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 …

 

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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.

 

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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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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 Respiration

Did you believe that all sharks must keep swimming to survive? To move water across their gills to breathe?

Not true.

The Maritime Aquarium is all about letting you get close to our animals, sharks included. We currently have seven species of sharks on display. When you visit, odds are good that the sharks of only one of the seven species will be swimming.

The sharks of the other six species probably will be … not swimming. Resting on the bottom.

For The Maritime Aquarium’s “Shark & Ray Touch Pool,” we favor species of sharks that are less active, to offer you a better chance of getting a feel for them – literally. The nurse sharks, epaulette sharks, brown-banded bamboo sharks and coral catshark are all species that prefer to hang out on the bottom. This makes it easier for you to run two fingers down their backs – a fun, learning opportunity. (The chain catsharks in an exhibit nearby are similarly inactive.)

lemon-shark-Maritime-Aquarium

The Maritime Aquarium's lemon shark, at rest in the "Ocean Beyond the Sound" exhibit.

Surprised?

Certainly, a number of species of sharks swim pretty much 24/7.  Sometimes – like with great whites, makos and whale sharks – they have to swim to breathe. (It’s called obligate ram ventilation.) As they move, water flows into their open mouths and over their gills.

But there other reasons for sharks to just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Sharks – including the big sand tiger sharks that dominate The Maritime Aquarium’s “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit – sink if they stop swimming! And, on very rare occasions, for whatever reason, our sand tigers do. They’ll spend a brief time on the bottom and then resume swimming.

(Why do they sink if they stop swimming? Sharks lack swim bladders. Water moving over their pectoral – or side – fins provides lift in the same way that wings on an airplane provide lift. No water movement, no lift.)

Over the years, we’ve learned that most sharks can alternate between swimming to breathe (ram ventilation) and sucking water into their mouth and over their gills (buccal pumping).  Obviously, if you can breathe without swimming, your energy requirements – and thus your need to hunt for food – are lower.

Besides our sand tiger sharks, a 7-foot lemon shark also lives in the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit. She spends the majority of her time on the bottom.

And the sharks in our “Shark & Ray Touch Pool” are generally at rest too.  Being on the bottom works out just fine for these species because that’s where they tend to find their prey: animals that also live on – or bury into – the sea floor. Plus, many of these shark species don’t get very big, so staying low will prevent them from being preyed upon by bigger fish, including larger species of sharks, higher in the water column.

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.  (The Maritime Aquarium is 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 overhyped 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 Teeth

Shark jaws are equipped with rows and rows of teeth. If a tooth is lost, the tooth behind it rotates forward. Actually, we should say “When a tooth is lost …,” not “if.”   Sharks commonly lose teeth.

We humans get only two chances with our teeth: our “baby” teeth and then our adult teeth.  Lose one of your adult teeth and you’re in for some cosmetic dental work because ain’t nothin’ going to replace it otherwise.

Maritime Aquarium shark jaw

Visible in the bottom jaw of this shark jaw are rows of replacement teeth.

Sharks, however, have adapted over the millions of years to have a lifetime supply.  We’ve seen one estimate of up to 30,000 teeth. This conveyor belt of teeth ensures that a shark always has a fresh and effective bite.

Note that we didn’t say that this adaptation ensures that a shark always has a sharp bite. There are some 400 species of sharks and not all of them have the serrated triangular teeth of a great white or the thin jagged teeth of sand tiger sharks. Some species, like dogfish sharks (a common local species), have flatter teeth that look more like molars – perfect for crushing their preferred prey of crabs and lobsters.

Sand tiger sharks are Long Island Sound’s biggest native species. The sand tiger sharks that live in The Maritime Aquarium live a pretty comfortable life and don’t have the dental challenge of meals flailing and struggling in their mouths. But even they regularly lose teeth. It’s how their jaws are naturally programmed.

The Maritime Aquarium’s volunteer dive team goes in with the sharks on most Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  You may see them at the end of their dives, down at the bottom of the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit, picking things up.  They’re collecting souvenir teeth.

Maritime Aquarium shark teeth

A diver holds teeth of The Maritime Aquarium's sand tiger sharks, found in the "Ocean Beyond the Sound

(Speaking of shark teeth, a shark’s entire body is covered in teeth of sorts called dermal denticles. Shark teeth and shark dermal denticles are believed to have the same evolutionary origin. Come feel shark skin when you touch live sharks at The Maritime Aquarium’s Shark & Ray Touch Pool.)

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Join us all week for National Zookeeper Appreciation Week! We’ll introduce you to a new animal care staff member everyday.

Meet Animal Trainer Vicki Sawyer
Meet Aquarist Sandi Schaefer
Meet Jelly Culturist Rachel Stein
Meet Aquarist Ryan Dumas

Meet Animal Trainer Ellen Riker
Meet Aquarist Evelia Atanacio
Meet Aquarium Supervisor Kerry Dobson

Meet Aquarist Maxine Montello
Meet Aquarist Jessica Mason 

Today, meet aquarist Sarah Penfold!

What led you to choose a career working with animals?

Ever since I was a young child I was always fascinated with animals whether it was going to the zoo/ aquarium, the pet store, or even just watching documentaries on TV. My dream has always been to work at a zoo or aquarium because I love being around animals and seeing all of the different characteristics each possess and learning what it takes to keep them happy and alive.

 

What is a typical day at the Aquarium like?

A normal day consists of performing maintenance in each section whether its cleaning algae off a tank or doing a water change. After maintenance is usually feeding time for all of the different exhibits and looking at the health and behaviors of the animals to ensure they are doing well. Medications are administered if needed and enrichments are created which is always something fun for you and the animal.

 

What’s your favorite exhibit at the Aquarium? Favorite animal?

My favorite exhibit currently would be the meerkats because there is something different every day. Depending what is used as an enrichment its entertaining to watch them figure out how  to find the insects or observe them rummaging around their newly raked home. In the Aquarium I would say the meerkats are my favorite because each one has their own personality and you get to know how each react to certain things. They frequently make me “laugh out loud” when watching them whether behind the scenes or while they are out on exhibit.

 

Do you have a favorite memory working with an animal or exhibit?

One of my favorite moments was actually when I was an intern. After enriching the octopus with a Mr. Potato Head doll filled with herring, she looked in my direction and was grasping its arm and held it up to me as if to say “Hello, yes I found the herring thank you!” Overall every time the octopus was enriched it was a memorable time watching her figure out how to get what was placed inside.

 

If you could work with any animal, what would it be?

Without a doubt I would have to say elephants. I would love to someday be able to experience what it is like to take care of them and learn how to keep them happy and healthy. It would also be pretty cool to ride on one and get hit in the face with water from its trunk.

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more looks behind the scenes! 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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Join us all week for National Zookeeper Appreciation Week! We’ll introduce you to a new animal care staff member everyday.

Meet Animal Trainer Vicki Sawyer
Meet Aquarist Sandi Schaefer
Meet Jelly Culturist Rachel Stein
Meet Aquarist Ryan Dumas

Meet Animal Trainer Ellen Riker
Meet Aquarist Evelia Atanacio
Meet Aquarium Supervisor Kerry Dobson

Meet Aquarist Maxine Montello

Today, meet aquarist Jessica Mason!

What led you to choose a career working with animals?

I have always loved animals and have been intrigued with marine biology.  I went to school for molecular biology so I wanted to try something that I can apply my knowledge to within bigger ecological themes rather than just focusing on the small stuff.

 

What is a typical day at the Aquarium like?

On a typical day I can expect to feed multiple tanks and do routine maintenance like water changes or algae cleaning.

 

What’s your favorite exhibit at the Aquarium? Favorite animal?

My favorite exhibit is the salt marsh gallery.  Watching the animals grow is always exciting, and the sea horses are pretty cute too!  My favorite animal at the aquarium is the octopus.  She’s a smart cephalopod, so giving her enrichments is very fun.

 

Do you have a funny memory working with an animal or exhibit?

I was recently trying to get a bass from a small opening in the deck of the outside tank which also holds a few sand tiger sharks.  One of the sharks decided to check out my hands and grazed it.  It didn’t bite me, but I got out of that hatch rather quickly!

 

If you could work with any animal, what would it be?

If I could work with any animal I’d choose lions.

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