot Center scientists collect a sample of expiration, or blow, from a North Atlantic right whale.

The Anderson Cabot Vice President is Dr. John Mandelman, a respected researcher of sharks, cod, haddock, cusk, and thorny skates at the New England Aquarium for 17 years and the previous Director of Research. Mandelman looks forward to offering “solutions-based science” with this new initiative. The goal is to be enterprising and problem solving with the research that is gathered by the scientific team which has longtime expertise in North Atlantic right whales, bycatch, aquaculture, sea turtles, lobsters, coral reefs, marine protected areas, and other marine animals.

“Ultimately we want to unite two traditionally distinct, yet powerful programs to support the mission of the Aquarium and increase our capacity to mitigate human impact on our oceans through rigorous science,” Mandelman said. “The Anderson Cabot Center can set itself apart as an urban research institution by leveraging the Aquarium’s reach, its reputation, educational resources, and respect within the greater community in order to conduct important research to protect our oceans.”

Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, President and CEO, New England Aquarium and Dr. Mark Abbott, President and Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, at launch event for Anderson Cabot Center.

Key to the Anderson Cabot Center work will be to continue to collaborate with fishermen, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, engineers, and other scientists. In the field of bycatch research, for example, Aquarium scientists have been working with fishermen to come up with fishing gear adaptations to help mitigate entanglement and overfishing problems.

For 35 years, the Aquarium has been a leader in North Atlantic right whale research, discovering that the numbers of endangered whales were depleting due to ship strikes and entanglement problems. The Aquarium’s right whale researchers convinced policymakers to move international shipping lanes to lesser-used areas of the whales’ habitats, and the result has been a reduction in ship strikes by at least two a year.

The Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life will build on the Aquarium’s clinical research on cold-stunned sea turtles, shell disease in lobsters, and emerging endocrinology research in marine species, helping to discover the cause of the problems and then offer solutions. The Aquarium’s enterprising work in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Marine Conservation Action Fund will also continue as part of the work.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Shark Carcass Spotted in Boston Harbor

Aquarium biologists and rescuers reported to Boston Harbor this morning to identify a large marine animal carcass floating near Black Falcon Cruise Terminal. The decaying animal turned out to be a 24-foot basking shark, a harmless plankton feeder that had been pushed into the harbor on the bow of a container ship more than two weeks ago.

Adam Kennedy and other members of the rescue team examine the shark carcass from a police boat.
Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Only a small portion was accessible at the surface with most of the body descending vertically into the Reserve Channel’s thirty-foot depth. While the animal was very decayed, it was easily identified by its size, the cartilaginous fins, and the array of gill rakers, which help the sharks filter plankton from the water. The biologists were unable to determine a cause of death. It's possible the animal was dead before it was struck by the ship.

File photo of a basking shark photographed on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch in 2014.

Knowing that the carcass was a shark and given its length, there was only one local shark species that it could be, not the great white, but the plankton feeding basking shark. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world and a frequent visitor to New England waters in the summer months. They migrate to this region in early April to feed on plankton. Passengers of New England Aquarium Whale Watches can sometimes see these sharks gliding along the surface of the water gulping the nutrient-rich water. Many times, their dorsal fin breaks the surface and causes a stir —shark! But here's a quick resource to help tell the difference between a harmless basking shark and their relatives the great white shark.

The submerged carcass was allowed to exit the Reserve Channel into the harbor where it will likely settle on the bottom shortly creating a feasting oasis for all kinds of marine animals.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Help Protect Seal Pups This Memorial Day Weekend

With summer-like weather having arrived, this Memorial Day weekend promises to bring massive crowds of people to the region’s beaches, but there will also be other much more quiet and vulnerable visitors on the sand as recently weaned harbor seal pups will naïvely come ashore to rest on busy beaches that have been largely empty during most of their brief lives.

One- to two-month-old recently-weaned harbor seal pups often haul out of the water 
to rest on a rocky shores, seaweed mats or gravelly beaches.

These incredibly beautiful young animals often draw a concerned and well-meaning crowd. But, ironically, close human presence will cause massive stress in these pups that badly need their rest and are struggling to survive. This first unofficial weekend of the summer, the New England Aquarium is asking for the public’s help in protecting these seals from unintended and unnecessary human harassment.

The number one rule is that people and their pets should stay 150 feet away from any seal. Adult seals are experienced enough to not haul out and rest in prominent public locations. However, the end of May holiday weekend coincides with when many harbor seal pups are weaned and cut loose by their mothers. Other later born pups that are still nursing are hidden on beaches while their mothers are off foraging. If people are around the youngster, the mother will not come ashore to retrieve it. These completely inexperienced and naïve juveniles might have used a particular beach as a resting or hiding spot over the past week only to find it transformed and invaded overnight by humans for this three day warm weather celebration. Come next Tuesday, that same resting spot will be a good choice for that pup, but the seal world has yet to get dialed into Microsoft or Google calendars!

These irresistibly cute pups need their space.

That is why we need the public’s aid in helping to protect these vulnerable seal pups as they learn the ropes. Maintaining a quiet, large perimeter around the seal pup is the top priority. Watching a seal pup from a safe distance is likely to be the highlight of anyone’s weekend. Explaining to other beach-goers what is going on is helpful. If there are lifeguards or other staff on the beach, notify them as they might be able to set up a do not cross line.

In this era of social media, if someone is taking a selfie or a picture of their kids near a seal on a beach, they are breaking the law and are potentially contributing to the demise of these magnificent creatures. Great selfies with seals are available 24/7 at no cost at the Aquarium’s raised harbor seal exhibit on its front plaza in downtown Boston.

Harbor seal pups need rest.

The overwhelming majority of seal pups on the beach are doing OK, if left alone. If the animal has obvious injury, signs of ill health, or a crowd of people who refuse to disperse, contact your local police department or animal control officer. They can then contact the marine animal rescue group in your region.

A last resort for marine animal rescue groups is to move the seal pup to a quieter location, but that exercise is also inherently stressful to the animal and not preferred. By later in the summer, most of these seal pups will know better. In the meantime, learning how to share the beach appropriately is a better option that will enrich the lives of both people and seal pups.