Monday, September 30, 2013

Volunteer of the Month: Michael O'Neill

Every month our Volunteer Office sorts through piles of nominations from supervisors and honors one of our volunteers for their truly stupendous efforts. Meet our latest Volunteers of the Month!

In the fall, the Volunteer Office is busy doing a lot of things, one of which is recruiting interns at career fairs. We were just at Tufts, and a lot of students were interested in what happens to interns after their internship ends. Well, September’s Volunteer of the Month is a great example of that.

The Rescue and Rehab department would like to nominate Michael O'Neill for volunteer of the month. 
Volunteer Mike O'Neill works with sea turtles in the Rescue and Rehab department
There is no other way to describe working with Mike other than a delight. Mike's passion and enthusiasm is contagious and so constant that he always brings a smile to people's faces. He started as an intern in the rescue department a couple of summers ago, and we were lucky enough to get him back as a volunteer after he graduated college.  
His enthusiasm to learn as much as possible is fantastic, and he also is great at teaching everyone else, whether it be training new volunteers or providing a show and tell of his fossil collection during a lunch break. No wonder he is a staff member in visitor education as well! Mike is full of interesting stories, songs about marine life and provides much needed laughter in a stressful environment. He is truly a Jack of all trades, as he can outfit our kennels for easier transportation, create best methods for skeleton re-articulation, conduct his own research on the crab population in Quincy Bay or provide entertainment while juggling fire torches on stilts. And this is on top of being excellent at animal handling and husbandry!  
Mike does whatever is asked of him without complaint and always excels at it even with minimal supervision. Not many other volunteers would design and construct methods to carry kennels, and get in the kennel to test the strength of his contraption (or let me take photos of it). His dedication is also evident as he goes out of his way to get transportation to the Quincy facility every week. Mike is an asset to the Thursday crew, one of my absolute go-to volunteers, and I think I speak for the rest of the staff and volunteers by saying he deserves recognition for his service to the Aquarium and the Rescue department in particular. 

If you are interested in joining us in an intern or volunteer capacity, consider checking out the requirements and applying today!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Member Hangouts take you behind the scenes

An Aquarium membership opens doors that a regular admission can't access. There are the member-exclusive events like Fish, Fun and Fright, discounts on Whale Watches and CafĂ© purchases and sometimes we even treat members to a very special show and tell.

An Aquarium diver joined the Hangout to talk about what it's like to dive inside the new GOT
Take our behind-the-scenes Google+ Hangout on Air on September 19. Members got a special heads-up about the event and tuned in to ask questions and hear first-hand from Aquarium staffers about the New Aquarium Experience—from new animals to new technology to brand new exhibits.

New technologies, animals and exhibits were discussed in the most recent Google+ Hangout for members

The Hangout has been archived and now everyone can check it out!

You may have noticed the beautiful videos that played over some of the Hangout. Follow the links to watch the footage on our YouTube channel.

Blue Planet Action Center 

Yawkey Coral Reef Center

New Technologies and New Aquarium Experience 

Shark and Lobster Nurseries

Animals: New Residents and the New Aquarium Experience

If you want to be an Aquarium insider, consider becoming a member! You'll get invitations to special Member Hangouts like this, in addition all the other perks that come with membership (including this). 

And if you're already a member, hope to see you at Fish, Fun and Fright!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Video: Kit's debut in the main exhibit

As we shared in yesterday's post, Kitovi had her first foray into the main exhibit at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. For such a curious and independent young thing, she definitely needed a lot of encouragement to spend time in the main exhibit. But eventually, she took the plunge!

Take a look.

After such an exciting afternoon, Kit returned behind the scenes with her mum Ursula for the rest of the evening. The pair still needs some quiet time together for nursing and bonding. But visitors will be able to see Kitovi on exhibit more and more in the coming weeks.

Kitovi spent a wide-eyed afternoon getting a feel for the main exhibit. But she had access to the familiar pool behind the scenes, where she feels comfortable. 

See pictures of the "outrageously cute seal" by The Boston Globe.

Better yet, come see this 16-pound fur seal! Tickets are available online—and you can print at home! You can also keep tabs on Kitovi and the other marine mammals at the Aquarium on the Trainers Blog!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kitovi tests the waters

6-Week-Old Kitovi (Kit) to Introduced into the Marine Mammal Center

Kit, a 6-week old baby Northern fur seal, whose behind-the-scenes photos and video have made it around the world a couple of times, made her first foray on to public exhibit today in the Aquarium’s New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. While in the exhibit, the fairly independent Kit remained under the protective maternal eye of Ursula. Still, Kit seemed to prefer the familiarity of her behind-the-scenes pool.

A wide-eyed Kit steps out onto the exhibit's deck. But each foray like this did not last long. She would soon turn back to slide down the ramp into her familiar behind-the-scenes enclosure.

Ursula, her mom, seemed eager to introduce the little one to the exhibit. But Kit frequently turned back, preferring to play behind the scenes with another young fur seal named Leu. Kit's big brother Flaherty was on exhibit along with her dad, Isaac, grandmother, Roxie and another fur seal named Cordova. The rambunctious sea lions stayed behind the scenes during the introduction.

Tiny Kit shuffles along the deck during one of her exploratory jaunts into the exhibit today.

The New England Aquarium has the largest collection of Northern fur seals in North America. Related to sea lions, Northern fur seals are native to the north Pacific, particularly Alaska. Northern fur seals are protected, but their population has been in decline recently.

Volunteer of the Month: August

Every month our Volunteer Office sorts through piles of nominations from supervisors and honors one of our volunteers for their truly stupendous efforts. Meet our latest Volunteers of the Month!

A question the Volunteer Office often hears is: Do your volunteers like it there? The answer is a resounding YES, as you can see from our retention rate! While we ask for a 6-month commitment, the average tenure of a volunteer is closer to 3 years!

This holds true for the Volunteer of the Month for August...Alex Shopov!

Alex, pictured with Rhonda the anaconda

Alex has been with us since August 2011 and has donated nearly 800 hours. He joined our community as a Penguin Colony Volunteer and has since transferred over to our Aquarium Medical Center (AMC), which is where his nomination came from:
Alex has been a trusted member of the Animal Health Department (AHD) team for close to 2 years now. He has a fantastic team player mind set, positive attitude, strong work ethic and great attention to detail. Alex always goes above and beyond and will tackle each task assigned with enthusiasm, regardless of how minor it may be. He is dedicated to the Aquarium’s animals and always has their best interests in mind. He has seen and done a lot in his time here, from talking to the public about a whale necropsy we were performing on a beach to assisting Dr. Innis with a moray eel procedure
I know the AMC is in good hands when Alex is working and that he can handle any curve ball thrown at him. When Alex isn’t working with the vet team he puts on an education hat and informs visitors about the numerous animals and exhibits in the building. This education hat comes in handy when AHD is working in the public space and Alex is able to easily convey the subject matter to visitors of all ages. This nomination is long overdue and the department greatly appreciates Alex’s time and hard work.
Congratulations to Alex on all of his hard work!

If you are interested in joining this vibrant community, consider reading through a list of positions and applying here!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Endangered Sea Turtle Rescued on Cape Cod

MEDIA RELEASE: Giant leatherback sea turtle rescued on Cape Cod September 11, 2013

An approximately 650-pound leatherback sea turtle that stranded at low tide in an isolated area of Sandy Neck Beach Park in Barnstable Wednesday morning was treated medically and released back into a rising tide in the early afternoon. New England Aquarium staff are optimistic about her prognosis, but they are seeking the public’s help should boaters or beach walkers re-sight the five foot long, black, soft-shelled sea turtle as she is swimming in Cape Cod Bay or near land.

Leatherback sea turtle that stranded on Cape Cod Wednesday, Sept. 11 | Photo: Mass Audubon/ Ron Kielb

The turtle was discovered high and dry by Sandy Neck staff in the mid-morning. Rangers called the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay, which acts as first responders for sea turtle strandings on Cape Cod. They in turn called the New England Aquarium for medical support from their rescue biologists and veterinarian. Given the isolated location, rescuers were ferried to the site by Barnstable harbormaster and a Good Samaritan private boater.

Video: Mass. Audubon at Wellfleet Bay via YouTube

With near record heat and an exposed marine reptile in the baking sun, rescuers covered the turtle with wet sheets to keep the animal cooler. They also moved her on to a dolphin stretcher to lift her, if necessary, and also to help contain the restless creature while they treated her. They found tags on the flippers of the adult female indicating that she had previously nested on a beach in Trinidad. That large island off the northeastern coast of South America is one of the principal egg laying sites for this highly endangered species.

For the Aquarium medical staff, they needed to make a crucial and time sensitive evaluation as to how sick was the turtle and why it might have stranded. Both Sandy Neck and Mass Audubon staff knew that once into this tidal backwater, many marine animals become confused. For a leatherback feeding on sea jellies, that would be even more likely as this species of sea turtle is generally in the open ocean and is less familiar with the fluctuations of tides.

For Connie Merigo, head of the Aquarium’s marine animal rescue team, she needed to determine was this a reasonably healthy animal that accidentally stranded in an unfamiliar habitat or a sick turtle that was debilitated and had essentially washed ashore. A moderately healthy animal could be released on the incoming tide while an ill turtle could be transported to the Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy.

The leatherback was put on a dolphin stretcher and moved to deeper water when the tides came in
Photo: Mass Audubon/ Ron Kielb

At about 650 pounds, the leatherback was slightly underweight and not as fat as biologists would expect at this late point of the summer feeding season. The Aquarium’s rescue biologists took vital signs and drew blood. They entered a sample into a portable blood analyzer. Head veterinarian and noted turtle specialist Dr. Charles Innis looked at the results. To his slight surprise, the sea turtle’s blood values were within normal range. This turtle’s best chance at survival was to be released but with a little medical boost to help combat stress of the stranding and other existing minor medical maladies. Dr. Innis gave the turtle a long-lasting anti-biotic, anti-inflammatory and vitamin complement.

As the tide slowly rose and made the massive turtle more buoyant,  about ten Barnstable, Mass Audubon and Aquarium staff grabbed the handles of the nylon stretcher and moved her out to deeper water. On command, one side of the stretcher was dropped, water flooded in and the turtle swam out into deeper water. She took a breath and dove – always a good sign. A couple of staff sighted her further down the inlet. A nervous elation percolated through the rescuers – excited, proud but still concerned that this important animal survive so that it might one day this winter lay eggs on a beach in Trinidad.

Leatherback sea turtle rescued and released back into the wild in 2012

The successful treatment and release of live leatherback sea turtles is an extremely rare event. Live strandings of this ocean-going turtle are very uncommon, but also little was known of their physiology and how to treat them since they have never been successfully kept in an aquarium anywhere. A few years ago, Cara Dodge, a former federal sea turtle official, enrolled Innis and Merigo in a field research study to temporarily live capture leatherbacks at sea, take samples and build more knowledge of their physiology.

Strangely enough, once published last summer, that information has been used twice to save live stranded leatherbacks. Last September, another leatherback of the same size stranded in Truro but was near death. After spending 48 hours in treatment with the Aquarium, the turtle was equipped with a satellite tag, released and successfully migrated down the East Coast.

Learn more about the Aquarium rescue team's past interactions with endangered leatherback sea turtles:

See more video of Wednesday's rescue efforts via Cape Cod Online.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Take a spin with some local marine animals

A lovely carousel with local animal characters is now bobbing along on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The ride can be found just a few steps away from the Aquarium featuring animals found in the land, air and sea around Massachusetts—including a right whale and sea turtle. The animals were all sculpted by a local artist and is wowing riders of all ages. Learn more.

Photo: Samantha Laine via

Photo: Samantha Laine via

Each ride is $3. Weather permitting, the carousel is expected to be open every day until October 14, Columbus Day, then weekends through December 31.

See a gallery of pictures and happy riders of all ages on The Boston Herald featured a slideshow during the installation.

Top 10 Reasons to Visit in September

Fall is right around the corner. Beach towels are back on the shelves, the nights are cooling off and kids are heading back to school. But the excitement of summer is still sizzling here at the New England Aquarium. In fact, September is a great time to visit! The crowds of summertime tourists have thinned while the New Aquarium Experience remains in high gear.

Here are just a couple reasons to head to the New England Aquarium this month:

1. Talk to the divers—underwater! Check out the special presentations at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank. During these talks, divers feed live video from inside the tank to a pair of HD screens, where visitors can get a feel for what it's like to float among the fish on the newly construction Caribbean coral reef. You might have a chance to ask a diver a question!

Here's a look at these engaging interactions.

2. New faces There are more than 2,000 different animals in the Giant Ocean Tank right now, but divers are still adding new fish to the exhibit. Meet some of the newest arrivals, and learn how the dive team keeps them safe and comfy before their debut.

Divers let new fish acclimate to the big Caribbean reef. Learn more.

3. The always-popular shark and ray touch tank As the weather gets cooler, don't forget that it's always tropical in The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank! Roll up your sleeves and bathe your fingertips into the warm waters of a mangrove habitat, where smooth cownose rays glide under your hand and educators share fascinating facts about these animals.

Cownose rays are the stars of The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank
4. Penguins, penguins, penguins! The Aquarium is home to three species of penguins—rockhopper, African and little blue penguins. You can find more than 80 adult and juvenile penguins hopping around their rocky exhibit or rocketing through the water in this large exhibit. Follow the Penguin Blog to keep tabs on some of the youngest and fluffiest members of the penguin colony behind the scenes.

More than 80 penguins live at the New England Aquarium!

5. Jewel tanks in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center At the top of the Giant Ocean Tank  you'll find some brand new exhibits that offer intimate views on some small, shy or unusual animals. Take a closer look at the hidden side of a Caribbean reef! The dwarf seahorses are impossibly tiny, the vibrant frogfish walks about its exhibit and the garden eels bob and sway with the currents its exhibit in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center.

The frogfish walks about its exhibit, just one of the fascinating and unusual animals in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center.
6. Seals and sea lions in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center Watching some of the youngest fur seals and the frenetic sea lions splash about this open-air exhibit, you'll forget that it's cooling down outside. These energetic marine mammals are always up to something—whether they're playing, wrestling or learning new skills from their trainers.

7. Baby sharks Fast. Fascinating. Predators. These are often words that come to mind when talking about sharks. But adorable? Yup! Just one visit to the Shark Nursery in the Blue Planet Action Center and you'll be gushing over the cute shark pups born right here at the Aquarium.

8. Octopus playtime Octopus are clever cephalopods that thrive with mental stimulation. Our giant Pacific octopus is often challenged with food puzzles or given an opportunity to explore a new object for enrichment purposes. Seek out this eight-armed critter in the cold-water exhibits and see if she's stretching her brain cells!

9. Sea jellies are totally photogenic Maybe it's because they're so slow-moving. Maybe it's the dramatic lighting. Maybe it's because they look so unusual. Whatever the reason, jellies are always a popular subject for professional and amateur photographers alike. Point your camera at these brainless blobs and show us what you've got! Share pictures with us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and Instagram.

10. Because Myrtle

560 pounds of green sea turtle: It's hard to miss the queen of the Giant Ocean Tank.

Visiting the Aquarium is easy! Pick up a timed ticket online. You can even print out your ticket at home. You'll be in the door and checking off these top 10 reasons to visit in no time. Of course, members visit anytime they want.