Subject: New England Aquarium Seabits 2.8 (fwd)

mike williamson (
Mon, 3 Aug 1998 19:59:08 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: New England Aquarium Seabits 2.8

New England Aquarium Monthly e-mail Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 8, August, 1998
Copyright, New England Aquarium, 1998.
This issue provides a porthole to the behind-the-scenes life of the folks who care for our animals, and this is a busy month at the Aquarium! Our exhibit halls are full of summer visitors, it's the heavy-duty field research season for our scientists, and we've planned a series of great events on Central Wharf. These include a nine-day visit of HM Bark Endeavour, the replica of the 18th century sailing vessel that took Capt. Cook around the world, and Shark Day, a day of special events and programs, scheduled for August 20.  And, in mid-August, we'll be opening our brand new, free outdoor seal exhibit in front of the Aquarium.

In this issue:
  Watery Words
    - Minding Otter People's Business
    - It's a Dive: Life as a Giant Ocean Tank Diver
    - Giant Japanese Spider Crab Comes Out of Her Shell
  Endeavor Tall Ship Docks at Aquarium
  August 20 is Shark Day
  If You're in the Neighborhood
  August Calendar
  Subscribe/Unsubscribe Information
  Contact Us

=-=-= WATERY WORDS =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

"Ocean, n.: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man--who has no gills."
                          -- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
                             The Devil's Dictionary

=-=-= STORIES =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
This month's stories:
  1) Minding Otter People's Business
  2) It's a Dive: Life as a Giant Ocean Tank Diver
  3) Giant Japanese Spider Crab Comes Out of Her Shell

----- MINDING OTTER PEOPLE'S BUSINESS -------------------------------------
They're like two-year-old kids. Really cute, and smarter than we like to give them credit for. Terribly curious, and learning fast. Exploring constantly and capable of wreaking havoc if you don't watch out. That's what we learned from Marcie Tarvid and Cheryl Clark, sea otter trainers at the New England Aquarium. They took a break last week to let Seabits readers know what it's like to work with sea otters every day.

Since Abra and Nellie arrived at the New England Aquarium from Monterey, California in January, 1997, it's been Marcie and Cheryl's job to train them. Both of these animals had been rescued from the wild, but because of health concerns, they were deemed unable to survive on their own. Now, living at the Aquarium, the otters are being taught basic behaviors that allow us to keep them healthy. So far, the trainers have taught them to sit on a scale, enter a kennel or crate, move from the exhibit to the otters' backstage lounge on command, to stay, to retrieve objects, and to allow themselves to be touched.

While the otters may become used to humans, they're still not all love and kisses to their trainers. One way they interact is through play-which may sometimes involve biting. Cheryl said she's seen Abra bite the fur on Nellie's head, and drag her from the rocks into the water. And Nellie barely makes a complaint.

"It would be so easy to spoil them because they're so cute and entertaining," said Marcie Tarvid. But Marcie and Cheryl have to rule with a iron--yet gloved--hand. "We have to be very strict about setting limits on allowable behavior, for our own health and for Abra and Nellie's." For example, Marcie says, if she let Nellie sniff her hand, Nellie may use her front paws to grab on. And if Nellie doesn't want Marcie to go away, Nellie will grab harder. And if that doesn't work, Nellie's next impulse is to grab on with her teeth. Ouch.

"The trick to caring for sea otters is to never, ever underestimate their strength or ingenuity," says Marcie. Otters can and will undo screws, remove grates, and generally get into whatever they can. Marcie told a story of how she came into the back room of the exhibit one morning to find the heavy divider grate from the exhibit itself. She realized that the otters had unscrewed the bolts on the grate, pulled it out of the water from seven feet deep, and dragged it into the back room. "They must have worked together to move it. It'd be like moving a large couch up a narrow stairway."

The sea otter's ingenuity is probably a natural impulse, for in the wild, they spend a whole lot of their time diving for abalone, sea urchin, shrimp and other shellfish, and cracking them open in search of tasty bits. It's a learned reward system: fiddle around enough and you might find food.

So, of course, the trainers use food to reinforce otter behavior. Sea otters are very active and playful animals, and as a result, need to eat an equivalent of one fourth their body weight a day.

Abra and Nellie, like humans, have favorite foods. But trainers must take care not to cater too much to these desires--partly because their favorite foods aren't always on hand, and also because it's important that all of their nutritional needs are met. "It's like a kid," says Marcie. "Kids would eat ice cream all day if they were allowed to." So the trainers offer them a wide variety of foods, mixing their favorites with their not-so-favorite items. Their diet would make the seafood lover's mouth water: pollock fillets, surf clam, shrimp, squid, and sometimes even live crabs, quahogs (pronounced CO-hogs) and mussels. Giving them live food is good stimulation and provides dietary fiber, which is important for healthy teeth.

Marcie and Cheryl clearly love their jobs and care a great deal about the otters. But, they admit, even sea otters can have bad days.  "Sometimes they don't want to participate in training sessions for various reasons," said Cheryl. "Something can startle them, like a loud noice. Of other times, it may simply be their mood."

As I spoke with the trainers, we watched Abra and Nellie splashing and tussling with each other. It's hard to imagine these animals having a bad day. When Abra tired of her very feisty compadre, Nellie, she climbed her furry body out of the water and settled herself into a plastic ice-filled play boat.

"They're cute, alright," says Cheryl. "But we have to keep an eye on them. If there's a loose bolt in the exhibit, they'll find it first, and they'll keep working at it."

Droplet: A sixty pound sea otter will eat about fifteen pounds of food a
day. That's about sixty quarter-pounders-with-cheese each day for the
average nine-year-old!

----- IT'S A DIVE: LIFE IN THE GIANT OCEAN TANK ---------------------------
-- Special to Seabits, by Stefanie Jeruss, summer intern

"Is Holly Martel-Bourbon there?" I asked. I could tell the person on the other end of the phone line was busy. "No, she's in the tank," the woman replied. At the time, Holly was submerged in the four-story Giant Ocean Tank, where she spends up to four hours a day tending to sharks, sea turtles, barracudas, moray eels and hundreds of exotic tropical fish.

The life of a diver at the New England Aquarium can be hectic, both in and out of the water. Holly's job includes feeding sea life, cleaning the Giant Ocean Tank, training new divers, planning and conducting fish collecting expeditions, and even doing public relations.

As a senior diver and aquarist at New England Aquarium, Holly has found herself face to face with sea creatures for more than 11 years. In search of work experience as a student at Mt. Holyoke College, she accepted a summer internship. Her internship brought her straight to the penguins, where she learned to feed them and clean their exhibit. With a degree in biology, Holly initially set out to be a veterinarian for farm animals, but during her Aquarium experience she developed a passion for sea creatures that later led her into diving.

"I call the tank a city," says Holly. "It's like living in a neighborhood. It can be dangerous, just like walking down the streets of New York City at night." The Giant Ocean Tank's coral reef displays more than 700 animals and 121 species. Some of the animals are brought into the tank for their social and functional contributions, while others are included for their color, predator-prey relationships and feeding habits. Within this secret city, fish sometimes prey on fellow fish, and new creatures introduced to the tank may not receive a warm welcome and must be removed.

Holly's daily work involves jumping into the Giant Ocean Tank an average of three times per day and feeding the sharks and fishes while fending off the attention-hungry Myrtle, the 575-pound green sea turtle. Holly admits that she used to fear sharks, but now her favorite sea creatures are the often misunderstood shark and barracuda.  "We're the threat to sharks, not the reverse," she says. She explains that hungry sharks do not seek out humans as prey, but from below, a human on a surfboard may look like dinner--a seal or sea lion.

"I'd rather be on the inside of the tank than in the audience looking in," she says. The tank provides an escape for Holly, who says the divers' office, or "dive room," can often be more hectic than being inside the tank's mini ocean. With four female and two male divers, life in the tiny "dive room" can get crowded, and divers are expected to go in the water even if they're not feeling up to it. "Diving is not a job for everyone," says Holly. Divers must be flexible, upbeat, team players."

Droplet: There are about 200,000 gallons of water in the Aquarium's Giant
Ocean tank. It's filled with filtered Boston Harbor water. At any given
time there's almost as much water tied up in the tank's filtration system
as there is in the exhibit itself.

-- Special to Seabits, Stephen Ryan, summer intern

Recently, aquarists and visitors witnessed a special treat in the New England Aquarium's new Coastal Rhythms exhibit. One of the giant Japanese spider crabs went through a process known as molting. Molting, called ecdysis by scientists, occurs when a crustacean outgrows and sheds its hard, external shell--its exoskeleton.

Japanese spider crabs (Macrocheira kaempferi), which can grow up to a 12-foot clawspan, are the largest crustaceans in the world. Mike Kelleher, supervisor of special projects for the Fishes department, noted that young lobsters molt about three or four times a year. The frequency in which a crustacean will molt depends on size (the bigger they are, the less they will molt), water temperature, and the quality of the water. Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine how often a Japanese spider crab molts because there are only a handful of these crabs in captivity.

The Aquarium's spider crab showed some clear signs that it was ready to molt. It changed color and its shell, or exoskeleton, became soft. When the crab does molt, the shell splits lengthwise, and the spider crab climbs out of the carapace (or body), with the tail then the tips of the legs exiting last. The entire process takes about a day-and-a-half.

When a female lobster at the reproductive stage goes through the molting process, a male lobster will usually stay with her until the shell hardens. He protects her, and takes the opportunity to mate with her. The spider crab that was about to molt was a four-foot-long female. Mike wondered if the spider crabs would exhibit the same kind of behavior, and wasn't sure that the male spider crab should be allowed to stay with the female. He contacted Koji Ishigaki, an aquarist in Japan, who advised that he isolate the molting crab. Eventually, smaller males were put with the crab, because they were likely to cause the least damage.

Japanese spider crabs have molted before while on exhibit. It happened in Japan at the Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo and Underwater World in Singapore. By following the successful techniques of these aquariums, New England Aquarium staff kept a close watch on the molting crab and the molt was a complete success. The process started around 8:30 in the morning and ended around 6:30 that same evening. When it molts, a spider crab essentially "pumps itself up" to stretch out of its old shell. In the process, our female spider crab became about 15 % larger than before, and she'll grow a new, larger shell to make up for it. At the conclusion of the molting, aquarists left the old carapace in the tank with the crab, as a source of calcium. Aquarists hope this particular spider crab will have another successful molt, and she'll grow even larger.

Droplet: In Japan, spider crabs are a popular dish, and as a result, are in danger of being overfished. But there's good news: recently, some steps have been taken to protect the giant Japanese crab. They're hard to regulate, however, because very little is known about the life cycle of the creature. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

=-=-= 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.

Sea Otters

Scuba Diving

=-=-= ENDEAVOUR SAILS TO BOSTON =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
The replica of the HM Bark Endeavour, the 18th century ship that Captain James Cook sailed around the world, will visit Boston August 14-24 (open to the public August 15-23). The Endeavour, a majestic three-masted sailing vessel, is perhaps the best known ship of world exploration and navigation. When the Endeavour is docked next to the New England Aquarium on Boston's Central Wharf, she becomes a floating museum. The tall ship is open to the public from August 15-23 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for children (17 years and younger). Please call 703-519-4556 for more voyage information and special discounted rates for groups or access the Endeavour's web site through <>.

=-=-= THURSDAY, AUGUST 20 IS SHARK DAY =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Sink your teeth into this day dedicated to sharks. On Thursday, August 20, the New England Aquarium celebrates Shark Day, a day dedicated to these fascinating and much maligned ocean creatures. All Shark Day activities are free with admission.

Did you know that seventy percent of a shark's brain is devoted to the sense of smell? Is shark skin smooth, rough, slimy? How many teeth do sharks have? Find out what makes sharks such good hunters. At 10:00, 11:15, 1:15, 2:30, 3:30, 5:30 and 7:15 meet Aquarium divers and find out what it's like to SCUBA dive in the 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank. Learn if the sharks eat the other fish? Find out if the divers are ever bitten? See some local, New England sharks, and try to catch a glimpse of a few shy, tropical sharks. Pick up a free take-home flyer and astound friends and family with a host of fascinating shark facts.

=-=-= IF YOU'RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD... =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
On Wednesday, August 5, the New England Aquarium will be at Emerald Square Mall on South Washington Street in North Attleboro, from 5-8. And on Saturday August 22, the tidepool will be at the New England Revolution Soccer Game at Foxboro Stadium, Foxboro, MA. Fun for the whole family!

=-=-= AUGUST CALENDAR =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Saturday, August 8, 9:30 A.M. 
Seals in the Sea Preschool Explorers Class: This program combines a story about the sea and the creatures living there with an art project, a related activity or a close look at a live animal. Recommended for ages 3-5. Children must be accompanied by an adult. $4.00 per child for members; $8.00 plus admission fee per child for nonmembers. Additional admission fees required for nonmember adults. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Wednesday, August 12, 9:15 A.M. 
Aquarium Medical Center Tour: How does a veterinarian know when a fish or penguin is sick? How do they know what causes the illness and then how do you treat it? Tour the Aquarium Medical Center to hear about a real Aquarium patient and find the answers to these and other questions. For ages 6 and older. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Saturday, August 15, 10:00 A.M. - Noon 
Tidepool Trek at Chandler Hovey State Park, Marblehead, MA: With field guides, microscopes, and magnifying boxes, find out what lives in tide pools, learn how to identify marine life, and see how these animals have adapted to live in their turbulent tidal world. For ages 6 and older. $6.00 per person for members; $12.00 per person for nonmembers. Nonmember price does not include Aquarium admission. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Wednesday, August 19, 6:30 P.M. 
New England Aquarium Dive Club monthly meeting. SCUBA diver and diving enthusiasts can join one of the largest and most active dive clubs anywhere in the world. The Dive Club meets monthly, publishes a newsletter, and organizes dive excursions. Eligible Dive Club members can enter the monthly raffle for a dive in the Aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank.  Dive Club membership is $15, plus the cost of Aquarium membership.  For more information, call (617) 973-0240 or check out the dive club website at <>.

Thursday, August 20, Shark Day 
Sink your teeth into this day dedicated to sharks! Learn why they deserve our respect rather than fear through hands-on programs, craft activities, and talks with shark experts. Included with Aquarium admission.

Saturday, August 22, 9:30 A.M. 
Sea Otter Surprise Preschool Explorers Class: This program combines a story about the sea and the creatures living there with an art project, a related activity or a close look at a live animal. Recommended for ages 3-5. Children must be accompanied by an adult. $4.00 per child for members; $8.00 plus admission fee per child for nonmembers. Additional admission fees required for nonmember adults. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Saturday, August 22, 10:00 A.M. - Noon 
Freshwater Bog Jog at Ponkapoag Boardwalk and Bog, Milton, MA: Have you ever seen a New England "quaking bog?" Did you know there is a freshwater environment where plants eat animals? Take a guided tour of this very important wetland, and experience the fascinating and often bizarre life in a bog. For ages 8 and older. $6.00 per person for members; $12.00 per person for nonmembers. Nonmember price does not include Aquarium admission. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

=-=-= SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE INFORMATION =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
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=-=-= CONTACT US =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Content questions and comments? Contact Susan Gedutis at <>.

Technical questions and comments? Contact Bruce Wyman at <>.

=-=-= THAT'S ALL FOLKS =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
And for some of us, that's really true. After a year of writing Seabits (and three years at the Aquarium), your Seabits author and editor is leaving the Aquarium to return to graduate school. Seabits has been a joy to write. I want to send sincere thanks to all of the readers who have sent suggestions and encouraging comments. It has helped to make this the funnest project on the planet.  Fear not... my successor will continue to run with the Seabits torch held high, bravely going where no aquarium writer has gone before (well, except me). Enjoy the rest of the summer!
-- Susan Gedutis