Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interesting Beach Sighting: Tiny Clams Wash Ashore

It's summertime and many of us find ourselves strolling New England beaches. These trips to the seashore often turn up interesting marine animals or unusual events. Just such a curious event happened last week in Hull. Beach walkers may have noticed thousands of tiny clams on Nantasket Beach, on the sand and just below the water line. What could have caused all these baby clams to wash up on Nantasket Beach?

We took that question to our aquaculture specialist in the Conservation Department, Michael Eppling.
While he wasn't aware of this particular event, he said these kinds of clam wash-ups are not uncommon. Among other things, they can be caused by disease, depredation, and storms.


Storms can generate strong wave action and/or undercurrents that uproot clams from the bottom and strand them on the beach. Since there were severe thunderstorms with strong winds on July 18, the day before the pictures were taken, this may have been the cause of the Nantasket die-off. Clams, however, are highly prolific, releasing millions of eggs and sperms at a time. So clam populations can generally withstand high larval and juveniles losses.

This particular clam die-off was brought to our attention by Facebook friend Steve Fullers. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your pictures with us!

See? You can learn something new every day with the New England Aquarium. Join us on Central Wharf this summer and get to know some other local bivalves and crustaceans in our hands-on tidepool touch area. Check out this link to see a touch-tank-resident hermit crab laying eggs. And if you think that is cool, don't miss these posts about the octopus eggs (these eggs are still on exhibit, come by very soon if you want to see them in person) or the goosefish egg veil.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Giant Lobster Finds New Home at the Aquarium

The newest resident of the New England Aquarium is a 21-pound, barnacle-covered bruiser of a lobster (Homarus americanus). The lobster arrived at the Aquarium Monday, July 23, from Capt'n Elmer's Fish Market in Orleans. The lobster is currently behind the scenes for a brief quarantine period. After a month or so, it'll find a cool new home in the Gulf of Maine exhibit.

Today, the media was invited behind the scenes to meet the hefty crustacean. Senior biologist Bill Murphy introduced the lobster, explaining the difference between the lobster's claws: The crusher claw (top, in the photo below) is bigger and rounder, used to crush food such as shellfish; the smaller cutter claw is used to hold or tear prey.

You can see several patches of shell disease on this animal's crusher claw, and the tips of the claws may have snapped off after being weakened by the disease. [Aquarium researchers are actively studying shell disease, common in local lobsters. Learn more here.] Murphy says the lobster will grow a full new shell after it molts, which may be a while.

The unnamed lobster is settling in and eating well right now. When reporters wanted to know how the lobster got so big, Murphy responded, "Years of practice." He guesses the lobster is probably 20 or 30 years old. Because lobsters this size cannot fit in lobster pots, they turn up in fishermen's hauls less frequently. This lobster was caught off the coast of Cape Cod and landed in Capt'n Elmers Fish Market. The market held a fundraiser raffle to see who would have the honors of "releasing" the prize specimen. Proceeds went to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. The anonymous winner donated the lobster to the Aquarium.

Whether people are thinking about their bellies or they're just fascinated by these local crustaceans, lobsters are always big news around these parts. Check out these posts about calico-colored lobsters and one of the special animals used in Live Animal Presentation.

You can also learn about this guy in other media stories, here are just a few:
CBS News
Boston Herald
WCVB Channel 5

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Five Reasons to Visit the Aquarium

There are literally thousands of reasons to visit the Aquarium. Here are just a few:

1. Meet the stars of our current advertising blitz—Zoe and Sierra. You might know them collectively as "Mischief." When you come by the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, you're guaranteed to see them zipping through the water, romping with their toys or rough housing.

2. Our interactive and educational Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank lets you feel some rays without getting a sunburn!

2. The Edge of the Sea hands-on tidepool area introduces folks—young and old—to the animals that live nearby where the ocean meets the land. Feel the nubbly skin of a sea star, watch a hermit crab scurry across your palm and ask as many questions you want.

4. Tropical fish like this flashy mandarinfish really lets the budding photographer and the prolific Instragramers add to their portfolios. Check out the Giant Ocean Tank and the Pacific Reef Community for a few of the opportunities to flex those photography skills.

5. And of course, there are the penguins! This noisy bunch can be counted on to greet you from their first floor exhibit with plenty of squawking, posturing, preening and showing off their swimming skills!

What are your favorite reasons to visit the Aquarium? Feel free to submit and share your pictures with us on tumblr, facebook and twitter at @NEAQ!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rescuing a snapper on the Charles

The Aquarium's head veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis has a soft spot for turtles—even if they're big, cranky snapping turtles. So it's no surprise that Dr. Innis jumped at the opportunity to help a hefty snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) trapped in the Charles River locks last Friday.

New England Aquarium head veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis had his hands full with the careful relocation of a snapping turtle this week.

The rescue effort started with a call from the supervisor of the Charles River Dam, Bill Gode, of the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation. The turtle was swimming near some moving mechanical parts of the lock's gates. Gode called the Aquarium because he was concerned that the turtle would be injured.

Dr. Innis released the turtle just upstream from the Longfellow Bridge on the Charles.

Once on the scene, Dr. Innis caught the 20 pound turtle bare-handed from a boat provided by Constitution Marina. He then motored up the Charles to release the turtle. Interestingly, this snapper came in from the brackish water of the estuary and the inner harbor. Dr. Innis thought it might have come down from the Mystic River and was looking to reenter fresh water. Snappers can survive for extended periods of time in brackish water.

Snappers can also deliver a serious injury if they are mishandled. With flexible necks and sharp beaks, their bites can be quite dangerous! So leave the relocation efforts up to the experts. But they are amazing creatures to observe from a safe distance. They can weigh between 10 and 30 pounds and you can usually find them in shallow ponds, lakes, river and streams. You can sometimes see them basking at the water's surface, however they can also nestle into shallow water only poking their heads up to breath.

It's not the first time the Aquarium has been called to help with a rescue effort at the locks. Learn more about a wayward harbor seal that once wandered into the Charles in October 2010. Dr. Innis has also traveled across the country to help marine animals during the Gulf Oil Spill.

If you're interested in animal rescue efforts, be sure to join us for a live webcast with sea turtles patients rescued from Cape Cod in Fall 2011. This very special event will happen this Wednesday at noon EST. Bookmark this page and tune in with your questions for the rescue team!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rare Fur Seal Pup Born at the Aquarium

Ursula and Isaac Are Pleased to Announce the
Birth of Their First Northern Fur Seal Pup!

8-Pound Pup Is First Birth in Aquarium’s Breeding Program for Rare Species


BOSTON—Babies often arrive at the most inopportune times! Tuesday night just before midnight, the Aquarium’s overnight engineer, while on her rounds, noticed blood on the floor of the seal holding area. She realized that Ursula, a sweet 14-year-old Northern fur seal, might be in labor. She immediately made a phone call, and shortly thereafter, several marine mammal trainers and veterinary staff arrived. They found Ursula in a corner with her newborn pup, which was searching for its mother’s nipples. With some maternal direction and repositioning, the dark brown, 8- to 9-pound pup finally found mother’s milk and settled down for some nursing and bonding. Kathy Streeter, the Aquarium’s marine mammal curator, was thrilled with Ursula’s maternal instincts and care, particularly since this was her first pup.

Click to see larger image.  

The birth was significant for more than its obvious feel-good aspects: It also marked the first birth in the Aquarium’s dedicated program for rare Northern fur seals. The newborn is only the 13th Northern fur seal to be found in an American aquarium or zoo. Seven of those animals make the New England Aquarium’s new, harbor-side pinniped exhibit their home. Several years ago as the Aquarium planned for the construction of its $11 million New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, staff made a strategic decision to gather Northern fur seals from around the country and start a dedicated breeding program.

Among those brought in were Ursula, a bright, young, 90-pound adult female from the New York Aquarium and Isaac, an athletically impressive, 300 pound adolescent male from the Seattle Aquarium. Isaac is now an adult with a trademark fur Mohawk and tips the scales at 400 pounds plus.


Sometime later this summer, they will join the rest of an increasingly youthful seal and sea lion colony. The unnamed pup will join Leu (pronounced Lou), a rescued 1-year-old male fur seal, and Zoe and Sierra, a pair of 2-year-old, female sea lions who are the subject of the Aquarium’s popular summer marketing campaign called “Mischief."

 Click to see larger image.

Northern fur seals have the second thickest fur of any animal and can be found throughout the chilly waters of the north Pacific but most commonly off the coast of Alaska. They were once hunted to the brink of extinction for their pelts but have become a conservation success story. Visit this page for more information about the species.

Visit the Marine Mammal Trainers Blog for video of the newborn.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Team Tiburon Conquers the Tough Mudder

Those of you who have been following Team Tiburon have probably been wondering what happened to us.  Well I’m happy to report that we completed the Tough Mudder in May, and we did it as a Team — I couldn’t emphasize that more strongly. Although Elasmo was sidelined by an injury, he was out there on the course all day cheering us on, and thanks to his efforts we have these great photos to share. So here’s a big thank you to everyone who supported our team throughout our training process, and helped raise money for the renovation of our Giant Ocean Tank.

Check out our photos below and then find out what’s next for Team Tiburon!

Cuddle, Hawk, Flame, Mudskipper, Lion, Chrys, and Elasmo before heading over to the mountain.  Our faces might look relaxed but we were all very nervous about what challenges loomed ahead!

Although we were given bib numbers to pin on, our numbers were also written on us in permanent marker - ON OUR FOREHEADS – just in case the bib number came off and we needed to be identified.  From left, Lion, Flame, Cuddle, Chrys, Hawk, and Mudskipper clean and happy before the Mudder begins!

Teams are sent off in waves every 20 minutes – we were in the 9:40 a.m. start time.  Scaling a wall to get into the starting corral,  we knew this was going to be no ordinary race, a fact driven home when we took the Tough Mudder pledge:

“As a Tough Mudder I pledge that I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
I put teamwork and camaraderie ahead of course time.
I do not whine – kids whine.
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears.”

And then we were off to run up and down the black diamond trails of Mount Snow for the first of many, many times that day all while anticipating 30 military style obstacles!

Our first non-hill obstacle – the Arctic Plunge.  Flame, Mudskipper, and Cuddle brave the ~35 degree water completely filled with ice cubes.  In the center there is a wall that you have to go under (the barbed wire prevents you from going over).  It was CHILLY to say the least!

Getting out of the Arctic Plunge, you can see our faces frozen in shock from the cold.

Another of the challenging obstacles, Hawk and Chrys are on the Dangler – you had to hang from the rope and pull yourself across a manmade lake approximately 50 yards long.  Fall off, and once again you are plunged into some freezing cold water.

Team Tiburon (near the top) doing some more hill running – by the end the downhills were just as challenging as the uphills and the event was definitely designed to test your mental grit as much as your physical strength.

As if cold water weren’t enough, they added an ice obstacle in the form of the Glacier.  You had to climb to the top of it and then slide down.  It definitely burned!  Cuddle is sliding down while other Tiburoners wait their turn and Mudskipper has made it to the bottom.

Muddy, tired, and cold – but still smiling despite being only about halfway through. 

This was one of the hardest obstacles in the whole challenge – the Funky Monkey – consisting of monkey bars, some loose, some greased, angled up and then down.  Most of us chose to just swim through this obstacle as several people were seen being taken off the course with sprained/broken ankles after falling from the bars.  But here Lion – the only member of Team Tiburon to complete this challenge - shows how to get it done while Flame and Mudskipper cheer him on!

The Log Jammer – a series of logs formed together with barbed wire.  Here Flame is showing how to get over some of the logs but there were also others that you had to crawl under.  Although not maybe the most daunting challenge, at this point we were cold, wet, and tired, and each obstacle required physical and mental toughness to overcome.

Chrys and Lion help Cuddle over one of the 12 foot Berlin Walls where Flame and Mudskipper are excitedly waiting.

Team Tiburon making our way through Firewalker – at this point while the smoke was thick and thus hard to breathe, we were just happy for the warmth!  Especially since it was about ½ hour wait for us to get through the next challenge – Everest.  No quit in here…!

The only way to get through this challenge, unless you can pull yourself up, is to run up the wall and reach for the people waiting for you at the top.  Here Chrys is helping Lion up the wall – now that’s teamwork!  And from here there was one last obstacle waiting for us – Electroshock Therapy…

Hawk, Flame, Lion, and Chrys pictured running through a field of live electric wires, some of them carrying up to a 10,000 volt shock.

We did it!!  We earned our Tough Mudder headbands and Elasmo won the award for best teammate and supporter ever (although his boot might have been a little worse for the wear).

But fear not loyal Team Tiburon followers – this is not the end for us.  Now that Elasmo’s leg has healed, Team Tiburon will once again take on the Tough Mudder on July 14 in Mount Snow – so if you have what it takes, then sign up to join us, or at least come cheer us on – as Elasmo will tell you, that’s a workout in and of itself.  (And remember, there’s always still time to donate.)

Please contribute to their fundraising efforts for the New England Aquarium and share this post to spread the word. Catch up on their previous posts here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pico crisscrosses the Atlantic

Aquarium researchers can recognize many (if not all) North Atlantic right whales by sight. They've been observing these whales in the Bay of Fundy for decades now. Researchers watch familiar females seen in the Bay of Fundy appear in the southeastern United States calving grounds each winter, where they give birth and nurture their babies before heading north again.

 Pico in the Bay of Fundy

But Aquarium researcher Philip Hamilton was part of a most unusual discovery. One particular right whale, now known as Pico, was spotted on the other side of the Atlantic in the Azores near an island named Pico. (Can you guess how this whale got her name?) This noteworthy sighting happened in January 2009, as documented in this blog post. Later that same year, Hamilton and the other New England Aquarium researchers again documented Pico back in the Bay of Fundy in August and September of 2009.

A collaborative paper details this unique cross-Atlantic migration. While Pico's travels brings up many questions, researchers suspect she may have been seeking an alternate location to calve. This appears to be the only documented evidence of a western North Atlantic right whale outside its normal range in winter. Since this sighting, however, Pico did give birth to her first calf last year and was seen off the southeastern US like most calving females.

The right whale researchers are preparing for another season on the Bay of Fundy later this summer. Bookmark the Right Whale Research Blog to see if Pico will make another appearance!