Wednesday, December 30, 2015

50 Endangered Turtles Fly South

The first slushy mess of a winter storm on Tuesday delayed the flight of fifty endangered sea turtles from the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, MA, to a turtle rehab facility in Florida. The recovering Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, like so many wannabe tropical vacation-bound New Englanders, found their dreams of a warm get-away delayed and then cruelly postponed by the injustice of another winter storm!

A Kemp's ridley turtle in recovery at the Aquarium's Animal Care Center

The three- to ten-pound, black-shelled, juvenile sea turtles recovering from hypothermia and other associated medical conditions appeared dejected, but kept their padded, shipping crates packed for another try Wednesday. Because of further weather delays, the journey began at Hanscomb Airport in Bedford, MA. The turtles' five hour flight to Panama City, Florida, will eventually bring them to Gulf World, a marine park that has been a crucial partner with the New England Aquarium in finishing the rehab of a large number of cold-stunned sea turtles over the past two record-setting years.

Rescuers prepare turtles for transport
(Photo via Karen Twomey via Twitter @KarenWBZRadio)

The flight has been arranged by NOAA  and  will be operated by PlaneSense, a private aviation company located in Portsmouth, N.H.  They have also donated part of the cost of the trip. The remaining cost has been covered by a generous, anonymous benefactor from New York.

Boxing up turtles for transport to warmer climes
(Photo via Karen Twomey via Twitter @KarenWBZRadio)

This autumn’s sea turtle stranding season is the second largest in the quarter century partnership between the New England Aquarium and the Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

To date, 287 sea turtles that have washed up on the beaches of Cape Cod Bay have been admitted to the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital since early November. That number is three times the recent average of about 90 treated each November and December (but pales in comparison to last year’s bizarre record-smashing total of 733).

In any case, the Aquarium’s hospital is over capacity necessitating the transfer of rewarmed and medically stable turtles to other rehab facilities in the South and along the East Coast. In a normal weather year, the sea turtle stranding season would already be over as they rarely survive the normally seasonable water temperatures in the low 40’s, but Cape Cod Bay has been exceptionally warm for most of December with water temperatures in the high 40’s.

The loggerhead rescued by volunteers at Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay
(Photo via Mass Audubon's Facebook page

The last surviving turtles of the season are almost always large, adolescent loggerhead sea turtles weighing 25 to 75 pounds. So far this season, only one has been admitted leaving the truly strange prospect of tropical sea turtles stranding in New England well into January.

2015: A Year In Review

It's that time of the year when we reflect on the 12 months that just passed. The year brought much to be excited about: new exhibits, animal arrivals, animal rescues, special recognitions and productive research.

A young visitor gives sea turtle feeding a try with our replica reptiles 

One of the most exciting additions to the Aquarium is the creation of the Sea Turtle Hospital exhibit. With interactive sea turtle replicas, informative videos and engaging displays, it brings the important work of our real-life animal rescuers to visitors on Central Wharf. This immersive sea turtle rescue experience was especially noteworthy debuting after our record-breaking sea turtle rescue season.

Examining coral in the Phoenix Islands Protected area

On the other side of the planet, Aquarium researchers plunged into the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) during an epic El NiƱo year. Scientists conducted long-planned research and surveys while also looking for signs of coral bleaching amid warming ocean temperatures. The 2015 expedition was documented through many different voices on the PIPA Blog.

Commander, large and in charge

We also welcomed a new arrival—a hulking, hairy new arrival. Commander the adult male fur seal joined fellow fur seals Ursula, Kitovi, Chiidax and the rowdy sea lions Zoe and Sierra. Look for him in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. The big fella is hard to miss!

ClimaTeens present at an Earth Day gathering with Sen. Ed Markey,
EPA Chief Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Energy Ernie  Moniz

In the special recognition department, the Aquarium received a Greenovate Boston Award in community leadership for our climate change education efforts, both locally and nationally. One of the projects that was recognized is the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI). We head up a group of eight partners and 100 participating organizations in 30 states with the goal of influencing climate change education at science centers around the country. In addition, our new ClimaTeens group helps local young people develop the skills to communicate effectively about climate change in their communities.

A young Kemp's ridley in recovery in the Animal Care Center in Quincy

Aquarium rescuers are in the midst of another busy sea turtle stranding season—already the second largest in our record books with more than 280 turtles. This year is shaping up to be quite unusual given the warm temperatures and large numbers of turtles still washing up this late in the year. It remains to be seen how many turtles we will treat this year, but our rescuers won't stop until the last turtle is released back into the ocean months from now. We're saving a species, after all!

Researcher Emily Jones does a visual inspection of a recently-hooked fish before its release. 

On the research front, the discard mortality work of John Mandelman, PhD, recently made some news. His team of researchers has been collaborating with recreational fishermen to examine how many codfish actually survive when they are caught and returned to the water. The Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) population in the Gulf of Maine is currently struggling to recover from historic lows and Mandelman's research will help set targets that are grounded in science. Future studies will focus on other fish frequently caught by recreational fishermen: haddock and cusk.

A young visitor immersed in the action of flooded Amazon exhibit

In 2015, Aquarium programs continue to span the blue planet and the Aquarium community is united in our quest to explore, share, learn and inspire. We engage families on Central Wharf with important conservation stories and intimate moments spent with amazing aquatic animals. We work with young people here and in communities across the country to spark constructive conversations about climate change. We have scientists on the water around the world exploring and studying issues from ecosystem change to human impacts to endangered species survival. We are working diligently to give many of those endangered species a fighting chance. Yup, 2015 was a good year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Superlatives: See Who's Most Popular

Who doesn't love a solid best-of list? Our list includes some of the most popular posts on our blogs and social platforms. Turns out our followers are big fans of ocean animals, too.

Facebook Posts (farthest reach)
So incredibly flamboyant! Watch the video on Facebook
  • Earlier this year we launched a gigantic new IMAX film featuring some of the planet's most gigantic animals. Of course the post had to be gigantic! Our post announcing Humpback Whales 3D turned out to be the year's most popular.
  • Another video post followed closely behind, not surprisingly, because flamboyant cuttlefish are entirely hypnotizing! The clip reached nearly a quarter million people.

Instagram Love (most likes)
Our most popular post on Instagram
UPDATE: As of this week, we have a new most-popular post on Instagram! Must have been the sharks in this picture.
Most Popular Blogs (most pageviews)
2015's most popular blog: A tragically entangled Snowball
  • This year's most popular blog by far brought to light the threats facing North Atlantic right whales today. A tragic end to a favorite whale shares the story of a well-known right whale named Snowball who likely died, after being last seen with a severe entanglement in fishing line.
  • Commander in command introduces the newest fur seal to our colony: Commander! He arrived earlier this year after a cross-country trek via FedEx. 
  • In August we celebrated Wharf Festival with our whale watch partners at Boston Harbor Cruises. It was a popular event and so, of course, the blog detailing the activities and contest involved was incredibly popular, too.

Super Tweets (most impressions)
Because your Twitter followers need to know
about penguins knees
  • The ever-popular fun fact about penguin knees returns as our most popular tweet of 2015: And here's your ultimate #funfact in honor of #PenguinAwarenessDay: Yes, #penguins have knees .
  • An arresting picture from our whale watch was another popular tweet in our twittersphere: Wait, who is watching who on this #whalewatch?

YouTube Winners (most views)
Rare whale caught on camera!
  • Myrtle the green sea turtle, our most famous resident, lent her star power to the Aquarium's summer ad campaign with a series of TV commercials where she plays Agent Myrtle. This one was the most watched.

Connect with us through our social media so you can be among the first to see juicy posts like these. We are always sharing pictures, video and links—some posts are funny, some are sobering, some have tips for visitors, some have cute animal pictures that will stop you mid-scroll and some can transport you around our blue planet with information about our research, exploration and conservation updates.

Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr
Instagram, Google + and YouTube.

The Ice Queen

We often refer to Myrtle the green sea turtle as the queen of the Giant Ocean Tank. After all, she's lived there the longest of any resident, she's definitely the most imposing at 560 pounds and she has a big personality.

This year, the queen has a temporary place of honor on our front plaza as Boston's first ice sculpture of the holiday season!

Putting the finishing touches on the ice queen—Myrtle the turtle

It took a team of sculptors to create Myrtle in her element
Don Chapelle, one of the principle First Night ice sculptors for many years, set about the frosty task of creating this likeness of the Aquarium's most well-known animal. The activity drew quite a crowd on our Front Plaza.

Visitors got front row seats to see the ice sculpting.
Fortunately, the cold weather arrived just in time for this wintry public art to last a little longer. The Myrtle ice sculpture will remain up throughout the vacation week.

The finished work will be up all week! 

Come see Myrtle the ice queen at the Aquarium during school vacation! Here are our top five tips for a fantastic visit.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Volunteer of the Month: December

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 Volunteer of the Month.

For the month of December we are pleased to award Tammy Tauscher with the recognition of Volunteer of the Month! Tammy has been a dedicated volunteer in the Giant Ocean Tank since 2012, and in that time has donated over 1,000 hours of service to the aquarium. Tammy has continually gone above and beyond to help the Aquarium when needed, and for that we are extremely grateful!

Tammy Tauscher, December's volunteer of the month

Here is what her Giant Ocean Tank supervisor Chris Bauernfeind had to say:

Tammy feeding fish in the Giant Ocean Tank
Tammy is the core of our Wednesday volunteer team. Week after week after week for three years now, she shows up early in the morning and gets the ball rolling with food preparation for the GOT critters. 
Throughout the day, she constantly stays busy, looking for things to do during down time. And she does it all with a vibe of positivity and cheerfulness and humor… even on days when we have to move two pallets of frozen seafood into our freezer. Though she does take the award for clumsiest volunteer (self-acknowledged), I wouldn’t trade her for anybody! 
Please join us in congratulating Tammy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Aquarium Research: What happens to fish after catch and release?

What happens when recreational fishermen have to throw back some of their catch to comply with fishing regulations? Do these discarded fish live to see another day? Can they overcome stress and injury from capture and survive once released? And, what does that mean for the overall population of haddock, cusk and cod?

Researcher Emily Jones examines a fish's condition before returning
it to the ocean. The acoustic tags can be seen on its side.

To better understand these questions, researchers from the New England Aquarium, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology and University of New England have recently received more than $700,000 in research funding to dig deeper. They are in the midst of a string of studies that use acoustic tags to track the fate of discarded fish in the days and weeks after they are released. Eastman’s Docks Fishing Fleet in Seabrook, N.H., and Yankee Fleet Deep Sea Fishing in Gloucester, MA, are the primary fishing operations assisting the research teams with field studies.

Researchers on a chartered fishing boat catching fish for haddock study

Recreational rod-and-reel fisheries are responsible for a growing proportion of the total catch of Atlantic cod and haddock, which are economically and ecologically important ground fish species in the Gulf of Maine. But, very few know how these fish fare when they are discarded alive due to minimum size requirements, daily possession “bag” limits for individual anglers and current bans on harvesting cod by recreational anglers.

Past work funded by NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program (BREP) focused on cod, while newly acquired grants from the New England Fisheries Management Council and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Saltonstall-Kennedy (SK) Program are enabling work on increasingly important species like haddock and cusk. Collectively, this support will allow continued work gauging the collateral impacts of recreational fisheries and strategies to increase survival of discarded ground fish in the Gulf of Maine.

Mandelman hooks a fish during a day in the field last summer

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to have the best data possible for stock assessments, fishing regulations, and other management processes,” said John Mandelman, Ph.D., the New England Aquarium’s Director of Research and Co-Principal Investigator on these grants.

“Given that the ability to retain catch hinges on the recovery and stability of ground fish stocks, we hope the angling community will be receptive to the outreach stemming from these studies, and that our findings contribute to much larger picture of restoring the health of ground fish stocks in the Gulf of Maine,” Dr. Mandelman said. “We also hope this cooperative research with industry shows recreational fishing fleets, groups and private anglers that research is being done on their behalf.”

The two main goals of these studies are to (1) better understand the mortality rates of these species; and (2) generate best fishing and catch handling guidelines that can be used by conservation-minded anglers to increase the survival of discarded fish. For example, Mandelman said the team can learn a lot by looking at injury and survival relative to how the fish are caught, such as the fishing tackle types used, how long a fish is fought, how long it takes to unhook it and environmental influences such as seawater temperature.

A haddock is examined before it is put back in the ocean.

Adding to the increased need for more research is that with strict past limits and now the present ban on retaining cod in the reactional fishery, haddock are increasingly more important to anglers and recreational fishing operations. Haddock caught in the recreational fishery have accounted up 86 percent of the total haddock catch across fisheries, despite the typical assumption that commercial fishing is responsible for the most haddock catch. Moreover, in 2013 nearly twice the amount of haddock caught were discarded as were kept, so understanding whether they survive after release is vitally important.

By generating data under authentic conditions, the team hopes to provide their findings to fisheries managers to aid management processes, such as stock assessments and the determination of size and possession limits for recreational fisherman. Management is already accounting for results. For example, cod discard mortality estimates from this work have been used in the cod stock assessment updates and to establish 2015 haddock possession limits, which were adjusted from two to three fish per angler per day according to lower than previously held mortality rates found for cod (which are sometimes caught in the same habitats).

Dr. Mandelman's research has been covered in recent news reports. Read them here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Seal training face off with Patriot and 7 News anchor

Several weeks ago, before the injuries started stacking up against the Patriots, star running back Dion Lewis came to the Aquarium to engage in a friendly challenge with new Channel 7 news anchor Jadiann Thompson. Coached by marine mammal trainers Belinda Brackett and Jamie Mathison, the two spent more than an hour learning the ins and outs of working with sea lions and fur seals.

Dion Lewis works with Ursula the fur seal.
7 News anchor Jadianne Thompson and trainer Belinda Bracket looks on.

The lesson was part of a segment that aired on 7 News morning show called "Who Did It Better?" Take a look! Who do you think did it better?

7News Boston WHDH-TV