Seabits 4.2 (fwd)

From: mike williamson (
Date: Tue Feb 01 2000 - 19:54:05 EST

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 1 Feb 2000 16:42:17 -0500
From: Jen Goebel <>
To: Seabits <>
Subject: Seabits 4.2

New England Aquarium Monthly e-mail Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 2, February 2000
Copyright, New England Aquarium 2000
Happy Groundhog's Day. Winter finally caught up with us in New England. And
here, at the Aquarium, we plan to celebrate the snow, ice and cold with a
little WinterFest of our own, so bundle up and join the festivities!

In February, the New England Aquarium bids a fond farewell to our Coastal
Rhythms exhibit and its puffins, garden eels and weedy sea dragons.
Although sad to see them go, we are getting excited about the remarkable
African animals that will be taking their place in April -- a Nile
crocodile, a python, electric elephant-nosed fish, colorful cichlid fish,
weaver birds, chameleons, baboon tarantulas and golden orb spiders among
them. This issue of Seabits brings you some up close and personal details
about Nile crocodiles, an interview with master escape artist, the giant
Pacific octopus, and the latest on the right whales.

In this issue:
  Watery Words
    - Interview with an Octopus
    - After Awhile Crocodile
    - Right Whale Update
  Out on the Net
    - WinterFest 2000
    - Egypt's Unquenchable Thirst
    - Collect Fish, Not Tacky Souvenirs
    - Traveling Tidepool at the Movies
    - Volunteer Opportunity
  February Calendar
  Contact Us

***** WATERY WORDS ********************************************************

      "The octopus moved like flowing water, masking itself by
       changing colors when it passed over rock or seaweed. It
       squeezed into narrow rock crevices then expanded to full
       size when gliding over wider rocks. It covered 15 feet in
       about 30 seconds, checking cracks and other, more secure
       starfish along the way. With our eyes transfixed and our
       jaws agape, we watched the octopus move directly beneath
       us towards the helpless upside-down starfish."

                  -- Josh Gerak, An Octopus Encounter,

***** STORIES *************************************************************
This month's stories
  1) Interview with an Octopus
  2) After Awhile Crocodile
  3) Right Whale Update

----- INTERVIEW WITH AN OCTOPUS -------------------------------------------
What can weigh 100 pounds, be 10-12 feet in length and still squeeze
through a 3 inch hole? The answer: master contortionist, the giant Pacific
octopus, or Octopus dofleini. If the only hard part of the octopus, its
beak, can fit through a hole, generally the whole octopus can, too.
Octopuses are invertebrates, and have no skeleton, but are rather just a
mass of muscle. For aquarists, this presents a special challenge, as their
charges have been known to squeeze through small openings and take little
excursions from their tanks. As long as their gills stay wet, octopuses can
travel out of water, in the wild from tidepool to tidepool, but in
aquariums, sometimes from tank to tank, munching on any tasty sea creatures
they find along the way.

Found in cold waters from northern California to Alaska, the giant Pacific
octopus is the largest of all species of octopus. The largest one on record
weighed 600 pounds and had a 30-foot reach from outstretched tentacle to
outstretched tentacle. Usually though, they don't reach that size, weighing
around 100-175 pounds and reaching 10-12 feet in tentacle span.

Right now, our octopus, a one-year-old female, weighs between 40 and 60
pounds, estimates aquarist Brandon Schmidt. She inhabits a tank in the
Northern Waters of the World Gallery here at the Aquarium. Sometimes she's
"as friendly as a dog" says Brandon, but she did not come out to greet me
entirely, just extending a tentacle or two in my general direction. Her
tentacles are smooth and feathery to the touch, but once they got a hold of
my hand, they surprised me with how strong they were. With all 8 tentacles
working, an octopus is said to be able to pull several times its body

Far from being the ferocious beasts Hollywood has made them out to be,
octopuses are actually quite shy, reclusive animals, preferring to live
quietly in dark caves, roaming only at night. However, they are very good
hunters - Brandon estimates it takes our octopus about 30 seconds to devour
a live crab in her tank. First, she pounces on it covering it like an
umbrella, and then, using her beak, she injects a mild venom into her prey.
After that, it's just a matter of time until she starts spitting the hard
parts out. She eats 6 times a week, usually frozen capelin, mackerel, squid
and shrimp, though live Jonah crabs are her favorite.

In the wild, an octopus's ability to camouflage helps it sneak up on its
prey. Able to change color in less than a second, the octopus is the
world's leader in camouflage. "Chameleons are just dead boring compared to
octopuses," says Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod-behavior expert at the Marine
Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Camouflage also helps
an octopus hide from predators like moray eels, sea lions and bigger
octopuses. In addition to camouflage, octopuses can also squirt blackish
ink to confuse a predator while it escapes and has the ability to
regenerate a limb if one should be lost.

Octopuses have short lives, usually only up to 3 years in captivity, and
even less in the wild. After protecting and caring for her brood of eggs
for several months, a mother octopus dies shortly after her eggs begin to
hatch. Males and females come together only to mate. After mating, the
males die. You can tell a male from a female by the third tentacle on the
left - males' tentacles will be smooth and suckerless at the end, for
injecting spermatophores into females, while females' will have suckers and
look just like her other tentacles.

Called the smartest of the invertebrates, octopuses are known to be
inquisitive and intelligent. They can solve problems and remember their
solutions. To keep our octopus entertained, Brandon gives her puzzles. By
putting food into different kinds of containers, with screw tops or with
pop tops, she has to figure out how to open it in order to get her food.
"These are all easy for her," says Brandon, pointing to an assortment of
containers. Even a hamster's Habitrail ball that requires a twist and a
pull is old hat now.

Roland Anderson, a giant Pacific octopus expert at the Seattle Aquarium,
likens octopus intelligence to that of rats. Like rats, octopuses can be
taught to run mazes. Anderson has even documented these octopuses
"playing." When given a white pill bottle, some of the octopuses shot it
around the tank with their funnels, retrieved it, and shot it again and
again. This repetitive sustained behavior with no apparent function is what
scientists term "play." Octopuses also learn from each other. In another
experiment, one octopus who had learned how to open a container was
separated by glass from another octopus who had never seen a container.
After watching the experienced octopus, the novice octopus learned quickly
how to open its container.

A popular stop for visitors to the Aquarium and on our behind-the-scenes
tours, our octopus will often come out to examine visitors. Sometimes, says
Brandon, she'll pop her head up out of the water and stare at visitors.
Octopuses have eyesight comparable to ours, though instead of changing the
shape of the lens to focus, octopuses focus by moving the lens in and out.
More than once, he says, she has looked at him and then sprayed him with
her siphon (which they use to jet propel themselves around in water),
soaking him from head to waist. Sign of affection?

Droplet: In 1981, a large male octopus in our care escaped from his tank.
How he got out is a mystery, but one morning the aquarists found him about
20 feet away in another display tank. He apparently had quite a night of
it, having dipped into 3 or 4 tanks altogether. In one holding tank, he
enjoyed several tasty Japanese starry flounder worth, at the time, around
$300 apiece (the most expensive fish in the house). These flounder were
part of a 2-year research project, and though he didn't entirely wipe the
research project out, he did set it back! After that, aquarist Mike
Kelleher says he was careful to make sure every possible opening was
Droplet 2: According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th
Edition, "octopuses" and "octopi" are both correct plurals for octopus,
though "octopuses" is now more commonly used.

----- AFTER AWHILE CROCODILE ----------------------------------------------
By Bonnie Davis, Crocodile Correspondent

The New England Aquarium might not be the first place you think of to meet
crocodiles, but, actually, we have quite a few. Currently, we have a
handful of tiny saltwater crocodiles in Coastal Rhythms, our special
exhibit in the West Wing. These scaly little crocodiles will be here with
the rest of the Coastal Rhythms gang through February 27. Then the exhibit
transforms into the lands of Africa.

In April, the Nile crocodile, comes to town. This crocodile is a bit bigger
than our saltwater babies - a whopping 8 feet long! The Nile crocodile
often grow to between 16 and 20 feet in length! Both males and females
weigh in at about 500 pounds in adulthood, living to age 45 in the wild and
up to age 80 in captivity.

Nile crocodiles are found throughout tropical and southern Africa and
Madagascar, making their homes in rivers, freshwater marshes, estuaries and
swamp lands. The crocodile spends much of its time in the water, swimming
with the back and forth motion of its long powerful tail. At meal time, the
crocodile lurks below the surface of the water, surprising victims with one
swift snap of its powerful jaws. Nile crocodiles feast on small animals
such as fish, birds, porcupines and turtles; and on rare occasions even
larger animals like zebras or hippos.

When crocodiles hunt larger prey, they catch them off guard and knock them
into the water with one blow from their tails. Once prey is trapped in the
crocodile's strong jaws, the crocodile drags it into deeper water where it
eventually drowns. The feast then begins as the crocodile bites into chunks
of flesh and rips them free by twisting its body over and over. Any
leftover carcass gets dragged back to its den for later.

An important and essential predator in the food chain of Africa, the Nile
crocodile keeps other predators, such as the barbel catfish, under control.
These creatures, among the largest living reptiles, can't win all of their
fights, however. Their dark scaly skin is coveted by hunters who sell the
hides to manufacturers for leather products such as shoes and handbags.
Other factors such as pollution and entanglement in fishing gear have also
affected the populations of Nile crocodiles. Currently, Nile crocodiles in
some countries are protected from hunters by law but enforcing the law is
still a challenge. Some biologists have also started programs to aid the
crocodile population by gathering and rearing crocodile eggs, and later
releasing babies into the wild.

The Nile crocodile is one of the many fascinating creatures in our upcoming
exhibit, Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea, opening on April 15. Nyanja will
highlight the Lake Victoria region of East Africa, focusing on the culture,
the wildlife and the research taking place in this amazing land.

Droplet: At the Samburu Game Park in the north of Kenya, every evening at
dusk, the hosts arrange Adirondack-style deck chairs overlooking the river
and toss a bunch of bones, entrails and other tasty treats over the
5-foot-high stone wall that separates the lodge from the river's shore.
Shortly after the goodies are tossed, a couple of lumbering Nile crocodiles
make their way slowly to the feast. Each crocodile lifts itself out of the
water, takes 10 or 20 steps, then flops down on its belly. Rests. Takes
another 10-20 steps. Flops. Usually it takes 7 or 8 trips to get to the
food. In the meantime, the lodge cats (domestic tabby cats and the like),
not ones to give up a free meal, jump down and start munching away -- a
nerve-wracking sight for cat-lovers. The crocodiles, as they approach on
their tiny legs, glare and hiss at the cats, but to no effect. These agile
kitties would eat until the last possible moment, feigning ignorance of the
approaching crocodiles, driving western tourists particularly crazy, and
more than once they have escaped by just a hair. Sometimes the cats will
even sneak up behind a feasting crocodile and grab a tidbit right next to
its formidable jaws. When asked, the lodge hosts revealed two things: (1)
the cats get regularly fed aplenty in the kitchens, and (2) the crocodiles
do occasionally get a cat.

----- RIGHT WHALE UPDATE --------------------------------------------------
By Sue Knapp, Roving Reporter

Fishermen spotted another endangered right whale dead, floating offshore
near Block Island on January 19, 2000. New England Aquarium researchers
identified her as a 3-year-old female whale, #2701, from the unique pattern
on her belly. She does have some fishing gear wrapped around her tail.
Researchers don't know yet whether the entanglement contributed to her
death. Right now, no one is speculating (out loud, at least) on the cause
of death. Plans are in the works to tow 2701 to Fairhaven, Massachusetts
and perform a necropsy, an animal autopsy, as soon as the weather

With a population numbering only about 325, this death deals another
serious blow to the right whale species. Last year, Staccato and #2030,
both adult, female North Atlantic right whales also died, Staccato from a
collision with a large ship and #2030 from injuries caused by entanglement
in gill net gear.

We will keep you posted as we learn more.

Droplet: As we watch the North Atlantic right whale slip towards almost
certain extinction, it is heartening to note that the southern right whale
(a distinct species) whose populations were also severely decimated by
whaling, are making a slow but steady comeback. Southern right whales are
now estimated to number a few thousand worldwide.

***** OUT ON THE NET ******************************************************
For additional information, you might want to check out the following
websites. Some of these links represent partners in aquatic conservation
and animal husbandry; others are simply resources we think may help you
enrich your perspective on our watery world. By listing these websites, the
New England Aquarium is not automatically endorsing or verifying the
accuracy of their content unless explicitly stated.


Nile Crododile

Right Whales

***** Announcements *******************************************************
This month's announcements
  1) WinterFest 2000
  2) Egypt's Unquenchable Thirst
  3) Collect Fish, Not Tacky Souvenirs
  4) Traveling Tidepool at the Movies
  5) Volunteer Opportunities

----- WINTERFEST 2000 -----------------------------------------------------
Join us in celebrating the winter season in New England! From February 11
to 18, WinterFest 2000 will be livening up our plaza. Winterfest kicks off
with an ice-carving competition on Friday, February 11, from 10 a.m. to 12
noon. Teams from area schools compete for prizes, judged by professionals
including chefs from Legal Sea Foods and the Boston Marriott Long Wharf.
Twice daily talks with New England Aquarium staff at the outdoor harbor
seal exhibit focus on how these marine mammals stay warm in winter. Harbor
cruises on February 12 and 13, at 11 a.m. each day, show off the winter
wildlife around Boston Harbor. Tickets range from $7.50 to $9.50. For
reservations, call (617) 973-5206. Meet the snow experts from Attitash Bear
Peak who will bring a bit of the White Mountains to Boston. Learn some
winter camping tips and try on snowshoes from Eastern Mountain Sports. Win
prizes and take home give-aways from WODS-Oldies 103 FM. Build a
marshmallow igloo and cut out an aquatic paper snowflake. For more
information or a detailed schedule, please call (617) 973-6508. Outdoor
activities on the plaza are free; indoor activities are included with

----- EGYPT'S UNQUENCHABLE THIRST -----------------------------------------
Saturday, March 4, 9:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.
New England Aquarium Conference Center
Where will the water come from and at what cost? Please join us for an
in-depth look at one of the most celebrated rivers in the world. The New
England Aquarium hosts this FREE forum exploring the issues surrounding the
influential and sometimes controversial Nile River, with support from The
Lowell Institute.

Gift of the Nile -- Farouk El-Baz, Director, Center for Remote Sensing, BU
The Powerful Waters of the Nile -- John M. Edmond, MIT
The Dammed -- Linda Harrar, award-winning filmmaker
Water, Population and Conflict: Future Challenges -- Sandra Postel,
Director, Global Water Policy Project, Amherst, MA

Call (617) 973-5223 or e-mail <> before February 25, 2000 to

Lunch, anyone? Enjoy lunch with our speakers for $20.00 per person. Please
reserve your spot before February 25, make checks payable to New England
Aquarium and mail to the attention of the Communications Department, New
England Aquarium, Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110.

The New England Aquarium is inviting certified scuba divers age 18 and
older on a tropical adventure in the Florida Keys. From April 13 to 25, we
will be taking a group down to keys and Dry Tortugas to collect animals for
our tropical exhibits, including our ever-popular Giant Ocean Tank. Spend a
week living aboard a boat that transports you to amazing dive sites
throughout the keys working with Aquarium experts. Learn about diving and
fish collection from the masters. After traveling from Key Largo to Kay
West and visiting the Marquesas Keys and Garden Key, we spend the last day
in Miami, packing up the fish for the journey home.

Trip fees for the 12-day adventure are $3,000.00 for Aquarium members and
$3,040.00 for non-members. Trip fees include airfare from Boston to Miami,
room and board (meals, snacks, and beverages), and a rare opportunity to
dive in the Aquarium's 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank. For more
information, or to reserve your space, call Holly Martel Bourbon, Senior
Aquarist/Diver, at (617) 973-5248 (Tuesdays through Saturdays) or e-mail
Holly at Sign up early, as space is limited on this
popular dive trip.

----- TRAVELING TIDEPOOL AT THE MOVIES ------------------------------------
Visit our traveling tidepool as we drop in on General Cinemas movie
theaters around Boston during the month of February. Examine a sea star's
feet up close, hold a living pin cushion, and touch a prehistoric horseshoe
crab. Meet Sammy the Aquarium's seal mascot. Free goodies from the movie
theaters will be available. Please call (617) 973 -6508 for more
information. See you there between noon and 2 p.m.
February 5 & 6 Framingham
February 19 & 20 Burlington
February 21 & 22 Framingham
February 23 & 24 Braintree
February 25 Burlington
February 26 Chestnut Hill
February 27 Tyngsboro

----- VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES ---------------------------------------------
Volunteers wanted for our new exhibit on Lake Victoria, the second largest
freshwater lake in the world. Volunteers will be responsible for
educational interpretation of the exhibit and responding to visitor
inquiries about the exhibit. A minimum commitment of 50 hours in 6 months
is required. Training begins March 21. For an online application, please
visit our website <>.

***** FEBRUARY CALENDAR ***************************************************
Saturday, February 5 and 6, Hermit Crabs and Their Homes Preschool
Explorers Class, 9:30 a.m.
Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a story, a hands-on
activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at live animals. Call
(617) 973-5206 for reservations and information.

Tuesday, February 8, Members' Night-African Aquatic Adventures, 6 - 8 p.m.
Members are invited to view the galleries after closing and enjoy a
presentation about East Africa in anticipation of our new exhibit Nyanja!
Africa's Inland Sea opening in April. Members call (617) 973-6564 for more
information or to RSVP.

Friday, February 11 - Friday, February 18, Winterfest at the Aquarium
Celebrate winter in true New England style with fun family activities,
including an ice carving competition where blocks of ice are transformed
into works of art. Take a winter harbor cruise, play in the snow, find out
how the harbor seals in the plaza exhibit stay warm all winter, meet our
seal mascot, Sammy, enjoy tasty winter food and beverages and win great
prizes. Call (617) 973-6508 for more information.

Saturday, February 12, Giant Ocean Tank Guided Tour, 9:15 a.m.
Dip into the lives of the inhabitants of the Aquarium centerpiece, the
Giant Ocean Tank. Walk down the helix ramp, from the surface to the depths.
See how the habitat and species change as you delve deeper in the Caribbean
coral reef. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and information.

Wednesday, February 16, Dive Club Meeting, 6:30 p.m.
Dive Club meeting at New England Aquarium. Guests and new members always
welcome. Call (617) 973-0240 for details. Meeting Location: Conference

Saturday, February 19 and 20, Hermit Crabs and Their Homes Preschool
Explorers Class, 9:30 a.m.
Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a story, a hands-on
activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at live animals. Call
(617) 973-5206 for reservations and information.

Tuesday, February 22-23, BreakAway Camp Session 1, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
During this two-day session, learn about the properties of water, answer
the question, "What happens to the water when I flush the toilet or drain
the sink?" and visit a water treatment facility on Deer Island. Choose
junior level (4th-5th grades) or senior level (6th-7th grades) camps. Fees:
members, $75, non-members, $95. Group size: 12 students per level. For more
information or to register, call (617) 973-5206.

Thursday, February 24-25, BreakAway Camp Session 2, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
In this two-day session, find out where your drinking and bathing water
comes from, explore options for conserving water, examine issues relating
to runoff and set up an experiment to monitor water quality in your
neighborhood. Choose junior level (4th-5th grades) or senior level (6th-7th
grades) camps. Fees: members, $75, non-members, $95. Group size: 12
students per level. For more information or to register, call (617)

Saturday, February 26, The Invisible Aquarium Guided Tour, 9:15 a.m.
Many animals in the Aquarium are difficult to see or find. It may be that
you don't even know they're there! Camouflage and hiding help animals
escape hungry predators. Visit the animals that are just about invisible to
most of our visitors. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and information.

Sunday, February 27, Coastal Rhythms: Creatures on the Edge special exhibit
closes, 6 p.m.
Say goodbye to the puffins, the saltwater crocodiles and the Japanese giant
spider crabs, as they make way for our next exhibit, Nyanja! Africa's
Inland Sea, opening for April school vacation week.

***** SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE INFORMATION ***********************************
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***** CONTACT US **********************************************************
Questions and comments? Contact Jennifer Goebel at

***** THAT'S ALL FOLKS ****************************************************
We are sad (panicked?) to announce the departure of webmaster, Curator of
Interactive Technology, listserv coordinator and jack-of-all-technology
Bruce Wyman, in whose name Seabits usually comes to you. One of the
original masterminds behind this nifty publication, he will be sorely
missed around the first of every month, and, of course, during the creation
of the April Fool's issue. I will be taking over the formatting and mailing
of Seabits, so you can now e-mail me both about content and administration.
- Jen Goebel, Editor

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