S E A B I T S
New England Aquarium Monthly e-mail Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 8, August 2000
Copyright, New England Aquarium 2000
It may be summer in New England, but it feels like we should be boarding an ark
soon with all this rain. In that spirit, we bring you all the news that's wet
this month: A penguin's-eye view of de-oiling birds in South Africa, a look at
a new Giant Ocean Tank resident and a glimpse into what our marine mammal
trainers really mean when they say it's all in a day's work. Also this month,
we celebrate those toothy denizens of the deep, sharks, with Swim with the
Sharks Day on August 16. Hope to see you here!
In this issue:
- Report from the Field: De-Oiling Penguins in South Africa
- New Blue Debut
- More Fish, Please: A Marine Mammal Trainer's Day
Out on the Net
- Constrictor Contest Winner
- Puzzle It Out
- Where in the World is the Traveling Tidepool?
***** WATERY WORDS ************************************************
"Most fish live underwater, which is a terrible place to have sex
because virtually anywhere you lie down there will be stinging
crabs and large quantities of little fish staring at you with
buggy little eyes."
-- Dave Barry
***** STORIES *****************************************************
This month's stories
1) Report from the Field: De-Oiling Penguins in South Africa
2) New Blue Debut
3) More Fish, Please: A Marine Mammal Trainer's Day
----- REPORT FROM THE FIELD: DE-OILING PENGUINS IN SOUTH AFRICA -------------
When last we left you, two of our intrepid penguin aquarists where taking off
for South Africa to spend a few weeks removing oil from African penguins caught
in the oil spill off the coast of Cape Town. You may have been following some
of the story on our website, but if you haven't, here's the scoop:
On June 23, 2000, the oil tanker Treasure ruptured and sank six miles off the
coast of Cape Town, South Africa. The Treasure was carrying approximately 1,300
tons of fuel oil, that spread throughout the area, which, unfortunately,
happened to be the primary breeding site of African penguins, and, doubly
unfortunately, happened in the midst of the best breeding season in 25 years.
Shortly after the spill, New England Aquarium penguin experts Heather Urquhart
and Dyan deNapoli left for Cape Town to help rehabilitate some of the 55,000
penguins affected by the spill. The rescue and rehabilitation effort was
coordinated by SANCCOB, the South African National Foundation for the
Conservation of Coastal Birds and the International Fund for Animal Welfare
(IFAW). Heather and Dyan joined penguin experts and vets from several other
zoos and aquariums in the U.S. and around the world in making the journey to
Cape Town. An additional 1,000 local volunteers a day (including scores of
students on school vacation and foreign tourists) helped out with feeding,
cleaning and supervising swim times for the birds.
Approximately 21,000 adult penguins and 6,000 chicks from the two major nesting
sites, Robben Island and Dassen Island, had to be removed by boat and plane,
and transported to facilities for cleaning and care until the spill was cleaned
up. Another 34,000 penguins were rescued and relocated to clean water some
distance away. The condition of the 21,000 adult penguins picked up for
rehabilitation ranged from completely black with oil to having only minor oil
streaks to relatively clean birds that had to be removed from their homes to
prevent them from entering the water and getting oiled. Fences were even
installed around the islands to keep the birds on land until they could be
removed and brought to the rehabilitation centers.
When they arrived in South Africa, Heather and Dyan were immediately put to
work in a former train warehouse in Salt River, where they spent from 7 a.m. to
10 p.m. that day force-feeding penguins fish (6 tons of sardines per day were
donated). These wild birds were not used to being handled and were not used to
eating dead fish from a person's hand, so it was quite a challenge - and both
Heather and Dyan have the scars to prove it! For the next two weeks, Dyan
assisted Heather, who was in charge of one "room" containing 84 pens and 4,000
penguins that had to be cleaned, fed and let out to swim every day with the
help of approximately 150 volunteers.
It usually takes two people one hour to clean an oiled penguin, but with
thousands to get through, they streamlined the process to a 20-minute wash and
a 5-minute rinse. Not doing a full rinse means that some soap is left in the
feathers, and the birds need to swim to wash out the soap and regain their
natural waterproofing. After the rinse, they found that these birds needed 2-3
weeks, instead of the usual five days, before they were waterproof enough to be
returned to the wild. In the second week of their trip, Dyan moved to the
SANCCOB facility in Table View, where she supervised the husbandry and swimming
of the 4,000 birds housed there. Each of the penguins had to be "graded" to
determine if it was waterproofing its feathers sufficiently before being
The good news is that the rescuers have done pretty well - of the rescued adult
penguins, only about 1% have died. In previous spills, 85% recovery rates have
been documented. By the end of July, the oil was mostly cleaned up and the
penguins were starting to be released. The bad news is that the oil spill
caused the loss of one of the best breeding seasons ever recorded - thousands
of healthy baby chicks died or had to be euthanised without parents able to
We thank all of you who have supported the New England Aquarium's Conservation
Action Fund, which provided funding for Heather and Dyan to make this journey
and contribute to the overall survival of this vulnerable penguin species.
Droplet: The cleanser they used to de-oil the penguins was invented by a South
African high school student for a science project last year. The formula is a
secret (he is trying to get a patent for it), but its main ingredient is
----- NEW BLUE DEBUT -------------------------------------------------------
With help from Yvonne Vrugtman and Kelly McNamara, Education Interns
One of our Giant Ocean Tank's newest residents is blue - in color, not in mood.
A striking combination of vivid blues and purples, you can see our blue
parrotfish hanging out on the second level of the tank by the barrel coral and
the schooling grunts.
Parrotfish get their name from their large teeth that are fused together. The
upper teeth stick out and cover the lower, giving their mouths the appearance
of parrot beaks. Parrotfish use their teeth to bite off pieces of stony coral.
They grind the coral down to extract the soft coral polyps growing on the coral
surface. Inside the coral polyps are zooxanthellae, a single-celled algae that
provide the bulk of a parrotfish's nutrition. They also scrape algae off the
surface of the reef, providing a valuable service to the reef as too much algae
can smother the coral.
As unappetizing as chewing up coral may sound, since the coral in our Giant
Ocean Tank is made of fiberglass, we feed the parrotfish a mixture of plaster
of paris and algae, which gets squirted into its general region once a day.
Mmmm. It also eats zooplankton, lettuce and a nibble of fish. Because of their
coral crunching habit, parrotfish can produce as much as one ton of coral sand
per acre of reef each year. Their grinding is so loud that snorkelers can hear
A question we frequently get here at the New England Aquarium is, "Do fish
sleep?" The parrotfish is often an example in our answer because of their
unique solution to the sleeping issue. Each night, parrotfish take roughly 30
minutes to cover themselves in a clear mucus cocoon that allows them to spend
the night actually sleeping on the reef floor protected from predators. The
cocoon not only tastes bad, but also apparently prevents nighttime feeders like
moray eels from picking up their scent in the first place.
Another strange characteristic of parrotfish is their ability to change sexes.
While a parrotfish that is born male, dies male (called a primary male), a
female parrotfish may become a male (called a secondary male) when s/he gets
older. The evolutionary explanation for the sex change is that many of the fish
die young, so it's better for the survival of the species if there are lots of
females releasing eggs, since fewer males can fertilize lots of eggs.
Next time you're wandering up our helix ramp around the Giant Ocean Tank, be
sure to look for the blue parrotfish.
Droplet: Each fall and spring, the Aquarium's Fishes Department offers limited
space on week-long collecting trips during which we get animals like this blue
parrotfish to add to our collection. This September 26, we depart for Bimini!
If you are interested in joining us, please contact Holly Martel Bourbon at
(617) 973-5248 or <email@example.com>.
----- MORE FISH, PLEASE: A MARINE MAMMAL TRAINER'S DAY ---------------------
By Mariette Vidal, Disco Insider
I arrive at the Discovery, the New England Aquarium's "floating pavilion" and
home to our sea lions and seals, at 9 a.m., as scheduled, to meet Jay Ferreri,
one of our marine mammal trainers.
We board the ship, go down some stairs and through a door, where there is a
plastic dish tub full of disinfectant for dipping our shoes. This keeps some of
the hitch-hiking germs away from our animals. Inside, I am immediately met with
the distinct smell of fish. Jay and the other trainers are busily stuffing
vitamins into thawed herring and capelin for the 7 harbor seals and 4
California sea lions in their care, and dividing them into buckets. Jay has
been here since 8 a.m., and his day operates in cycles. First he feeds the
seals, then the sea lions, then cleans their holding areas, then does a sea
lion presentation for Aquarium visitors, and then does it all again. The cycle
continues until about 6 p.m.
Jay and Jenny Montague, a trainer and assistant curator of marine mammals, are
used to visitors, and they take me and another intern off to feed the animals.
As we navigate the narrow hallways and passages of what is really a large boat,
Jay explains that all the animals are now molting and are not feeling their
best. Each summer, the seals and sea lions lose their old fur coats and grow
new ones. This process usually makes them lethargic and decreases their
appetites. Jay is particularly concerned about Amelia, a 15-year-old female
harbor seal, who is going through a particularly bad molt and did not have much
of an appetite the day before. Today she is fine. She munches down her fish,
gets her teeth brushed (with poultry-flavored toothpaste) and is extremely
Next stop: Chacoda and Reggae, two young (5 and 7, respectively) and sometimes
rambunctious males. Then, we stop in on Smoke, our oldest harbor seal (29) and
Reggae's and Amelia's mother. Smoke was found stranded on a beach in 1971, and
has been with us ever since. Harbor seals have a life expectancy of about 36
years, and Smoke is doing quite well despite having cataracts in both eyes,
which impair her vision. She navigates with the help of her sensitive whiskers.
Her partial blindness does make her particularly shy around strangers, like me.
Smoke gets fish and eyedrops, and then we head back to the kitchen.
Now the sea lions: Jay takes me to feed Guthrie, who is currently weighing in
at 831 pounds. As he jumps out of the pool and skids towards us on the slippery
floor, I am a bit startled by his size. Jay has Guthrie give me a big wet kiss,
and my fear subsides. We quickly run through a training session with Guthrie.
When he's molting, he can lose his motivation to perform. This morning he's not
showing much interest at all, and so will be relieved from performing by Zuma
Before going back to my desk in the Communications Department, where I am a
summer intern, I watch Jenny do the first sea lion show of the morning. Jay is
cleaning the pens. Usually, only one sea lion performs, but with the "boys" out
of sorts from molting, the trainers have opted to have two animals do a show.
First Zuma comes out, but he is distracted and keeps diving into the water.
Tyler comes out next, and is particularly funny this morning. When he gives his
best sea lion roar, Jenny can't help laughing. The kids in the audience love
that. I watch quietly from the second row, pondering the glimpse I have had
into the lives of these marine mammal trainers. It's pretty hard work, but when
Tyler sticks out his tongue at all the non-recyclers in the audience, I have to
think it's also a lot of fun.
Droplet: Although they are not considered endangered, California sea lions
continue to be protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Destruction
of their natural habitat and coastline development are threats to their
population. Growing populations of both humans and sea lions do have their
moments, however. One of the most infamous occurred at Pier 39 several years
ago in San Francisco, California. Pier 39, a popular shopping area at the
water's edge, attracted lots of sea lions. Space on Pier 39 quickly became a
commodity. Since sea lions are protected, the owners and managers of the
yachts and shops could do little to discourage the sea lions. Finally, since
the sea lions attracted so many tourists, city planners built another dock for
the yachts. Now that's working with nature!
***** 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.
De-Oiling Penguins in South Africa
California Sea Lions
***** Announcements **************************************************
This month's announcements
1) Constrictor Contest Winner
2) Puzzle It Out
3) Where in the World is the Traveling Tidepool?
----- CONSTRICTOR CONTEST WINNER --------------------------------------------
Thanks to all who participated in our Constrictor Contest to name our 3 new
pythons. Michael Segall of Boston, MA submitted the names Chatu (python in
Swahili), Tiririka (slither of a snake in Swahili) and Zongamea (coil round in
Swahili) and won 2 free whale watch passes. Runner-up prize of a plush python
went to Nichole Burke of Gloucester, MA who submitted the Beantown Posse: Big
Dig, Logan and Newbury. The contest was open to our e-mail Seabits subscribers
and Aquarium visitors on Realm of the Reptile day. Other entries of note: Jack,
Chrissy and Janet (from that classic sitcom, Three's Company); Mischief, Magic
and Mayhem; Slither, Squeeze and Swallow; Kaa (from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle
Book), and Long, Very Long and Very Very Long.
----- PUZZLE IT OUT ----------------------------------------------------------
The Activity Center, located on the ground floor of the Boston Harbor Parking
Garage, offers a quiet space for hands-on exploration of aquatic topics and
issues through games, puzzles, discovery boxes and arts and craft activities.
In its new space (next to the Unforgettable Boston Immersion Interactive
Theater), the Activity Center offers fun and educational activities geared for
kids 2-12, though more than one parent and several teenagers have been caught
playing the games and exploring the discovery boxes, too! Because it is staffed
by volunteers, the Activity Center's hours change seasonally, so call (617)
973-6563 for more information. Free to members.
----- WHERE IN THE WORLD IS THE TRAVELING TIDEPOOL? -------------------------
Burlington Pride Day: August 5, from 11 a.m. -3 p.m. on the Town Common.
North End Pride Day: August 6, 11-2.
East Boston Pride Day: August 19, 4-6 p.m. in the children's area.
Waltham Concert: August 22, 7-8:30 p.m.
Marshfield Fair: August 23, 2-5 p.m.
For more information, contact Rachel at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
***** AUGUST CALENDAR ************************************************
Saturday, August 5, The Invisible Aquarium Guided Tour, 9:15 a.m.
Many animals in the Aquarium are difficult to see or find. Visit the animals
that are just about invisible to most of our visitors. Tours are limited to 12
people. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Tours are approximately 30
minutes long. Meet your guide at the Information Desk in the Aquarium lobby. $4
for members, $8 plus admission for non-members. Call (617) 973-5206 for
reservations and information.
Saturday, August 5, South Boston Family Field Trip, 10 a.m.
Spend a few hours with Aquarium educators at Carson Beach learning how to
identify aquatic or marine life and seeing how animals have adapted to live in
their watery world. Activities will be based on age and interest so every
family member will have a unique learning experience. Recommended for ages 5
and up. $6 per person for members, $12 per person for non-members. Non-member
price does not include Aquarium admission.
Saturday, August 12 and Sunday, August 13, Sea Otter Surprise 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.
Saturday, August 12, Swim for Boston Harbor, 12 noon.
Join Save the Harbor/Save the Bay for their 9th annual Grand Circle Travel Swim
for Boston Harbor and celebrate the restoration for this great recreational
resource. Join close to 200 swimmers on the one-mile swim that begins at noon
starting at South M Street Beach, Curly Recreation Center. A free beach party
(hosted by MDC) follows the race, complete with live music, entertainment and
refreshments for the whole family. Contact Matt Wolfe at SHSB for more
information (617) 451-2860 x103.
Wednesday, August 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 or visit our website. Speaker: Gregor
Hodgson, Pew Fellow and visiting professor at the UCLA Institute of the
Environment, is the founder and coordinator of the global coral reef monitoring
and management program called Reef Check. Meeting Location: Conference Center.
Wednesday, August 16, Swim with the Sharks Day, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Join JAM'N 94.5, New England Aquarium staff and volunteers as we celebrate
sharks, rays and skates with demonstrations, arts and crafts and hands-on
activities for all ages. Learn what it's like to dive with the Aquarium's sand
tiger sharks and how baby skates are born. E-mail Rachel at
<email@example.com> for more information. Included with admission. Also check
out <http://www.livewave.com> and <http://www.discovery.com> for information
about other special Shark Week (August 13-20) events, including live webcasts
from our very own Giant Ocean Tank, where divers will feed and talk about
Saturday, August 19, Ponkapog Bog Advanced Family Field Trip, 10 a.m.
Follow an Aquarium educator for a guided tour on the boardwalk and seek out
carnivorous plants, wild cranberries, and rare endangered species that call the
bog their home. Call (617) 973-5206 for fees, reservations and information.
Saturday, August 19 and Sunday, August 20, Sound Waves 2000, 12 noon.
Join Save the Harbor/Save the Bay in the Boston Harbor National Park Area for
the region's largest on-the-water blues concert. Participants must register in
advance and will be given a Save the Harbor/Save the Bay (SHSB) banner to fly
for the weekend. Vessels should be on-site off Peddock's island by noon on
Saturday and plan on staying until 9 a.m. on Sunday. Five hours of live blues
music begins at 2 p.m. Participants in the raft-up will enjoy tasty food along
with front row seats (and the Sunday paper!). Contact Matt Wolfe at SHSB (617)
451-2860 x103 for more information.
Monday, August 21, Take the Bait Members Night, 7-9 p.m.
An annual tradition, Take the Bait is an opportunity for members to view the
galleries at leisure, after the Aquarium has closed to the general public. The
events feature special programs and activities that are developed specifically
for the evening. Call (617) 973-6564 for more information or to RSVP. Free to
Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27, Sea Otter Surprise 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. Programs
last one hour. Call (617) 973-5206 for fees, reservations and information.
Saturday, August 26, Sandwich Family Field Trip, 10 a.m.
Spend a few hours with Aquarium educators at the Sandwich Town Marsh exploring
habitats and raising your awareness about environmental issues in this area.
Activities will be based on age and interest so every family member will have a
unique learning experience. Recommended for ages 5 and up. Call (617) 973-5206
for fees, reservations and information.
***** SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE INFORMATION **************************
To subscribe to Seabits, either visit <http://www.neaq.org/beyond/seabits/>
OR send e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. In the body of your e-mail message
write "subscribe seabits" (without the quotes).
To unsubscribe to Seabits, send e-mail to <email@example.com>. In the body
of your email message write "unsubscribe seabits" (without the quotes).
If you have trouble unsubscribing, please contact Jennifer Goebel at
***** CONTACT US **************************************************
Tehcnical questions and comments? Contact Jen Goebel at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or
(after August 28) Bill Bennett at <email@example.com>.
Substance questions and comments? Contact Jen Goebel at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or
(after August 28) Sue Knapp at <email@example.com>.
***** THAT'S ALL FOLKS ********************************************
I will be on maternity leave for the next 3 months, but have lined up some of
the Aquarium's star writers to cover Seabits, so you won't miss your monthly
installment of news from the watery world. Thanks for reading!
- Jen Goebel, Editor
Jennifer S. Goebel, Publications Coordinator/Senior Publicist
New England Aquarium, Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110-3399
Phone: (617) 973-5222; Fax: (617) 723-9705; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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