Sunday, April 28, 2013

How running can be a special kind of volunteering

To bring our celebration of 2013 National Volunteer Week to a close, we asked one of our Dive Staff, John Hanzl, to share his insights on volunteerism and the new service program he was able to launch this fall. Read on for more information relating to a truly dedicated group of 20 volunteers who have donated their minds, bodies and dollars in service to the New England Aquarium for the last several months. 

Having just celebrated National Volunteer Week, I decided to look up the meaning of the word volunteerism.  Though my own career at the New England Aquarium started as a volunteer thirteen years ago, I never really thought too much about the actual act of volunteering.

This is what volunteering looks like: Runners on the Aquarium's marathon team running the Boston Marathon

The American Heritage Dictionary defines volunteerism as “the use of, or reliance on, volunteers, especially to perform social or educational work in communities.” I was amazed by the personal connection those words had for me, as for the past four months I had the privilege of being part of the process of getting the Aquarium to become a charity for the Boston Athletic Association, and of fielding a team of twenty truly amazing and unique individuals to run the 117th Boston Marathon.

The team convenes in the athletes village at the starting area in Hopkinton

Now one might ask, how does a team of marathon runners represent “social or educational work in communities?” It’s because these runners have banded together from all corners of the globe (even as far away as Australia) to be part of the Aquarium’s marathon team. And they’ve done this not only to share the experience and camaraderie of training for, and running in, the Boston Marathon, but to help raise funds for the Aquarium’s school and community programs, which reach over 47,000 children every year in diverse communities throughout Massachusetts.

Though every one of these runners has a story to tell, a unique experience to share – of personal strife and triumph, of self doubt and of overcoming those doubts – it’s their collective desire to become ambassadors for the Aquarium’s mission, and their boundless enthusiasm in support of that desire that embodies the true meaning of volunteerism.

Aquarium marathon team members help during a
Whale Day event at a local school, an outreach
program supported in part by the runners' fundraising.
Over the course of the past four month of relentless training and fundraising, these 20 runners have dedicated over 1,800 hours of their time and have raised over $98,000 for the Aquarium’s outreach programs. They have truly become advocates for our mission, and each and every one of them have helped to bring inspirational programming to schoolchildren all over the state. They have truly become a “band of brothers (and sisters!)”

So as a way of thanking our Aquarium marathon team for exemplifying so perfectly the meaning of volunteerism, I turn to our team motto and say, “Go Fish!”

— John Hanzl

Friday, April 26, 2013

National Volunteer Week 2013: Volunteer Supervisors

One of the ways we help to create memorable and dynamic experiences for our volunteers here at the Aquarium is by pairing each volunteer with a volunteer supervisor. As experts in their field, volunteer supervisors pass on their extensive knowledge and experience to each of the volunteers they work with, giving them one-of-a-kind experiences they probably couldn’t get anywhere else!

Today, we have an interview with one of these supervisors to get their perspective on working with volunteers (and being one!)—Erin Weber of the Marine Mammals department!

What was your volunteer/intern experience at the Aquarium like?
After my internship ended I stayed on as a volunteer in Marine Animal Rescue department, as well as picking up a part-time position at the Information Desk in April. Over the summer of 2009, I also started to volunteer in the Marine Mammals department. (You may be wondering how I was able to be in three departments at the same time…for a few months I was actually at the aquarium 6 to 7 days a week!)  I eventually switched over to working part-time in Rescue and still volunteering in Mammals, until July 2010 when I got hired full-time into the Mammals department. And look at that - all my time in multiple departments actually paid off!

How do volunteers help you do your job?
Volunteers literally make our days possible. For the Mammals department they come in every morning, thaw hundreds of pounds of fish and squid, and bucket it up for each individual seal’s feeds for the day (14 animals each getting 3 to 4 feeds per day…that’s a lot of buckets!). They also help with various other cleaning and organizing tasks throughout the day. And lastly, they often play crucial roles in training sessions, providing an extra hand to be a “mock” veterinarian for training new behaviors, or even feeding an animal for doing something across the exhibit from us (such as a speed swim).

What has been your most memorable experience working with a volunteer?
Some of our volunteers (or past interns that stay on as volunteers) have been here for many years, so we all develop close relationships with them over our time together. It’s great being able to help get them connected with other opportunities in the field—my favorite experience was helping get a former volunteer get a job as a trainer at a facility I had interned at during college.

And a message to current and future volunteers and interns: There are so many resources available to you, as well as connections to be made, not only within the Aquarium but also with additional institutions. Most of the staff here have worked with colleagues at other facilities in the country, and even world-wide, so take advantage of this. We’re here to help you. Keep in mind, most of us were volunteers or interns once too!

Thank you Erin for all of your support!

Volunteers, how does your volunteer supervisor impact your experience?

Volunteer for a Day

Interested in becoming engaged in the Aquarium's work but can’t make the six month commitment? Or are you a current volunteer looking to get involved in a different part of the Aquarium? Join our mailing list of “one-shot” volunteer opportunities and you’ll be given the opportunity to volunteer on a one-time and/or short-term basis!
Volunteers work to clean up local habitat.

These positions often have volunteers interacting with visitors, helping out with special events and working on unique projects. Here are just a few of the “one-shot” volunteer opportunities we have offered in the past year:

Community Open House events
Event photography
“Fish, Fun and Fright” Night
Visitor assistance during school vacation weeks
Designing signs to support our marathon team

Many of our “one-shot” volunteers work with us on a regular basis because they have the ability to sign up for events that fit their schedule!

Thanh Truong is one of our volunteers who has worked on many of the “one-shot” projects in the past seven years. She was also kind enough to talk about her experience:

Thanh Truong is all smiles with our turtle mascot.
How did you decide to get involved?
A friend of mine forwarded me an email that the Aquarium needed one-shot volunteers for a weekend event so I decide to sign up and volunteer. I have continued to do it ever since.

What has been your favorite “one-shot” event and why?
My favorite event every year is the Halloween party for members—Fish Fun and Fright—because everyone has such a great time. The costumes are amazing! I have helped with everything from face painting to asking the children (and adults) to dance like an octopus for candy. It is a night that everyone looks forward to.  

What is the best part about volunteering for “one-shot” events at the Aquarium?
The best part about volunteering for the "one-shot" events is the flexibility you have on when you volunteer. You choose how much you want to volunteer. In my case, I work a lot during the week but am always up for volunteering after work and on weekends when help is needed.

Thank you Thanh, we look forward to seeing you at more events!

Want to join Thanh and the rest of our one-shot volunteer crew? Email to join the mailing list!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

National Volunteer Week 2013: Meet Our Longest-Serving Volunteer

Susie Buttrick is not only known for her winning smile, generous heart and skill as an educator, but for also the distinction of being the longest serving volunteer at the Aquarium. Susie has been with us since June 1969. Careful readers will note that is also the date when we first opened our doors! Since then, Susie has donated over 11,000 hours in service to the Aquarium. To put that figure in perspective, a volunteer would have to work 24 hours a day with no sleep for 458 consecutive days to match Susie.

Susie Buttrick (undated)

Currently, you can find Susie on the floor working with our Visitor Education crew, though she’s been a part of a variety of departments over the years. We sat down with Susie recently to talk about her experience volunteering with the Aquarium.

You’ve been volunteering for over 44 years, what keeps you coming back?
Susie Buttrick (SB): Only perhaps on one day out of the 365 do I leave here grumpy. I love sharing learnings and talking with folks. I constantly hear “thank you” from visitors and how much they’ve enjoyed the aquarium. Aquarium people are all nice...especially the Wednesday volunteers.

What was your background?
SB: In college, I majored in zoology...I was never very chemically inclined so I stayed away from those types of sciences.

How did you get started in Visitor Education?
SB: In 1969, I had Newfoundland dogs and they were more than enough animal care, on top of raising a family. So being an aquarist also never really appealed to me. A dedicated babysitter allowed me to have free time so I was looking for something to do. I didn’t realize that there was an aquarium starting up in Boston, but the ocean has always been a part of my life. My parents had a house in Bermuda and my mom was still SCUBA diving until age 50!

Susie Buttrick at far left (undated)

What was it like in the beginning?
SB: In 1969, the early “experiment” organized by the education department was to see how groups of students might be managed when touring the Aquarium. What became very clear was that groups of 20+ students did not “tour” very well. As a result, there was some education presence on the floor but for the most part, the most coveted volunteer opportunity was to work in the small gift shop.

Why did most volunteers choose the Aquarium?
SB: In the beginning, I think the majority of volunteers were there because it was the new guy on the block and it would be easy to be accepted. Some came from other institutions like the MFA, others, including myself, were looking for an opportunity to widen horizons. Some just loved the ocean environment.

How do you feel the mentality of volunteering has changed today?
SB: When I first started, the idea was to add a “helping hand” to those in need. Mostly in the social services, like schools, hospitals, prisons, etc. My mother and father were airplane spotters in World War 2. Volunteer service nowadays is more about a learning experience and not just a way to pass the time. Because it has become so popular and wide spread, you can pick the organization.

You’ve worked on a lot of different fundraising projects, what was one of your favorite?
SB: As a member of the Aquarium Council, we did a lot to advertise memberships. We had a variety of functions like organizing LL Bean fashion shows. In 1988 or so, we created a seafood cookbook called Feast of Fishes. We tried to get a couple of the different local restaurants to give us recipes, but I think we were before our time.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

National Volunteer Week 2013: By the Numbers

The volunteer program at the New England Aquarium influences virtually all corners of our operation, and the best way to demonstrate this is through numbers. OK, here we go...

61,583 hours
Amount of time our 663 adult volunteers served last year. This is the equivalent of nearly 31 full-time employees.

 Feeding an anaconda takes patience. | Photo: Arturo Gossage

18 departments
Number of departments in which volunteers serve across the Aquarium, including animal husbandry, administration, research, conservation and visitor experience—in locations across the greater Boston area.

222 volunteers
Number of new volunteers who joined our community last year.

Volunteers help with food prep, a crucial part of every day at the Aquarium.
Photo: Arturo Gossage

3 years
Average length of time our volunteers have served at the Aquarium. The longest length of time a volunteer has served with the Aquarium? 43 years and 10 months!
(See tomorrow’s post to find out who!)

180 volunteers
Number of volunteers who donated their time and skills to help rehabilitate sea turtles during this record-breaking season—for a total of 11,805 hours!

An intern helps carry a rescued loggerhead sea turtle.

114 volunteers
Number of Visitor Education volunteers in 2012 who donated a total of 11,629 hours of their time to engage visitors and teach them about our blue planet (one of the missions of the Aquarium). This is especially helpful during the ongoing GOT reconstruction project.

Some longtime volunteers actually don wetsuits to help feed the animals.
Photo: Arturo Gossage

196 hours
The average number of hours each of our 42 marine mammal volunteers spent taking care of Sierra, Reggae, Isaac and the rest of the marine mammal gang in 2012!

It is clear that the Aquarium would not have the capacity to do all of our amazing work without our enthusiastic and talented volunteers. In the coming days and weeks, we are excited to bring you more stories about the volunteers behind these numbers!

Which stories behind these numbers are YOU interested in knowing more about?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy National Volunteer Week!

“National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It’s about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, in unison, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals. National Volunteer Week is about taking action, encouraging individuals and their respective  communities to be at the center of social change—discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to foster positive transformation.” — Points of Light Foundation

Volunteers at the Aquarium answer visitors' questions about our animals and exhibits. | Photo: Arturo Gossage

With about 1,000 volunteers, interns, and teens donating more than 109,000 hours of service to the New England Aquarium, we know that volunteers are core to the function of our organization. To put that lofty number into perspective, this donation of service hours is the rough equivalent of an additional 61 full-time staff members to the Aquarium team. With a regular workforce of 250 paid staff, this contribution is extremely significant.

Additionally, these volunteers go above and beyond their service hours in their role as our ambassadors to the community at large. By spreading their Aquarium experiences through personal passion and word of mouth, they also spread our mission in an organic way. It is clear to all of our staff that without our volunteers we would not be able to offer many of the programs, experiences and services we currently provide as we strive to fulfill our mission of protecting the blue planet.

Live animal presentations are another way volunteers can interact with the public. | Photo: Arturo Gossage

And this is just our small piece of the overall volunteer world. We are humbled by the knowledge that throughout 68 zoos and aquariums surveyed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums in 2011, 42,533 volunteers served more than 2,489,093 hours in benefit to our national mission of environmental education and conservation. As we look to service throughout our nation it warms our heart even more to know that these numbers expand exponentially when we consider all of the different ways an individual can volunteer from mobilizing during emergencies to packaging meals at a local food bank.

Some volunteers work behind the scenes | Photo: Arturo Gossage

At the core of volunteering is the ability for an individual to stand back and see the immediate need of his community and make the corresponding change. Volunteers possess the ability to acknowledge that someone or something (be it a veteran in need of a meal, a cold-stunned sea turtle or a park in need of a cleanup) needs an extra hand that only they can provide. These incredible individuals then give of their free time, energy and passion to fix that community need. What is most interesting in this chain of events is that, often, these self-less acts lead to other acts of service. Study after study of service and volunteerism have shown that volunteers are more likely to give financially, more likely be active in their communities and more likely to become civically engaged than other members of our society.

Our animals have to eat! Many volunteers help with food preparation. | Photo: Arturo Gossage

If you currently serve, either at the New England Aquarium or elsewhere throughout our community, we would like to thank you for your incredible donations of time, energy and passion. We know that it can be hard to take time out of our daily lives for the betterment of another, but  each time you do our community is indebted to you!

This April 22 – 27, New England Aquarium will be celebrating service by featuring some of our incredible volunteers and a variety of service opportunities. To start the week off right, we thought we would show you a few different ways you can get involved and start volunteering today:

Become a regular volunteer with New England Aquarium and commit to serving with our animals, guests, community programs, or administrative roles.
Need a more flexible commitment? Sign up to become an Aquarium one-shot volunteer!
Not in Boston or interested in working with other kinds of animals? Find another AZA institution near you that needs volunteers.
Consider a citizen science program like Frog Watch USA.
Boston Cares has a fantastic calendar of “click to sign up” service opportunities throughout Greater Boston focused on a diverse array of impact areas from homelessness to education.
You can learn about national service initiatives and find a local volunteer action center by visiting HandsOn Network.
Miles of Good: 26.2 Days of Inspired Acts of Kindness is an initiative started to increase community goodwill in response to the tragedy on Marathon Monday.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Go New England Aquarium Marathon Team!

Note Posted Monday, 4/15, at 8:53 p.m.
We are relieved to report that all members of the New England Aquarium Marathon Team are safe. Our thoughts and hearts go out to the runners, families and fans affected by the horrible events of Monday, April 15.

This Monday, thousands of runners will line up in Hopkinton to sprint, run, jog and shuffle their way to the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Copley Square. Here at the Aquarium, we'll be routing for a very special bunch of runners in the pack: the New England Aquarium Marathon Team! These runners have been training for months now and here's their opportunity to put those miles of training runs to the test.

Members of the New England Aquarium Marathon Team before a 20-mile training run 

Besides putting in the miles, entry onto this special team came with a commitment to the next generation of ocean stewards. You see, each of these runners pledged to raise money for the Aquarium's outreach programs, which connect with 47,000 children in diverse communities and schools throughout the Boston area each year.
Now that's dedication:
Aquarium diver and marathon team coach, Chris, on
one of the team's snowy training runs.

The Aquarium's traveling outreach programs visit schools, afterschool programs and community centers. During School Programs, Aquarium educators present scientific information in fun, interactive and effective ways, supporting classroom learning while inspiring a fascination for marine life. With a focus on serving local children and families, our Community Programs are offered free of charge in underserved neighborhoods and admissions passes are available for groups to visit the Aquarium. The Aquarium’s outreach programs provide what is often the first opportunity for children to experience marine animals. Participants discover how these animals relate to their own lives and the simple things they can do to protect the oceans.

So here's a simple shout-out to our runners:
Thank you for your dedication, for your blisters and sore muscles, for your creative fundraising and concern for our blue planet, and most importantly thank you for your help inspiring the next generation of ocean stewards through our outreach programs. live blue™ and run hard!

Look for the Aquarium runners on the course tomorrow with blue shirts. See pictures and video of two of our runners giving high-fives to our harbor seal Reggae!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New and familiar faces in the Tropical Oceans Exhibit

This is a cross-post from the Divers Blog. The New England Aquarium's transformation is taking place both above and below the water. Follow this link to learn more about the construction happening in the Giant Ocean Tank. And here are some new and familiar faces in the Tropical Ocean Exhibit. 

It may not look like it now, but there is a lot happening in the temporary exhibit where all the GOT animals are living now. Here's a special look at life below the water line!

Click here to watch this video in HD on our YouTube channel.

The GOT will be home to over 100 species when it reopens early this summer! This video introduces just a few of those species—both new and old—like fish in the grunts family, a short bigeye, a balloonfish, spadefishes, a queen trigger, fish in the jacks family, a sargassum trigger, a Southern stingray, and of course Myrtle, the green sea turtle, and her friend (word used lightly) Carolina, the loggerhead sea turtle. And if you look closely, you'll see some of our transport devices currently residing inside the tray in this video.

Myrtle, like our marathon team runners, has been carbo loading recently to get ready for her GOT reintroduction.
Stay tuned, we'll have a lot more to say about all the new animals that will join Myrtle the GOT!

April Construction Updates

The New England Aquarium's transformation is taking place behind the scaffolding and below the water line. Follow this link to learn more about some of our new animals, which are destined for the Giant Ocean Tank. And here's what's happening throughout the building.

This is exciting, we're beginning to see some real progress, folks! Here's just a taste of the changes happening behind the scenes.

The scaffolding has been removed from the inside of the tank while artists start creating the colorful, textured coral reef. Construction crews are installing dazzling new lighting at the top of the tank. And visitors will notice some exciting changes on the exhibit path.

The familiar spiral is back! One of the most dramatic changes in the building is the removal of the construction screen that had been covering the Giant Ocean Tank.

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the west wall, which will be covered with shark silhouettes.

By the end of the week, the scaffolding will come down off the ramps.

The changes will be happening fast and furiously from now until the Giant Ocean Tank reopens in early summer. Stay tuned, we'll be keeping the News Blog updated with pictures, videos and information from behind the scenes of the Aquarium's transformation. In the meantime, be sure to look for all the new animals that are temporarily living on the ground floor of the Aquarium!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Aquarium Research: Fisheries Bycatch

We know that fisheries bycatch is a major threat to marine mammals, but the real trouble is figuring out just how much of a threat  it is for different species around the world. New England Aquarium researchers Kate McClellan and Tim Werner decided to find out how big the threat of bycatch is from gillnets, a major type of fishery worldwide. To evaluate the extent of the threat, they compiled data on bycatch from 1990 to 2010, from over 570 sources around the world, and verified by international experts.

They found that at least 75 percent of toothed whale species, 64 percent of baleen whales, 66 percent of pinnipeds (like seals and sea lions) and all sirenians (manatees and dugongs) and  marine otters have been recorded as gillnet bycatch over the past 20 years. It is difficult to draw conclusions about the real impact of fishery bycatch on most marine mammals because of data gaps in population abundances, bycatch rates, and other threats (like pollution or habitat destruction). Even though this study was quite comprehensive, it is only just scraping the surface of the bycatch problem. A lot more research is required.

Marine mammal bycatch from gillnets is a problem around the world.

Read the full published report in Endangered Species Research. 

And here's more information on this paper and the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, which is administered out of the New England Aquarium.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Sea Turtle Trek to Florida

Sea Turtle Trek to Drive 46 Endangered and Threatened Sea Turtles Rescued from Cape Cod to Florida for Release
An East Coast Endangered Species Express

Scenes from this year's record cold-stun season: A rescuer examines the mouth of a Kemp's ridley sea turtle 

These sea turtles are the last major transport of the record 242 sea turtles that washed up on Massachusetts beaches due to hypothermia last November and December. Cold-stunned sea turtles strand every late autumn on Cape Cod. There, they are collected by the dedicated and hardy staff and volunteers of the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay who search miles of beaches in cold, blustery weather. The mostly inert turtles are then transported  to the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy, MA, about ten miles south of Boston, where they are slowly re-warmed and treated for months with many other life threatening medical conditions. In an average year, about seventy juvenile, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles are taken in.

Scenes from cold-stun season: Rescue experts from National Aquarium in Baltimore speak with the Aquarium's chief veterinarian Dr. Charles Innis during the busy sea turtle stranding season.

This past year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas , the flow of these critically ill sea turtles just never seemed to stop. The Aquarium’s state-of-the art sea turtle hospital has a capacity of about seventy animals. Connie Merigo, head of the Aquarium’s rescue team, quickly reached out to other aquariums and marine animal rehab facilities all along the East Coast to take in sea turtles that had already been re-warmed and stabilized. Since then, many of these turtles have already been treated and released.

Scenes from cold-stun season: A loggerhead turtle rests on towels

Scenes from cold-stun season: A green sea turtle during treatments

The Sea Turtle Trek will collect the most of the remaining sea turtles that are ready for release in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Early Saturday morning, biologists at the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, Maine will lift five, chestnut brown-colored, loggerhead sea turtles from their tanks and package them into dry, padded crates for transport two hours south to the New England Aquarium’s Quincy site. At the same time on Cape Cod, staff at the National Marine Life Center (NMLC) in Buzzards Bay will prepare four charcoal-colored Kemp’s ridleys for an hour and a half ride north to Quincy. There, those nine animals will join twenty-eight more from the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital to begin the Sea Turtle Trek’s long drive south.

Scenes from cold-stun season: A volunteer keeps an eye on a loggerhead sea turtle awaiting treatment

In Connecticut, the turtle caravan will stop briefly to off I-95 to pick up four loggerheads that will be ferried across Long Island Sound from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. With forty-one marine reptiles in tow, the Sea Turtle Trek will drive to the National Aquarium in Baltimore by early Saturday evening to pick up one green, one Kemp’s and one loggerhead. Then with forty-four animals, the trek will stop at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach in the late evening.

Scenes from cold-stun season: An expert from the Riverhead Foundation in New York who was on hand to help during the record sea turtle stranding season.

Traveling overnight with multiple drivers, the Sea Turtle Trek hopes to arrive in the Jacksonville, Florida area by late Sunday morning. There, officials from Florida Fish & Wildlife will select a release beach in the region, and forty-six endangered and threatened sea turtles will crawl down a beach to re-enter the ocean. All of the people and organizations who have helped these sea turtles along their unusual paths hope that they live long lives and contribute to the recovery of their threatened and endangered populations.

Follow the Rescue Blog for pictures and updates or follow us Facebook and be sure to track #seaturtletrek on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and Instagram. This media release is cross-posted to the Rescue Blog.