Subject: New England Aquarium Seabits 2.9 (fwd)

mike williamson (
Mon, 31 Aug 1998 19:48:40 -0400 (EDT)

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Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 16:51:13 -0400
To: Seabits <>
Subject: New England Aquarium Seabits 2.9

New England Aquarium Monthly e-mail Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 9, September, 1998
Copyright, New England Aquarium, 1998.

In this issue:
  Watery Words
    - Island of the Sharks
    - Seals Return to Aquarium Plaza
    - Big Dig Exhibit Opens
  September Calendar
  Contact Us

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

"If some alien called me up, ... 'Hello, this is Alpha, and we want to know
what kind of life you have,' -- I'd say waterbased ... Earth organisms
figure out how to make do without almost anything else. The single
nonnegotiable thing life requires is water."

                          -- Christopher McKay
                             NASA Scientist, Omni, July 1992.

=-=-= STORIES =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
This month's stories:
  1) Island of the Sharks
  2) Seals Return to Aquarium Plaza
  3) Big Dig Exhibit Opens

----- ISLAND OF THE SHARKS ------------------------------------------------
Special to Seabits by Ken Mallory, Editor-In-Chief, Publishing Programs

Diving in the waters of Cocos Island off of Costa Rica is neither for the
faint of heart nor flipper. First, there are daily encounters with scores
of white-tipped reef sharks. They are just the appetizer, the shrimp
cocktail if you will, to prime you for the main attraction: hundreds of
hammerhead sharks, which, if you are lucky, leave the depths of sandy
underwater plains and parade in front of you 80 feet away.

Then there is the ocean current. It brings to mind that famous tornado
scene from the Wizard of Oz: Dorothy, Toto, the Wicked Witch, several
errant silos, farm animals, and fragments of houses caught up in a
swirling, blinding cyclone. That should give you the general idea of how I
felt blown along the base of an underwater mountain, 80 feet down. The best
you can do is go with the flow and hope it keeps you close to the mountain.
Sometimes a clump of goosenecked-sized barnacles appears to offer a
handhold (yes I know I'm not supposed to touch the reef, but what's a guy
to do?). There you can watch your bubbles race off into the distance and
commiserate with the host of small fishes locked into crevices, staring out
with desperate eyes.

I have recently returned from eight days observing filmmakers Howard and
Michele Hall scouting hammerhead sharks for an IMAX film to be called
Cocos: Island of the Sharks. The New England Aquarium, IMAX, and WGBH have
joined forces to mark a new appreciation for the incredible diversity and
sensory complexity of sharks, and to educate the public about the need to
preserve rather than decimate their dwindling populations.

Cocos Island is located 300 miles off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica,
where, at five degrees north of the equator, it receives 25 feet of rain a
year. The island, called a seamount, is what remains of a volcanic eruption
rising thousands of feet from the ocean floor, is only five miles in
diameter at its widest point. Lush green vegetation clings to vertical
cliffs of volcanic rock rising hundreds of feet along the coast. Reportedly
the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," Cocos
Island today is uninhabited except for two ranger stations. Because it is
such a unique environment it has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Fortunately for me and my companion divers, the fierce current we
encountered in our first days of diving was not an everyday occurrence. It
does, however, give a good idea of the challenges for a team of filmmakers
trying to maneuver a 250-pound IMAX camera (its weight out of water) into
position to record the wildlife around them.

Peter Klimley, film advisor and leading hammerhead researcher, has been
recording the behavior of hammerhead sharks for decades in the Gulf of
California. Gulf of California seamounts, which are very similar to Cocos
Island, attract huge schools of hammerheads. Hundreds of hours of
observation and video recording indicate that the schools are mostly
females, many of them immature, and that the schools may serve as an easy
way for sexually mature males to find a receptive female. All the mature
females fight for a position in the center of the school and that's where
the males seem to instinctively know where to go.

Klimley has recorded hammerhead night and day movements using tags, and
believes that the animals use their peculiarly shaped heads like mine
sweepers. Hammerheads pick up the magnetic forces in surrounding volcanic
rocks and use them as guideposts to lead them to cleaning stations, which
are areas on the reef where parasite-picking fish, such as butterfly fish,
congregate.  At night, they use the same techniques to find feeding areas
where they gorge on squid.

Hammerhead sharks are only one of the many species featured in this film.
Whale sharks, manta and spotted rays, moray eels, and huge schools of
yellowfin tuna, jacks, and snappers as well as lesser known characters,
like the redlipped batfish and mantis shrimp, all will play roles in a
movie well worth the wait, which is quite a long one. For those of you who
venture into New Jersey, you can see the film at its opening in April 1999
at the Lincoln Liberty Science Center. The film will open in Boston when
the Aquarium's new IMAX theater is completed some time in the year 2000.

Droplet:  Adult hammerheads are fished for their fins in some southern U.S.
fisheries; the fins are then sold to the Chinese market for shark fin soup,
a delicacy which fetches up to $150 per bowl. In the U.S., a pound of dried
shark fins can fetch $200, while the rest of the shark is only worth around
60 cents per pound. Many fishermen simply cut off the fins and dump the
sharks, alive but with little chance of survival, overboard.

----- SEALS RETURN TO AQUARIUM PLAZA --------------------------------------
Rigel and Reggae, two of the Aquarium's eight resident harbor seals, moved
into their new home on the Aquarium Plaza a few weeks ago. This free
outdoor exhibit that had been a Boston favorite for Aquarium visitors,
waterfront tourists, local residents and financial district lunch-time
peaceseekers is back. A great improvement on the old exhibit, visitors can
now get a close-up view (only the width of the glass between you) both
above and below the waterline of Rigel and Reggae as they swim, eat, play,
rest, and sometimes have their teeth brushed.

Rigel is a 13-year-old, 180-pound male Atlantic harbor seal (Phoca
vitulina) and the father of 5-year-old Reggae, also a male Atlantic harbor
seal weighing close to 160 pounds. To join them soon is Rigel's other son,
and Reggae's half brother, Chacoda (Chuck). Chuck is the 3-year-old
grandson of famous talking harbor seal Hoover, who was known to converse
quite eloquently with visitors, and with a New England twang, no less. We
are curious to see if Chuck will develop his grandfather's turn of phrase
in the next few years. Rigel's third offspring, Cayenne, can be seen
sharing space with her mother, Trumpet, and two sea otters elsewhere in the
Aquarium. The separation of boys and girls is no accident, as they breed
quite well in captivity.

Rigel was found stranded in Hartwell, Maine in 1985. After being treated
and released, Rigel, apparently having enjoyed human hospitality and
regular tasty herring, capelin and squid handouts, was not eager to return
to his former life and repeatedly approached beachgoers. As a result, Rigel
was adopted by the Aquarium, both for his protection and for the public's
protection, since a seal who is asking for capelin and gets fat-free sour
cream & onion potato chips might be inclined to take a chunk out of
someone's hand. Seals generally keep a healthy diversity of bacteria in
their mouths, probably from the fish they eat, so a bite from a seal is no
joke. "Seal finger," despite its small-sounding name, can actually land you
in the hospital on IV antibiotics for a few days.

Rigel and Reggae's new home is filled with large man-made rocks with hand
sculpted seams (cheaper to build and move, though rather time-consuming),
as well as smaller, mobile nature-made rocks. Also in the tank is Boston
Harbor water (well-filtered), real algae, and toys like live seaweed and
sometimes frisbees, balls, or PVC tubing filled with beans. You might see
Rigel and Reggae blowing lots of bubbles against the glass (motorboating),
chasing water from the hose, throwing water against the glass with their
hind flippers, slapping the water with their flippers, and hiding in rocky
caves. Keeping the animals entertained is a "constant challenge," says
Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals Jenny Montague, and they are always on
the lookout for new toys.

The boys are fed three times a day, during training sessions, and consume
between seven and 12 pounds of food a day, though the amount varies with
the fish. Each batch of fish is analyzed for protein, fat and calorie
content, so we have a pretty good idea how much they are eating in terms of
calories, rather than pounds of fish or squid. During their molt, they lose
a few pounds since they spend more time on shore and eat less, but they do
not exhibit the same dramatic weight fluctuations that we see in sea lions.
Rigel and Reggae are being trained to perform a variety of behaviors that
will make taking care of them easier, like giving a blood sample, getting
eye drops, taking medicine, staying still for a stethoscope and tooth

Come by and welcome Rigel and Reggae to their new home.

A Whole Waterfall of Droplets:
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About the Seals:
- Seals can hold their breath for about 15 minutes.
- They do get gingivitis (gum disease) in the wild.
- Their toothpaste is "poultry" flavored.
- That seal isn't dead, it's sleeping.
- They sleep on the bottom, sometimes on their sides, up to 12 minutes or
- They may swim upside-down to expand their field of vision since their
    eyes are on the top of their heads.
- Bobbing in the water with heads out, tails down, is called "bottling."
- On land, their hind flippers are used for temperature regulation: when
    curled together, they are conserving heat; when spread apart, they are
    cooling off.
- The water in the seal tank is kept at around 60 degrees in the summer and
    55 degrees in the winter.
- In zoos and aquariums, seals have been known to live into their 40s, but
    their life expectancy is probably not as long in the wild.
- They molt in July and August.
- Molting can make them irritable, sleepy and pimply, like teenagers.
- Sometimes Rigel's sensitive skin bleeds a little while he is molting.
- During breeding season (spring) you might see them displaying territorial
    behavior, like biting each other's necks, swimming over each other or
    scratching each other.
- Despite Reggae's antics, he knows Rigel is boss.
- They poop in the tank.
- We vacuum it up.

----- BIG DIG VISITORS CENTER OPENS ---------------------------------------
For the New England Aquarium, which fronts the $10.8 billion dollar hole in
the ground known as the Big Dig, jackhammers, cranes, bulldozers and
diggers are part of the background scenery that we try to gracefully
ignore. It's rather like ignoring an elephant in your house -- you can
squeeze around it but it's there taking up space, making a lot of noise,
running out your guests and ruining your furniture.

An unwelcome guest it may be, but we can't help but be intrigued by this
colossal project. The plan is to re-connect Boston to its waterfront with a
vast 27-acres of open space where there are now miles of asphalt,
eighteen-wheelers and regular traffic jams. In addition to cutting down on
traffic congestion and ridding the city of an eyesore, the carbon monoxide
levels in Boston's air should be reduced by about 12 percent because the
traffic will be moving rather than standing still.

Just how do they plan to construct an underground 10-lane highway on the
edge of the Boston Harbor? Come check out the exhibit to see the ins and
outs of  America's largest and most expensive public works project. The Big
Dig Visitors Center houses a model of the finished product, graphic panels
describing the work, videos of what it is like to work alongside monstrous
cranes, bulldozers and excavators, a giant floor map that demonstrates the
scale of this project, and information on construction techniques,
including the all-important slurry walls. Kids can try on hard hats, tool
belts and overalls, and build and demolish their own construction projects
in the sandbox.

The Big Dig Visitors Center is free, put together through the joint efforts
of Modern Continental Construction Company, the Massachusetts Turnpike
Authority, the City of Boston and the New England Aquarium. The exhibit is
located at 70 East India Row, adjacent to the New England Aquarium. The
Visitors Center is open from 10 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. every day, and on-site
guides are available to answer questions. For more information, call (617)

Droplet: To avoid injuring harbor life during the big dig, fish and
lobsters were driven away from the blast and dredge zones with sound waves
emitted from underwater cables.  At a cost of $1 million dollars, the
technique, called "fish startling," startled more than fish.

=-=-= 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.


Harbor Seals

Big Dig

=-=-= FAREWELL =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
It has been a sad summer for dolphin researchers with the passing, first,
of John Prescott (63), Director Emeritus of the New England Aquarium on
June 30, and then his colleague, Dr. Ken Norris (74), Professor of Natural
History, Emeritus, at the University of California at Santa Cruz on August
16. Norris and Prescott were the first researchers to document the
existence of dolphin sonar, or echolocation, which they were able to do by
developing the first suction-cup blindfold. Norris also served as a
scientific adviser to the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, where he helped
create the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Norris and his research
teams discovered much of what today's marine biologists know about
echolocation in dolphins. His seminal research on dolphins continues to
inspire multitudes of undergraduate and graduate students around the world.

=-=-= SEPTEMBER CALENDAR =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Saturday, September 12, 9:15 A.M.
*Boston Harbor Exhibit Tour:  Our "Go With The Flow" exhibit offers a
window on the Harbor Islands National Park. Boston Harbor was once
notorious for being the dirtiest harbor in the country.  Come see how it's
being cleaned up and what animals now live there.  For ages 6 and older.
Tour fees are $4.00 per person for members. $8.00 per person plus admission
fee for nonmembers. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Call (617)
973-5206 to register.

Sunday, September 13, 2:00 P.M. or 3:00 P.M.
*Behind the Scenes Tour:  Take a peek behind the scenes in one of our
galleries! Recommended for ages 6 and older. Children must be accompanied
by an adult. $5.00 per person for members; $10.00 plus admission fee for
nonmembers. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Wednesday, September 16, 6:30 P.M.
Dive Club Meeting at New England Aquarium. Guests and new members always
welcome. Call (617) 973-0240 or visit their website at
<> for details.

Saturday, September 19, 9:30 A.M.
*Hidden Sea Treasures 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, September 19,  9:15 A.M.
*Coastal Rhythms Tour: Journey to the world's coasts. The amazing animals
you'll see in our newest exhibit demonstrate the wonder of coastal
diversity. Learn about how they live in today's changing world.  For ages 6
and older. Tour fees are $4.00 per person for members. $8.00 per person
plus admission fee for nonmembers. Children must be accompanied by an
adult. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Saturday, September 26, 9:30 A.M.
Our Feathered Friends 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, September 26, 9:30 A.M.
Sharks Explorer Class: Investigate animals and habitats with hands-on
aquatic activities and enjoy personal attention from Aquarium Educators.
Recommended for ages 6-9. Children must be accompanied by an adult. $4.00
per person for members and $8.00 per person for nonmembers. No fee for
adult participant. The nonmember price does not include Aquarium admission.
Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Sunday, September 27, 9 A.M. - 6 P.M.
Environmental Writers' Festival: Meet and learn from award-winning writers,
poets and journalists for a day-long celebration of natural history in
writing during the fourth annual New England Aquarium Environmental
Writers' Festival, 8 A.M. - 6 P.M. Call (617) 973-5295 for more information
about fees and registration.

Saturday, October 3, 11 A.M. - 4:30 P.M.
Gifts from the Sacred Waters: Harvest Moon: The opening ceremony with
participatory dancing will start at 11 a.m on the Plaza. The festivities
will continue on the top deck of Discovery, with Native American dancing,
storytelling, hands-on activities, and demonstrations relating to coastal
wetland plants, shellfish, and cranberries, and their role in traditional
and contemporary Native American life in New England.  Children will be
able to braid sweet grass, make a bog-in-a-cup and a shell necklace, and
hear stories relating to autumnal themes. Harvest Moon is the second in a
series of five programs featuring the Native American tribes of New England
and their traditional and contemporary relationship to our threatened
coastal environment.

Gifts from the Sacred Waters is supported in part by a grant from the
Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, a state program of the
National Endowment for the Humanities.  These programs are also supported
by grants from the Sea Grant Programs of the University of Connecticut,
University of Maine, University of New Hampshire, University of Rhode
Island, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institute, as well as from LEF Foundation, Lowell Institute, Maine
Community Foundation, and the New England Aquarium.

*Coastweeks Program

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=-=-= CONTACT US =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Content questions and comments? Contact Jennifer Goebel at

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

=-=-= THAT'S ALL FOLKS =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
You may have noticed that Seabits has a new editor -- namely, me. I take up
the torch where Susan Gedutis left off and will try to continue making
Seabits an enjoyable and informative newsletter. I welcome your ideas,
comments and suggestions. - Jennifer Goebel