Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Shark Carcass Spotted in Boston Harbor

Aquarium biologists and rescuers reported to Boston Harbor this morning to identify a large marine animal carcass floating near Black Falcon Cruise Terminal. The decaying animal turned out to be a 24-foot basking shark, a harmless plankton feeder that had been pushed into the harbor on the bow of a container ship more than two weeks ago.

Adam Kennedy and other members of the rescue team examine the shark carcass from a police boat.
Photo: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

Only a small portion was accessible at the surface with most of the body descending vertically into the Reserve Channel’s thirty-foot depth. While the animal was very decayed, it was easily identified by its size, the cartilaginous fins, and the array of gill rakers, which help the sharks filter plankton from the water. The biologists were unable to determine a cause of death. It's possible the animal was dead before it was struck by the ship.

File photo of a basking shark photographed on a New England Aquarium Whale Watch in 2014.

Knowing that the carcass was a shark and given its length, there was only one local shark species that it could be, not the great white, but the plankton feeding basking shark. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world and a frequent visitor to New England waters in the summer months. They migrate to this region in early April to feed on plankton. Passengers of New England Aquarium Whale Watches can sometimes see these sharks gliding along the surface of the water gulping the nutrient-rich water. Many times, their dorsal fin breaks the surface and causes a stir —shark! But here's a quick resource to help tell the difference between a harmless basking shark and their relatives the great white shark.

The submerged carcass was allowed to exit the Reserve Channel into the harbor where it will likely settle on the bottom shortly creating a feasting oasis for all kinds of marine animals.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Help Protect Seal Pups This Memorial Day Weekend

With summer-like weather having arrived, this Memorial Day weekend promises to bring massive crowds of people to the region’s beaches, but there will also be other much more quiet and vulnerable visitors on the sand as recently weaned harbor seal pups will naïvely come ashore to rest on busy beaches that have been largely empty during most of their brief lives.

One- to two-month-old recently-weaned harbor seal pups often haul out of the water 
to rest on a rocky shores, seaweed mats or gravelly beaches.

These incredibly beautiful young animals often draw a concerned and well-meaning crowd. But, ironically, close human presence will cause massive stress in these pups that badly need their rest and are struggling to survive. This first unofficial weekend of the summer, the New England Aquarium is asking for the public’s help in protecting these seals from unintended and unnecessary human harassment.

The number one rule is that people and their pets should stay 150 feet away from any seal. Adult seals are experienced enough to not haul out and rest in prominent public locations. However, the end of May holiday weekend coincides with when many harbor seal pups are weaned and cut loose by their mothers. Other later born pups that are still nursing are hidden on beaches while their mothers are off foraging. If people are around the youngster, the mother will not come ashore to retrieve it. These completely inexperienced and naïve juveniles might have used a particular beach as a resting or hiding spot over the past week only to find it transformed and invaded overnight by humans for this three day warm weather celebration. Come next Tuesday, that same resting spot will be a good choice for that pup, but the seal world has yet to get dialed into Microsoft or Google calendars!

These irresistibly cute pups need their space.

That is why we need the public’s aid in helping to protect these vulnerable seal pups as they learn the ropes. Maintaining a quiet, large perimeter around the seal pup is the top priority. Watching a seal pup from a safe distance is likely to be the highlight of anyone’s weekend. Explaining to other beach-goers what is going on is helpful. If there are lifeguards or other staff on the beach, notify them as they might be able to set up a do not cross line.

In this era of social media, if someone is taking a selfie or a picture of their kids near a seal on a beach, they are breaking the law and are potentially contributing to the demise of these magnificent creatures. Great selfies with seals are available 24/7 at no cost at the Aquarium’s raised harbor seal exhibit on its front plaza in downtown Boston.

Harbor seal pups need rest.

The overwhelming majority of seal pups on the beach are doing OK, if left alone. If the animal has obvious injury, signs of ill health, or a crowd of people who refuse to disperse, contact your local police department or animal control officer. They can then contact the marine animal rescue group in your region.

A last resort for marine animal rescue groups is to move the seal pup to a quieter location, but that exercise is also inherently stressful to the animal and not preferred. By later in the summer, most of these seal pups will know better. In the meantime, learning how to share the beach appropriately is a better option that will enrich the lives of both people and seal pups.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Celebrate World Oceans Day with the Aquarium!

World Oceans Day is a time to celebrate the efforts of our entire community in protecting the blue planet. The New England Aquarium is inviting the public to a family-friendly festival that showcases the conservation efforts of community groups and organizations.

Sunday, June 5
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Central Wharf, Boston
Enjoy hands-on, family-friendly activities, seafood cooking demos, tastings and more. And learn how you can help protect the oceans, too!

We hope that our visitors will be inspired by the variety of solutions already at work in our community and find new ways to join in.

Free and Open to the Public
The best part of World Oceans Day: All activities are free, open to the public and do not require Aquarium admission! NOTE: Aquarium admission is not included in the free activities.

Some of the fun activities include:

  • Polar Beverages will be here with a recycling activity. Visitors will have the opportunity to make a planter out of a recycled soda can—complete with soil and seed.
  • NOAA will offer a number of whale activities, focusing on Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Learn how to eat like whale, or try on the blubber glove to discover more about these charismatic megafauna.
  • W2O will be discussing/raising awareness about Cashes Ledge and Sea Mounts, and the importance of protecting these rare marine habitats.
  • Salem State University's Cat Cove Laboratory will be showcasing and discussing mussel aquaculture. Explore how these bivalves can provide good eats while also improving the water quality of our coastline.
  • USCG Auxiliary will host a number of water safety activities—just in time for summer boating and beach going!
  • Magic 106.7 will be blasting tunes and helping to promote Finding Dory, the newest in Disney's Finding Nemo series.
  • Charles River Watershed Association will be showcasing their "watershed in a box" activity. Every wonder where all that rain, those streams and rivers run to? Find out the power of soil filtration as watersheds are discussed

We hope to see you here on Central Wharf June 5!

Duck Tour Contest Details
Our Duck Tour giveaway on Instagram is over. We've reached out to the winners via Instagram. The lucky winners will roll out this Sunday, June 5, at 10:40 am, 11:00 am, and 11:20 am. These shortened tours will start and end at the Aquarium plaza, so they'll be poised to take part in the engaging and educational activities lined up for our Oceans Day festivities.

Thanks to everyone who participated, love seeing how many people love the oceans!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Penguin Chicks!

With spring, mothers across the animal world give life to new young, including penguin chicks at the New England Aquarium. Behind the scenes, four new little blue penguin chicks have emerged from their eggs. Little blue penguins are from Australia and are the smallest penguin species in the world. Visitors at the Aquarium often think that the adult little blues are baby penguins.

These two chicks are 27 days old, weigh 27 ounces and are grapefruit-sized bunches of grayish blue down. The unnamed chicks are siblings. Their mother is Carmac, a nine year old female who was also hatched here in Boston. She is an experienced mother as these are her fourth and fifth chicks. These chicks will remain behind the scenes with mom and dad for several more weeks, until they're big and strong enough to feed, swim, and preen on their own.

If you need another of penguin chicks, meet some of last year's bundles of fluff on the Penguin Blog.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there — whether their children are fluffy youngsters or have flown the coop.