Maritime-Aquarium-research-vessel-Oceanic

Students from John Hay High give one final cheer for the research vessel Oceanic after the boat's final study cruise for The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk on Oct. 29, 2014. After 34 years of environmental education on Long Island Sound, the Oceanic is being sold to a company that will use her for "lobstering tours" on Boston Harbor. The Aquarium's bigger, quieter, greener research vessel – the R/V Spirit of the Sound™ – begins operations in mid-December.

 

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Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

 

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After 34 years of being a sturdy worthy vessel for environmental education on Long Island Sound, the research vessel Oceanic will chug back into Norwalk harbor on Oct. 26 from its final public outing with The Maritime Aquarium.

You can join us. There’s limited space left aboard the R/V Oceanic for her final two Fall Foliage Study Cruises – at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27).

Maritime-Aquarium-Oceanic

The research vessel Oceanic, at work on Long Island Sound during one of The Maritime Aquarium's Marine Life Study Cruises.

After this weekend, the next cruises we offer will be in mid-December for the season’s initial Seal Spotting Cruises – and these outings put into service The Maritime Aquarium’s sleek new high-tech research vessel Spirit of the Sound.  This $2.7 million 63-foot catamaran will be the country’s only research vessel with hybrid-electric propulsion, making her bigger, quieter and greener than Oceanic, a 40-foot diesel-powered trawler.

So we will say thanks and goodbye to the Oceanic, which has been with us since the beginning.  Since before the beginning, really.

The Oceanic was designed by Robert L. Lowell in 1978 and her hull was manufactured by John Cousins at the Webbers Cove Boat Yard in East Blue Hill, Maine. Vessel construction took place at the Atlantic Boat Works in Booth Bay Harbor.

Beginning in 1980, the Oceanic Society – at the time, based in Stamford and led by Christopher du Pont Roosevelt – began using her to reveal the marine world of Long Island Sound to the paying public. Within just a few years, however, the Oceanic Society became one of the organizations to come together to plan and build an aquarium in Norwalk.  (And Roosevelt would be first president of our Board of Trustees.)

When we opened in July 1988, the Oceanic became the Aquarium’s. We’ve been taking families and school groups out onto Long Island Sound aboard her ever since; some 5,000 participants a year.

In our first few years, our study cruise season was from April to October. But by the early 1990s, as more and more seals began to enter the Sound for the winter, we added Seal Spotting Cruises, and the Oceanic gamely took on practically a year-round schedule.

Oceanic’s legacy at The Maritime Aquarium will be this: for many children – and not just those from underserved neighborhoods – a field trip to the Aquarium for a study cruise aboard the Oceanic was their first (and still only) opportunity to ever go out on a boat.

What’s next for Oceanic? Her future remains in environmental education. She is being sold to a company that operates “lobstering tours” in Boston Harbor.

The forecast for Oceanic’s final public weekend on Oct. 25-26 at The Maritime Aquarium looks lovely; two perfect fall days to be out on the water – and for us to show you what lives in the water.  Tickets are $22.95 (or $17.95 for Aquarium members).  You have to be 42 inches tall to come aboard. Reserve your spots by clicking here (or on “Buy Tickets” at the top right of this page) or by calling (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206.

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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Let’s say you’re a bottom-dwelling fish that prefers to eat animals that often hide in the sea floor; things like crabs, shrimp, worms and mollusks.

To find your prey, your options could be:

–  sit and wait for your hidden prey to move or rise on the sea floor and make itself more obvious.

–  randomly swallow up mouthfuls of the muddy or sandy bottom and hope you got something edible.  (Although often your result will just be a mouthful of sand. Yuck.)

A sea robin probes the bottom with its "feeler" rays – a specially adapted part of its pectoral fins.

–  poke around in the bottom to see what you can find.

Option No. 3 seems pretty good, right?  But, alas, what can a fish use to poke around in the sea floor?

Well, a number of species have adaptations that solve the problem.  Catfish, cod, carp, sturgeon, nurse sharks and some other species have whisker-like organs near their mouth called barbels. (There’s a fish called a barbel that has … surprise! … barbels too.)  Barbels have taste buds, allowing a fish to stick its barbels into the bottom to taste around for food without – and here’s the sweet part – having to get a mouthful of sand or mud.

(Let’s stop for a moment to imagine what life would be like if, say, our pinkie fingers had taste buds on them.  Barbels are something like that.)

Another common bottom-dwelling fish has a different adaptation for finding food. The sea robin (Prionotus carolinus) has large pectoral (or side) fins that can open out like a fan. But the first three rays of the pectoral fin are separate from the rest of the fin. The sea robin can use these independently moving rays like feelers, to poke around in the sea floor and flush out prey. These feeler rays don’t have taste buds, so they’re not barbels.

Sea robins also use their rays sometimes to “walk” along the bottom.

Maritime-Aquarium-study-cruise

Participants in a recent Maritime Aquarium Marine Life Study Cruise get a look at a sea robin from out of Long Island Sound.

Sea robins are common up and down the Atlantic coast, including here in Long Island Sound. Although they’re said to have a nice taste, most fishermen consider sea robins to be a nuisance fish, taking bait intended for more sought-after (and easier to filet) species.

Look for sea robins in The Maritime Aquarium’s “Sandy Bottom” exhibit and the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit (a.k.a. the big shark tank).  There’s also a great image of a sea robin on the display graphic as you enter the aquarium galleries via the balcony over the harbor seals.

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

 

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Valid question:  if The Maritime Aquarium’s mission is to let you discover and get close to the wonders of Long Island Sound … in hopes of inspiring you to become stewards of the Sound, through all of your actions, big and small … then why is there a BARRACUDA in one of the Aquarium’s exhibits?

Since when are there barracuda in Long Island Sound?!

Swimmers and divers, relax.  You don’t have to worry about barracuda when you dip your toes in the Sound.

barracuda-Maritime-Aquarium

A 4-foot barracuda has a new home in The Maritime Aquarium.

There is, however – yes – a barracuda in The Maritime Aquarium.

A 4-footer. It’s in the Sea Turtles Exhibit.

Why it’s here is a feel-good story about cooperation between aquariums. The barracuda came to us recently from New England Aquarium in Boston, which no longer had a place for it.  New England’s options were limited. Endanger the barracuda’s health (and other animals’ health) by over-populating a tank? Not good. Releasing the barracuda into Boston harbor? Clearly not an option. Reaching out to colleagues to find it a new home?  Hello, Maritime Aquarium.

This is hardly the first time The Maritime Aquarium has exchanged with, accepted from or distributed animals to other aquariums.  Our jellyfish-culturing operation is so good that we have shipped jellies to such facilities as the Georgia Aquarium, Tennesse Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and the Atlantis aquarium in the Bahamas.  Over the years, even larger animals like seals, sharks and sea turtles have come and gone.  These exchanges haven’t been limited to marine animals.  The meerkats on exhibit at The Maritime Aquarium came to us from the Hogle Zoo in Utah.

Our ability to communicate with, assist and be assisted by other aquariums has only increased since The Maritime Aquarium received prestigious accreditation last year by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).

And so we have a barracuda.

These fearsome-looking fish commonly unnerve snorklers and scuba divers, because of their pronounced underbite of fang-like teeth and because of their disconcerting habit of curiously hanging around you in the water.  They have a reputation – perhaps exaggerated – for being attracted by shiny objects (like rings and bracelets), which they mistake for the shiny scales of fish.  One confused bite can inflict a serious wound.

Barracuda grow to 5 to 6 feet long, and 30 pounds. Their elongated bodies are built for speed – reportedly as fast as 36 mph.

They live around the world in warmer waters. In the western Atlantic, barracuda range from about Bermuda all the way down to Brazil, including all of the Caribbean, Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico.

Historically, you wouldn’t find them in Long Island Sound. But the Sound is getting warmer, you know, so …

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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It’s happened to all of us. You’re at the beach, frolicking out in the waves, having fun, until you realize that … ugh … you need to pee.

Who hasn’t felt the urge and temptation?  You valiantly resist, but you also don’t want to slog back to the beach, towel off and trudge even farther over the hot sand to a restroom.  But then you step into one of those ocean cold spots and it’s all over. You have to go.

Do you?  is OK to pee in the ocean

The American Chemical Society got some recent attention for a YouTube post, declaring that – from a chemical standpoint, at least – it’s OK to pee in the ocean.

In the Society’s video, they point out that our average urine is more than 95 percent water.  The ocean has a higher concentration of sodium and chloride ions than our 1 or 2 grams per liter. Plus, our urine contains small amounts of nitrogen (which, when combined with ocean water, makes ammonium) and potassium – both of which feed ocean plant life.

All the urine that may end up in the ocean from beach-goers is vastly diluted, the ACS says, noting that the volume of the Atlantic Ocean is 350 quintillion liters. (That’s 350 with 18 zeros.)

Most compellingly, the ACS points out that every animal in the ocean pees in the ocean!  Their example: a fin whale releases 250 gallons of urine each day. (Considering that, perhaps the question is why anyone would want to swim in the ocean at all!)

The Society doesn’t mention the bacteria and alarming levels of pharmaceuticals that come out in a community’s collective urine. But, rightly so, it does stress that you shouldn’t pee anywhere near a coral reef or other protected area.  And definitely not in swimming pools.

dog peeing in oceanWhat about in Long Island Sound?  Historically, too much of what we flush has not been, er … flushed out of the Sound. Because of the closed nature of the Sound’s geography, the Sound’s western basin doesn’t receive a regular full tidal refreshing. Like Vegas, what goes in the Sound stays in the Sound. Municipalities have spent millions of dollars to upgrade their sewage-treatment plants to improve the Sound’s quality.

So would your peeing in the water off Calf Pasture Beach be a setback? Would the Sound’s oyster beds have to be closed for a day? No.  The ACS’s reasonings apply as well to Long Island Sound and its 18 trillion gallons of water. (That’s 18 with 12 zeros.)

Perhaps worth noting, however, is that peeing where someone can see you peeing can get you arrested for indecency and public urination.  So if you really must pee in the ocean, you had better be in the ocean with a swimsuit on.

What about in The Maritime Aquarium? Obviously, our resident marine animals release urine. We make sure their environments remain fresh and clean by using large filtration systems and/or by changing their water regularly.  And we do insist that visitors use the restrooms!

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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“You may be a bivalve. But you’re my valve.”   oyster

–  from David Ives’ “The Liar”

This a big weekend for one of The Maritime Aquarium’s founding organizations:  the Norwalk Seaport Association, as it hosts the 37th Annual Norwalk Oyster Festival Sept. 5, 6 & 7.

It’s only natural to be celebrating the oyster here in Norwalk. And there’s some history behind the idea of celebrating the oyster on the first weekend in September.

Our Oysters

Norwalk and the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) go way back. The city’s Oyster Shell Park, which extends up the pathway along the Norwalk River north of the Aquarium, was once the site of a native American oyster midden – a place where the local tribe piled up its empty oyster shells.

The waters of Long Island Sound just off of Norwalk are a perfect place for oysters, offering just the right temperatures, salinities, substrate and currents, plus a lack of severe storms. Oysters grow wild, but – even by the early 1700s – were being farmed as well. Oystering boomed through the 1800s, serving as a huge economic driver for Connecticut’s shoreline communities.

And these just weren’t any oysters. The oystermen were farming a particular variety with a deliciously distinct taste they called Bluepoints.  They could barely keep up with the demand.

WPA mural oyster shucking

A 1937 WPA mural of an oyster-shucking operation, displayed in The Maritime Aquarium.

(In The Maritime Aquarium at our Toy Boat-Making workshop, check out a 1937 Works Progress Administration – or WPA – mural of an oyster-shucking operation.)

Oystering in the Sound hit hard times in the early half of the 20th century (mainly from pollution) and in the late 1990s (from parasites).

But the industry is thriving again today, with two of Connecticut’s biggest companies based on either side of the Norwalk harbor.  Oyster connoisseurs still rank Bluepoints among the best in the world. The legendary Oyster Bar restaurant in Grand Central Station reportedly serves 1,000 Norwalk oysters a day – one-fourth of them Bluepoints.

Oysters in September

Historically, the rule was to only eat oysters in the months whose name contains the letter “r” – and thus to avoid eating them from May through August.  Oysters could spoil quickly in those warm/hot months. Plus, those are the months when oysters spawn and are less flavorful. Refrigeration solved the first problem. And the breeding of sterile oysters provides a firm and delicious selection through the summer season.

Still, the “r”-months guideline is part of our oystering legacy, when folks looked forward to turning the calendar to September and again enjoying these gifts of the sea. So it’s only perfect that the Oyster Festival is held on the first weekend of September.

Of course, you can see oyster shells year-round in The Maritime Aquarium – in the Intertidal Touch Tank and as the substrate in one of the salt marsh gallery displays.

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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Our calico lobster molted, and one of our aquarists was in the right place at the right time. She caught the entire thing on video!

Calico lobsters are extremely rare — about 1 in 30 to 50 million. They grow, but their exoskeleton does not. Once it becomes too large for its outer shell, it sheds it and reveals a softer shell underneath. It’s new exoskeleton hardens over time.

Sometimes, lobsters will even eat their molted shell. Read more about molting and see our blue lobster’s molted shell here.

Animals without shells molt, too. The seals have been molting since the beginning of summer. Maybe you’ve seen them looking a bit patchy while they’re hauled out on the rocks? That’s why!

The molt took more than 10 minutes from start to finish, but we’ve sped up the process for you a bit. Watch it wriggle free of its outer shell in the video below.

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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It’s the 27th annual “Shark Week” on cable’s Discovery Channel.  (You may have noticed that The Maritime Aquarium is the local sponsor of “Shark Week” on Cablevision!)

Although the original intent of “Shark Week” was to share helpful educational information about sharks, some of the programming seems to have slipped toward the over-hyped and dramatic and scary (and, in the case of Sunday night’s big kickoff, fictional and silly).

We’ll use the themed week to offer some not-so-terrorizing – and true – insights into the sharks living at The Maritime Aquarium.

Shark Fins

It’s a classic moment in “Jaws” or any Hollywood film in which a blood-thirsty shark is the antagonist:  a tall dorsal fin cuts through the water surface, closing quickly on the panicked doomed victim.

Scary and dramatic, but not factual.

Sharks usually don’t swim with their dorsal fin exposed. Here are a few reasons why:

•  They tend to not swim at the surface. Most sharks stay in the mid-water column or down below. That’s where their food is.  It’s safer for them down there too.

•  When they do attack prey at the surface, it’s usually in a surprise vertical attack from below, NOT a prolonged race in from the side. Exposing your dorsal fin would tip off your victim. (Think about interviews with people bitten by sharks. Rarely do they say they saw it coming.)

•  Sticking the dorsal fin out of the water means it can’t serve its important purpose. Sharks (and many other fish, and dolphins and porpoises too) use their dorsal fin for stability. It doesn’t do any good when it’s not in the water.

Oh, sure, there always are exceptions.  Sharks do occasionally come up to check things out at the surface. Basking sharks, the second-largest species, commonly hang at the surface to filter feed. And a shark’s dorsal fin will be exposed if the shark chases its prey into the shallows.

Maritime-Aquarium-shark-fin

A sand tiger shark swims with its dorsal fin above the water, a view available to Maritime Aquarium visitors when they sign up to join a "Behind-the-Scenes Tour." There's one Aug. 16.

Here are other exceptions: the sand tiger sharks in The Maritime Aquarium’s “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit. Frequently, one of the sand tigers will be swimming at the surface, exposing its dorsal fin. Two likely reasons: 1) the sharks are fed at the surface, from above; and 2) it’s easier to swim there, above the obstacles – the rockwork, kelp and other animals – in the exhibit.

See this for yourself by joining in a “Behind-the-Scenes Tour,” offered at 8:15 a.m. this Saturday – and the third Saturday of every month.   Participants go above the shark tank, and also visit the “fish kitchen” and other locations, as they learn how the Aquarium’s animal-husbandry staff meets the various needs of our marine animals.

One more thing about shark fins:  millions of sharks die each year from shark finning to meet the demand for shark-fin soup, an Asian “delicacy.” Sharks are caught, have their fins cut off and are thrown back into the sea to sink and die a slow, ugly death. We encourage you to support the organizations actively working to stop this barbaric and unsustainable practice.

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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It’s the 27th annual “Shark Week” on cable’s Discovery Channel.  (You may have noticed that The Maritime Aquarium is the local sponsor of “Shark Week” on Cablevision!)

Although the original intent of “Shark Week” was to share helpful educational information about sharks, some of the programming seems to have slipped toward the over-hyped and dramatic and scary (and, in the case of Sunday night’s big kickoff, fictional and silly).

We’ll use the themed week to offer some not-so-terrorizing – and true – insights into the sharks living at The Maritime Aquarium.

The Big Shark Misconception

Here’s one of the most common comments from visitors when they get close to the sharks in The Maritime Aquarium’s “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit: “Boy, imagine being in there with them!”

Clearly, from the fear and awe and wonder in their tone, they believe that being in the exhibit would be a death sentence; that the sand tiger sharks and lemon shark would tear them apart.

To prove them wrong and dispel that myth, we regularly drop divers in with the sharks. Six times each week, in fact … at 12:15 & 2:15 p.m. most Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Maritime-Aquarium-shark-and-diver

A sand tiger shark circles around a member of The Maritime Aquarium's volunteer dive team in our "Ocean Beyond the Sound" exhibit.

The divers always climb out with all their limbs and fingers and toes.

Despite what you may have seen on “Shark Week,” sharks are not the blood-thirsty man-eating creatures of myth. Of the 400-some shark species, only about 10 account for the majority of attacks on people.

We are much more dangerous to sharks. Worldwide, we kill millions of sharks each year, to the point that many species’ populations have been reduced by more than 90 percent. Removing so many “apex” predators will have a serious ripple effect on the ocean environment for years and years.

That’s the message you’ll hear from our volunteer divers, who are wired to be able to speak with you from inside the 110,00-gallon “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit.  They’ll tell you all about the sand tiger sharks, which – at generally 7 to 9 feet long – are the largest of the shark species native to Long Island Sound. (The last shark attack in the Sound, by the way, was in 1961.)

Our seven sand tiger sharks display little interest in the Aquarium’s volunteer divers. Still, the divers are wisely cautious and respectful. If a shark gets a little too close, the divers may use T-shaped “tickle sticks” to nudge it away.

Visit The Maritime Aquarium on one of our shark-dive days. What questions will you ask the divers?

 

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