By Dave Sigworth, publicist of The Maritime Aquarium

You might think that, after studying a species for 26-some years, in one remote corner of the planet, you might become somewhat coldly scientific about the creatures.

That you might start to see them merely as … work.

But not Dr. Patricia Wright, a biologist, lemur conservationist and the featured scientist in the new IMAX movie “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar.” In her presentation at The Maritime Aquarium on April 17, it was clear that she remains as passionate about primates today as she was when she first laid eyes on an owl monkey in the late 1960s. (… in a pet store across the street from the Fillmore East, waiting for that evening’s Jimi Hendrix concert! That was just one of many fun anecdotes in her life story.)

Patricia Wright with some of her beloved lemurs.

Several times during her slide presentation in the IMAX Theater, she would nearly gush about the lemur image on the giant screen. Like: “Oh my god, look at that. I just love them.”

Wright is not just some leftover flower-power child who wants to cuddle cute monkeys, though. She’s a force for change on the island-nation of Madagascar. Early in her career, when Wright learned that timber exploiters were on their way to logging a species of lemurs’ rain-forest habitat out of existence, she spent months trekking to define boundaries and securing funding to develop Ranomafana National Park (RNP).

“I didn’t know how to make a national park,” she said. “But I do now. First you walk around to all the villages and talk to the people. … The only way to do conservation is with the villagers.”

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, RNP encompasses the home of 12 lemur species, some of which are listed among the world’s most endangered animals.

Over the last 20 years, public awareness of Madagascar’s ecosystem has flourished through Dr. Wright’s research and outreach efforts. Her long-term relationship with the local communities in Madagascar has catalyzed economic opportunities around the park. Tourist visits to the park increased from zero to more than 30,000 in 2010, and half the park entrance fees have always been returned to the villages for conservation projects.

Recently, she spearheaded the creation of Centre ValBio, a huge preserve that is a modern hub for multidisciplinary research, training and public awareness, the first in Madagascar. (Because of its remote location and lack of heavy machinery, she said, the entire facility was built by hand.)

The professor of biological anthropology at Stony Brook University generally spends about half the year in Madagascar. Her current role as the star scientist in the IMAX movie adds unique new commitments to her time. But those include such treats as walking the red carpet with Morgan Freeman – the film’s narrator – at its premiere.

Still, she’s most happy talking about lemurs.

“Lemurs are like … zen,” she said. “Monkeys are frenetic. Apes are devious.”

If you missed her presentation, you can see her in “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” daily at The Maritime Aquarium, at 11 a.m. and 1, 3 & 4 p.m.

Two events remain in the Aquarium’s 2013-14 lecture series:
• Zookeeper/ TV host Jack Hanna for two shows on Tues., May 7.
• and Weston, CT, author Richard Hyman, who will talk about his expeditions aboard Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso, on Mon., June 23.

Who’s up next? Check back with our blog or sign up for updates straight to your inbox! 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, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and Tumblr.

 

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Meet our newest group of volunteers!

This is National Volunteer Week, a perfect time to acknowledge and thank the dedicated volunteers of The Maritime Aquarium.

When you visit the Aquarium, you complete your ticket transaction with a cashier, who is a paid employee. But, after that, chances are good that every person you will talk to in the Aquarium is a volunteer. They’re the knowledgeable friendly folks wearing the green shirts.

We have 280 active volunteers, who contribute some 25,000 hours to the Aquarium each year. Several have been volunteering here for nearly all 25+ years that we have existed. Some have given more than 8,000 hours of their time.

Our volunteers are stationed at the Intertidal Touch Tank, the Shark & Ray Touch Pool, the seal exhibit, “Jiggle A Jelly,” the Information Booth and other spots. They’re the ones who help you safely touch a horseshoe crab, shark or jellyfish; who help you identify which seal is which; who tell you how to get to the IMAX Theater or “Meerkats.” Continue reading

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Dr. Martin Nweeia (Photo by National Geographic)

“We are all here today to talk about a tooth,” Dr. Martin Nweeia, a dentist from Sharon, Conn., said to a captive audience at The Maritime Aquarium Monday night.

For more than an hour, he spun tales of his encounters with “the unicorn of the sea”: the mysterious and rarely seen narwhal.

As a dentist by trade, Nweeia’s side job is one most patients would least expect. When he’s not drilling or cleaning, he spends months at a time on research missions in the Arctic; to the point that he has become one of the world’s leading experts on narwhals. Continue reading

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Bell, a North American river otter, passed away on Sunday at age 19.

We’re sad to announce that over the weekend, Bell, one of the two North American river otters at The Maritime Aquarium passed away over the weekend.

On Sunday she was taken to the vet where she was anesthetized and x-rayed.  The x-rays showed that her lungs contained a significant amount of fluid and were severely compromised.  That afternoon she had extreme difficulty breathing and succumbed to her condition.

Bell, who came to the Aquarium in 1996 when she was 15 months old, was 19. She was named after one of the Norwalk islands.

“We’re always saddened by the death of any animal at the Aquarium, but losing an otter – an animal that is so charismatic – is especially like having a star go out,” said John Lenzycki, curator of animals. “Caring for these animals every day, our aquarists develop attachments to them, similar to one’s feelings for a family pet. Continue reading

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By Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

Spring has to come eventually. (EVENTUALLY, RIGHT?) And, when it does, one of nature’s seasonal creations will play its vital ecological role again in our woods.

We’re talking of course about … big puddles.

Well, they’re really called vernal pools, but essentially they’re big puddles of standing water in the woods; puddles sometimes big enough to be pond-sized.

Vernal means “spring.”  Vernal pools are low areas in the woods where snow melt and spring rainwater collect in a big puddle.  The vernal pool isn’t fed by a stream or creek. Nor does water flow out of the pool.

There are two other things that define vernal pools that are important:

vernal pool - wet

A local vernal pool.

•  Because they’re not connected to any other body of water – in or out – they don’t have fish in them.

•  And, because it’s spring and not too hot yet, vernal pools won’t evaporate for many weeks.

Those two characteristics may not seem important to you, but they make vernal pools VERY appealing to animals that need to lay their eggs in water – our native frogs, toads, salamanders and newts.  These creatures’ eggs don’t have a hard shell like a chicken’s. Their eggs are gooey and gelatinous, and would dry out if laid on land.

vernal pool - dry

The same spot in summer, after the vernal pool has dried up.

These amphibians’ newly hatched young – think: tadpoles – need to be in water as well. There are things to eat in the vernal pool, like plant matter, fairy shrimp (a subject worthy of a whole other blog some day) and other tiny invertebrates. Leaf litter in the pool conveniently provides hiding places.

And, in one of those cool relationship things we often find in nature, vernal pools eventually dry up in late spring or early summer, right about the same time that the amphibians have grown up and are ready for life in the woods.

It doesn’t always work perfectly. A dry winter or a hot spring can mean the vernal pool doesn’t form at all or dries up too soon. And, although they lack fish, vernal pools don’t offer absolute safety for baby amphibians. Turtles, raccoons, birds and other animals can raid a pool for easy meals.

But the system generally works well enough to sustain the amphibian populations in our woods – populations that are struggling otherwise because of habitat loss and pollution. These amphibians are important creatures that eat a lot of the bugs that bug us. Species that are particularly reliant on vernal pools include wood frogs, fairy shrimp and three species of salamanders: blue-spotted, marbled and Jefferson. Thus, to help save the amphibians, state and local laws stringently protect vernal pools.

Some warm spring evening, if it has rained, watch for frogs and other creatures to be on the move, crossing roads. They’re heading to water – perhaps to a vernal pool – to lay their eggs.

And of course you can always find a fascinating collection of frogs, toads and salamanders in The Maritime Aquarium’s “Frogs!” exhibit.

 

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Happy first day of spring! In true Buzzfeed style, we’re counting down six animals from around The Maritime Aquarium who are SO over winter and ready to catch a bout of spring fever.

1. Suzie, all ready to start soaking up some sun.

Harbor seal and professional bask-er. Continue reading

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Harbor seals hauled out on the rocks in Long Island Sound.

St. Patrick’s Day and seals aren’t a pairing that immediately comes to mind. But, according to Irish lore, there may be more to our seals than meets the eye.

Legend throughout Ireland and Scotland speaks of seal-folk, known as selkies (or selchies), who can shed their seal skin and walk on land in human form.

The most popular tales tell of selkies, usually women, who come ashore as fair maidens.  If a man is able to capture and hide her shedded skin, the selkie becomes bound as his wife. However, if she can find her skin, she is free to return to her home in the sea.

There are many stories depicting the selkie and there’s even “A Selkie Song.” Or, check out the classic movie The Secret of Roan Inish for Hollywood’s take on the mystical creatures (and some gorgeous shots of the Emerald Isle, as well)!

Can’t get enough of the animals? Check back with our blog or sign up for updates straight to your inbox! 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, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and Tumblr.

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By Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

This week brought more amazing news about sponges.  We’ve been long-time big-time fans, and the latest news makes us even more convinced that you too should be grateful for the simple humble sponge.

It was cool enough, a few years ago, when genetic researchers announced that they believe sponges were the first organisms on Earth to develop more than one cell, meaning that all multicelled animals since then – and that includes you – can trace their family trees back to those innovative ancient sponges. Continue reading

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by Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

Daniel Botkin

Dr. Daniel Botkin offers insights in his March 10 talk at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

Dr. Daniel Botkin worries that we have too much information about the environment; so much so that we don’t know how to tell which information is valid and – of the information that is valid – which of that information to use to find solutions to our environmental problems.

In a special appearance at The Maritime Aquarium March 10, the author/biologist/environmentalist said we’ll find the correct solutions by getting back out into nature, instead of relying on computer models.

“We’re more aware of nature and the environment than any other civilization before,” Botkin said. “So you would think that, knowing so much about the environment, we should be able to solve our environmental problems. But we’re also the most confused civilization.” Continue reading

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The meerkats in the Maritime Aquarium’s  “Africa: From the Desert to the Sea” exhibit had their annual check-up last week. We’re happy to report they are all in tip-top shape!

Dr. Barbara Mangold examines one of the meerkats.

Continue reading

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