Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tough Mudder: Inspiration from the Ocean

This is the second in a series of bi-weekly posts from a team of Aquarium staff and supporters who are participating in an extreme obstacle course event called the Tough Mudder this spring. They will be posting about their training methods, animals that inspire them to work hard and they will be raising funds to support the Aquarium. You can help them out by donating to support their efforts.

Today’s blog post comes from Deb Bobek (left), Director of Visitor Experience for the Aquarium.  Deb’s lifelong passion for the ocean has grown even deeper since she’s worked at the Aquarium and become scuba and dry suit certified.  When she’s not busy making sure the Aquarium’s visitors are having a fun and educational experience, she can sometimes be seen doing a cleaning dive in the Giant Ocean Tank

Team Tiburon-ers are passionate about water and the animals in it. Even our team name is marine related. As noted in our previous post, “Tiburon” is Spanish for shark. So it was only natural that each of us picked a marine-related nickname to inspire us as we prepare for the Tough Mudder.

Our nicknames run the gamut. Some of us chose names that refer to large groups of animals such as, Elasmo for elasmobranch, the term used to refer to sharks, rays, and skates (i.e., the cartilaginous fishes) or Chrys, short for Chrysaora, a genus of sea jelly.

“Elasmo” with a sand tiger shark, a member of the Elasmobranch subclass.

Sand tiger sharks, like all Elasmobranchs, have skin made of dermal denticles (“skin teeth”), which give them the ability to glide quickly through water — an adaptation that would make all those Tough Mudder water challenges so much easier!

An Atlantic sea nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha).  Those long tentacles on the jellyfish sure would be useful in helping us get over those 9 foot walls.

Then we have those of us who chose an individual fish species for our name.  I chose Flame, for the flame angelfish, which is known for being a prolific jumper — a skill that would be useful for leaping over logs or through tires.

Centropyge loricula (Photo credit: Normann Z via Wikimedia Commons)

We also have Hawk, for hawkfish, which can perch on fire coral without feeling the sting. I think we all wish we had that protection against the Electroshock Therapy obstacle. 

Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) in Acropora grandis coral (Photo credit: Nick Hobgood via Wikimedia Commons)

Next we have Cuttle, for cuttlefish. Those eight arms would be useful for the cargo net climbs and monkey bars!

Cuttlefish (Photo credit:prilfish (Silke Baron) via Wikimedia Commons)

Our sixth Tiburon member is Lion, for lionfish, a well-known invasive species in the Atlantic. With few natural predators and venomous fin rays, lionfish are the definition of the kind of tough needed to complete the Tough Mudder.

Lionfish (photo credit: S. Cheng, New England Aquarium)

And that mud part?  Well of course we have Tiburon member Mudskipper, named for an amphibious fish that can actually walk on land as well as move through the water.  If you’ve know anything about the Tough Mudder, you know why the mudskipper provides excellent inspiration as we train!

Periophthalmus gracilis (Photo credit:Gianluca Polgar via Wikimedia Commons)

But, uh oh, none of us except Wolf, named for the Atlantic wolfish, has an animal that is specifically adapted to cold water (and with a nickname like Flame, I’m more likely to be comfortable in the fire obstacles than the cold water ones)!  In fact, wolfish produce a natural antifreeze to keep them moving and comfortable in cold water. But we don’t have that kind of protection! And the Tough Mudder promises to plunge us into icy cold water again, and again, and again, and...

Wolffish (photo credit)

So just as most of our namesake animals aren’t adapted for this kind of cold, we humans aren’t either, so Team Tiburon will compensate through training and preparation.  So how do we prepare for Tough Mudder, a challenge that’s sure to test the very limit of our cold tolerance?

Well of course, by facing it head on – literally!  Check it out as the team deliberately plunges into the frigid Atlantic Ocean on a 35 degree snowy day in February!   

And as you can see, despite our mostly tropically oriented alter-egos, it wasn’t so bad and we all came out smiling.

From left to right: Mudskipper, Chrys, Flame, Wolf, Cuttle, Lion, Elasmo and Hawk.  Is it just me, or does Wolf seem the happiest?

So that’s a little bit about our marine related inspiration as we train.  Keep following us as we prepare for the Tough Mudder challenge and if you would like to help us raise funds to support the Aquarium, click here.


Stay tuned, there will be several more posts from Team Tiburon as they prepare for this event. Please contribute to their fundraising efforts for the New England Aquarium and share this post to spread the word. Catch up on their previous post here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Preventing Plastic Pollution in the Oceans: Women Working for Oceans Event

The co-founder of an international nonprofit who was sought out by actor Jeff Bridges to make his Boston-based R.I.P.D film set “plastic bottle free” will headline an April 10 event focused on the impact of disposable plastic in our oceans.

In conjunction with Bridges, Plastics Pollution Coalition co-founder Dianna Cohen advised an initiative to replace disposable plastic bottles with filtered water in stainless steel bottles. Refusing plastic water bottles is an easy way to eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, infertility and other health concerns.

How to change your habits and reduce the use of disposable plastics is the focus of the April 10 luncheon at the New England Aquarium IMAX Theater. It will be led by Cohen and Kathleen Frith, a Harvard Medical School sustainable food expert.

The event, entitled “Plastics in the Ocean and Plastics in You,” is hosted by Women Working for Oceans, W2O, a local organization that aims to promote healthy and sustainable oceans through education that inspires advocacy and action.

“Disposable plastic appears to be a cheaper option, but there are invisible costs to our health, environment and ocean,” Cohen said.

Cohen, an internationally shown Los Angeles-based visual artist, uses recycled plastic bags as her primary medium in artworks, sculptures, and installations. Cohen works to raise awareness about the toxic implications of plastic pollution and provides simple solutions to cut down the amount of single-use plastic used and thrown away. PPC’s Plastic Free Campus initiative works with high school and colleges to reduce and hopefully eliminate plastic bottles, cups, straws, utensils, and other food packaging.

Frith is managing director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard and runs the center’s Healthy and Sustainable Food Program that educates the public on food that is healthy for humans and the environment.

W2O was founded by Barbara Burgess and Donna Hazard, both of Weston, who wanted to mobilize and educate the community about how the health of the world’s oceans affects nearly all aspects of our lives.

“The oceans are the lungs of our planet,” said Burgess, a member of the New England Aquarium Board of Oversees. “You just can't have healthy humans without healthy oceans. There are easy, simple steps we all can take to help eliminate the plastic waste that clogs our oceans and waterways. We can all be a part of the solution.”

Tickets for the April 10 event cost $55 and include lunch. The event will be held at 11:30 a.m. at the New England Aquarium IMAX Theater, Central Wharf, Boston. For more information visit the W2O events page, call 617-226-2143 or email

Plastic pollution is something that the Aquarium's global explorers encounter regularly on expeditions, as seen in this post by Dr. Greg Stone from Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Dr. Stone has also written news stories on the subject. The Joint Aquarium Fiji Expedition cleans up bags of plastic trash each year on this remote island in Fiji. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

New England Aquarium Research on Lobster Shell Disease Makes Headlines

You may have noticed the headlines in today's Boston Globe business section about the Aquarium's research on lobster shell disease. The disease is caused by bacteria that settles on a lobster’s shell, and it can have major impacts on the lobster fishery.

See an example of lobster shell disease and link through to the full article via the Globe's Tumblr post about the story.

A healthy American lobster on display at the Aquarium

Michael Tlusty, Ph.D., and other scientists at the Aquarium's Lobster Lab are finding that shell disease occurs among American lobsters in warmer waters off Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. While the disease is not usually lethal to the lobster and it does not appear to affect the meat, it does impact the lobster fisheries. That's because diners expect a smooth, red shell when they order lobster, not mottled and scaly shell.

In addition to shell disease, Aquarium researchers are also looking into lobster nutrition, brain development and shell colors. If you are intrigued by the many variations of lobster shell colors, like orange and blue lobsters on display in the Gulf of Maine exhibit, check out these Exhibit Blog posts on a calico lobster and a two-tone lobster that live at the Aquarium!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Aquarium travelers talk penguins

After their memorable and meaningful journeys to South Africa, Aquarium staffers Paul Leonard and Jo Blasi are stepping up to the microphone here in Boston. They will share their experiences during a free talk at the Aquarium tomorrow, Thursday, March 15, as part of the Aquarium Lecture Series.

The talk is open to the public, though we encourage attendees to register


Paul (above left) and Jo (above right) traveled to South Africa this past Fall to learn more about the work being done to save African penguins in their natural habitat. At the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), they helped rehabilitate many penguins, including young chicks that had been orphaned or abandoned by their parents (more on the Penguin Blog here and the Explorers Blog here). See some of their amazing pictures, hear personal stories about these feisty birds and learn what is being done to save this endangered species.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Extreme Race to Raise Funds for the New England Aquarium

This is the first in a series of bi-weekly posts from a team of Aquarium staff and supporters who are participating in an extreme obstacle course event called the Tough Mudder this spring. They will be posting about their training methods, animals that inspire them to work hard and they will be raising funds to support the Aquarium. You can help them out by donating to support their efforts.

This introductory post is from Aquarium Dive Safety officer John Hanzl, pictured here at work in the Giant Ocean Tank.

Every once in a while—every blue moon, if you will—a challenge comes along that’s so difficult, so intimidating, yet so completely inspiring, that it grabs you and refuses to let you go. Such a challenge recently presented itself to a small group of New England Aquarium staff and supporters, and we banded together to hurtle ourselves, literally, at this challenge.

The challenge you ask? None other than the Tough Mudder competition at Mount Snow, Vermont. Considered possibly the toughest event on the planet, the Mudder is “a hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.”

Granted, I pulled that off the event’s website, but from what we’ve learned it’s pretty much spot on. Distance, elevation, mud, fire (fire!), ice-infused mud, vertical walls, even more vertical walls, mud, mud-filled corrugated tubs, mud, mud-filled trenches, greased and elevated monkey bars (over mud), muddy logs, mud … and more mud. Did I mention live electrical wires? Yeah, it’s got that too…

A compilation of images from past Tough Mudder events 

But the main reason we’ve gravitated towards the Mudder is camaraderie. It’s designed to be the very essence of the event. The only way to get through this grueling four-plus hour competition is through teamwork and camaraderie. Which makes perfect sense, as entry funds from the Tough Mudder go to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that adds entire chapters to the meaning of camaraderie.

So that’s the challenge, but what about the challengers? Well, that’s the best part, because it combines two of my favorite things: the New England Aquarium and good friends. Allow me to introduce Team Tiburon (which means “shark” in Spanish):

 We’ve taken animal-themed code names for this race. We are (from left to right) Hawk, Mudskipper, Lion, Flame, Cuttle, Chrys, and Elasmo. 

We are seven foolhardy souls. On Saturday, May 5, we’ll be taking on the Tough Mudder. Our goal is to not only tackle the Mudder, but to bring you along with us on our journey. Over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing our experiences as we train for, and ultimately participate in, an experience of a lifetime. We’ll even show how our connection with the aquatic environment, and its inhabitants, have provided us with examples of how creative adaptations have conquered daunting challenges.

Oh, I should also introduce Wolf, aka “The Alternator," Team Tiburon’s back-up competitor (and in training for the next Tough Mudder competition). Wolf was unable to make the training session this past weekend, where the team photo was taken. Therefore, in honor of Wolf, here he is…

Individually we have already raised over a thousand dollars to enter the race. Those entrance funds go to the Wounded Warrior Project. Now as Team Tiburon, and with your help, we hope to raise both funds and awareness for the New England Aquarium and the blue planet we all inhabit.

If you would like to help Team Tiburon raise funds to support the Aquarium, click here to donate.


There will be several new posts from Team Tiburon as they prepare for this event. Please contribute to their fundraising efforts for the New England Aquarium and share this post to spread the word.