Subject: New England Aquarium Seabits 3.12 (fwd)

mike williamson (
Wed, 1 Dec 1999 19:02:21 -0500 (EST)

From: Bruce Wyman <>
To: Seabits <>
Subject: New England Aquarium Seabits 3.12

New England Aquarium Monthly email Newsletter
Volume 3, Issue 12, December 1999
Copyright, New England Aquarium 1999
As millennial milestone frenzy descends upon us, it is only appropriate to
announce that Seabits, too, has reached a milestone - we now proudly boast
5000 readers from around the world! Happy holidays to all 5000 of you,
wherever you may be. This month, we have quite a tale to tell about turtles
- more than a hundred visitors from the Caribbean who are, as our head
veterinarian said, "gobbling up my budget" as they recuperate from the
cold. This month we celebrate Planet of the Penguins, a weekend of penguiny
fun, and host a festive Cruise to the Millennium to ring in the new year.

In this issue:
   Watery Words
     - Decking the Halls with Turtles
     - Tiny Turtles Tags
     - Days of Our Lives - Penguin Style
   Out on the Net
     - Stuffed Animal Clinic and Holiday Toy Drive
   December Calendar
   Contact Us

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

    "Artist Eduardo Kac stunned several hundred colleagues when he
     proposed using genetic engineering to create a dog with fluorescent
     fur... He broached his fluorescent canine proposal at Ars Electronica,
     a 20-year-old international gathering in Austria that brings artists
     together to explore the realm where science intersects aesthetics.
     Yet even this sophisticated crowd seemed numb as Kac outlined his
     plan - so far theoretical - to extract a harmless protein from a
     jellyfish and insert it into the dog's genome so as to make its fur
     glow with a green light"

                             -- Tom Abatec,
                                San Francisco Chronicle,
                                October 18, 1999

       (Contributed by former Seabits editor, Susan Gedutis. (Hi!))

***** STORIES *************************************************************
This month's stories
   1) Decking the Halls with Sea Turtles
   2) Tiny Turtles Tags
   3) Days of Our Lives - Penguin Style

----- DECKING THE HALLS WITH SEA TURTLES ----------------------------------
Lining our hallways and filling up our spare corners this season are
turtles, turtles, turtles. If you caught the local Boston news in
mid-November, you no doubt heard something about the incredible number of
cold-stunned sea turtles washing ashore on Cape Cod beaches. In the end,
the count was up to around 120. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the staff
and volunteers at Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and the New
England Aquarium, 93 of these freezing turtles were rescued and are on the
road to recovery. The others perished either at sea or shortly after.

As it turns out, telling whether a cold-stunned sea turtle is alive or dead
can be tricky. When I poked my nose into the hubbub of activity in the
Aquarium Medical Center, I noticed a few motionless sea turtles with yellow
post-it notes on their backs, sometimes with question marks, and the
notation "ul" for ultrasound. These turtles were awaiting ultrasound to
find out their status - live or dead? Turtle heart beats can be so slow
that it takes an ultrasound to detect them - one turtle's heart was beating
at the rate of once every 6 minutes. Sea turtles are voluntary breathers,
and can easily go 20 minutes between breaths.

The sea turtles that washed ashore were mostly endangered Kemp's ridley sea
turtles, though two greens and two loggerheads were rescued as well. These
Kemp's ridleys have carapaces (upper shells) ranging from dinner plate to
cereal bowl size, though they can grow to about 28 inches in length. Kemp's
ridleys are unique among sea turtles because they nest only on one beach in
the world, Rancho Nuevo on Mexico's east coast.

How these turtles ended up freezing in Cape Cod Bay is an unanswered
question. Somehow, maybe carried by the Gulf Stream, these turtles end up
basking and feeding in Cape Cod Bay each summers, but as the weather turns
colder, they may not be able to find their way out of the bay. In warm
falls, like this one, cold snaps can catch them unawares. When air
temperatures drop rapidly, turtles settle on the bottom to wait out the
cold, but they can't wait out a three-day cold snap, like the one that
preceded this stranding. Turtles do have to surface to breathe, and when
they do, the cold temperatures weaken them to the point of immobility --
they are unable to swim or eat, and just float in the waves until they wash
ashore. Their body temperatures often dip into the 50s, sometimes even
lower. One green sea turtle came in with a body temperature of 30 degrees,
and survived.

Usually, we get a couple of dozen turtles a season to rehabilitate. Until
this year, the previous record was in 1995, when we had 42 ridleys to care
for. With 93 new charges filling every spare corner and lining every
hallway, we had to send 33 of the healthiest turtles to other facilities in
Florida and another 12 to the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut,
leaving us with 48.

Rehabilitation can take anywhere from two to six months, depending on the
turtle's condition. Our first concern is to gradually increase their body
temperatures to between 70 and 78 degrees and rehydrate them with fluids
and electrolytes. Their body temperatures have to be raised slowly so as
not to damage their internal organs. The veterinarians treat any wounds or
infections, such as frostbite, boat wounds or pneumonia. The recovering sea
turtles are kept "dry-docked," since most of these turtles would just sink
to the bottom and drown if put in water. The turtles are kept propped up on
towels to make breathing easier.

As they regain their strength and their body temperatures increase, they
are allowed short, supervised swims until the staff feels that they are
ready to swim in the rehabilitation tanks solo. To get them going, their
caregivers will hold them gently at the surface for a few minutes, and then
slowly start moving their flippers for them. I watched in surprise as two
previously motionless turtles actually started swimming on their own after
a short refresher course.

Once they have recovered, the next step for these turtles will be to go
down south, closer to their native waters. For final release, we send our
turtles to facilities in Florida.

Droplet: Sea turtles are reptiles, and can't regulate their body
temperatures like humans and other warm-blooded species can, with one
exception: the large, leatherback sea turtle is able to maintain a body
temperature of 80 degrees through a special heat exchange system.

----- TINY TURTLE TAGS ----------------------------------------------------
Probably the happiest person in the midst of November's mass turtle
stranding was Ben Higgins, a fishery biologist with the National Marine
Fisheries Service in Galveston, Texas. He flew up to Boston with special
magnetizers and a pricey magnetic wand to scan all 110 stranded Kemp's
ridley sea turtles for tiny (2.5 x 0.25 mm) tags in the flippers. And he
found six. A record.

Through a project started in 1996, Ben and his colleagues have been
inserting coded wire tags into the tiny flippers of silver dollar-sized
hatchlings. In 1996, they tagged 3,336 hatchlings in the right front
flipper; in 1997, 10,002 in the left front flipper; 1999, in 10,010 in both
front flippers. (1998 was skipped due to logistical problems.) Until this
November, only three turtles with tags had been seen again, out of more
than 23,000 that were tagged. And here, in Boston, those numbers tripled,
bringing the total up to nine.  All six tags were located in the left front
flippers, indicating that these were hatchlings born in 1997.

Why is this so exciting? As Ben put it, "What we don't know about these
turtles would fill this building." We don't know how to tell how old a sea
turtle is. We don't know where they go between the hatchling stage and when
they return to the nesting site. We don't know how long they live, how fast
they grow, when they mate, how they navigate, how far they swim and we
don't know when they change from being floating hatchlings hiding in
seaweed at the surface to being deep divers who spend most of their time on
the bottom. This last is very important because these sea turtles are often
drowned in shrimping nets in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowing how big sea
turtles are when they become at risk is important in developing gear to
protect the turtles.

"This is like the Rosetta stone for aging turtles," said Ben about finding
the six tags. It may be the key to figuring out when the pelagic (surface
floating) and benthic (bottom-dwelling) stages of the Kemp's ridley life
cycle take place. These six turtles were also fitted with new passive
integrated transponder or "pit" tags for future reference. If these six are
found again, researchers will be able to call up their life histories
through the 10 digit alphanumeric code on the pit tags, and may learn more
about their migratory habits and age at breeding. The more we can learn
about these elusive creatures, the better we may be able to protect their
200-million-year-old legacy.

Droplet: Kemp's ridleys nest in synchronized mass events called
"arribadas," which is Spanish for "arrivals." In 1947, an airplane pilot
was stranded on Rancho Nuevo beach for 24 hours because the turtles came
ashore to nest, and there was no way for his small plane to take off. He
filmed around 40,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtles nesting on the beach at
once. By 1970, there were only around 400 nesting females on this same
stretch of beach. Scientists estimate that there are between 5,000 and
6,000 adult Kemp's ridleys today.

----- DAYS OF OUR LIVES - PENGUIN STYLE -----------------------------------
by Sue Knapp, Roving Reporter

When she arrived at the Aquarium in 1968, Robben was simply known as GB for
"green band." Robben was probably at least three years old in 1969, and she
has surprised everyone with her stamina - she is thought to be 33 years
old. African penguins usually only live for 12-15 years. For 30 years,
Robben (renamed in 1996 for an Island in Cape Town Harbor) has amused and
delighted visitors.

Robben's longevity has given the aquarists and veterinarians a chance for
in-depth, long-term behavior and medical studies. And Robben's life has
turned out to be very interesting, indeed. Robben mated in 1968 with a
penguin called GB's Mate (we are much more original with names nowadays).
Over the course of 13 years, Robben and GB's Mate produced six children.
Sadly, GB's Mate passed away in 1981, and since they had been together for
so long, the aquarists all prepared for Robben to follow him soon after.
She surprised everyone by hooking up with a penguin called Shorty, who had
also lost his mate. Robben and Shorty had five eggs in their first two
years together, but none hatched successfully. Shorty passed away in July
1994, after 13 years with Robben. Once again, the aquarists thought that
Robben would follow her mate.

But Robben is apparently made of stronger stuff than that. Just a few
months later, in October 1994, a two-year-old penguin named Lambert slipped
into position beside Robben, and they've been together ever since.  "She's
just amazing," says Heather Urquhart, senior aquarist.  "Robben eats well;
she defends her nest site just like a younger penguin; and Lambert seems to
be a devoted partner." Apparently, in wild African penguin communities, a
mate may leave if no offspring are produced, and Robben stopped laying eggs
in 1981. "In captivity, these birds are pretty faithful," says Heather.

Robben can be spotted in the exhibit on the large island near the
Aquarium's entrance. She still sports a green band on her right wing.
Lambert is usually nearby and can be identified by the matching green band
on his left wing. Robben looks like an elderly bird, mainly because she
stoops over and moves slowly. According to the aquarists, her stooping is
not actually a sign of old age; Robben has always had a hunchback.  "Robben
demands respect in our colony, from the penguins as well as the people. All
the aquarists and volunteers treat her with admiration," says Heather. "She
has provided us with years and years of fond memories and continues to be
the awe-inspiring success story of our animal husbandry and veterinary

Droplet: The Penguin Dating Game
Think it's hard being single and dating in Boston? What if you were an
African penguin in search of a lifelong mate whose population was listed as
"vulnerable" and you lived in an aquarium. Luckily for our colony of
African penguins, we are part of the American Zoo and Aquarium
Association's Species Survival Plan for African penguins, and we regularly
send some of our single penguins to various other institutions to play the
mating game. Right now, one lucky bachelor is off to Colorado, and we are
playing host to two bachelors from the Seneca Park Zoo and a bachelorette
from Baltimore. Maybe soon we'll hear wedding bells or the gentle thump of
lain eggs.

***** 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 Turtles

Special Mention, for all their hard work

Ben Higgins / Turtle Tagging


***** Announcements *******************************************************
This month's announcements
   1) Stuffed Animal Clinic and Holiday Toy Drive

----- STUFFED ANIMAL CLINIC AND HOLIDAY TOY DRIVE  ------------------------
Weekends from November 20 - December 19
Bear missing an eye? Dinosaur tail hanging by a thread? Bring your loved
ones to the Aquarium's Stuffed Animal Clinic this holiday season to be
examined and repaired by trained professionals. If you would like to pay
your doctor's bill, please donate to the Aquarium's and WKLB radio's
holiday toy drive. Bring a new, unwrapped children's toy and help brighten
the season for hospitalized children in the greater Boston area. Included
with Aquarium admission.

***** DECEMBER CALENDAR ***************************************************
Saturday, December 4 - Sunday, December 5, Planet of the Penguins, 9 a.m. -
5 p.m. A weekend-long celebration highlighting these waddlers with a series
of live animal programs, craft and educational activities, and talks by
penguin experts.  Included with Aquarium admission.

Saturday, December 4, Bird Watching and Nature Cruise
In celebration of our Planet of the Penguins weekend, join Aquarium bird
care expert Steve Baker along with Massachusetts Audubon ornithologist
Wayne Petersen for a three-hour Boston Harbor winter bird watching tour.
Call (617) 973-6562 or e-mail <> for trip fees and
registration information.

Sunday, December 5, Creatures with Pincers Explorer Class, 9:30 a.m.
Explorer classes are designed with the preschooler in mind. This program
combines a story about the sea and the featured animal with a take-home art
project, a related activity, or a closer look at some live animals. Each
program lasts one hour and fifteen minutes, and concludes with a visit to
see the featured animal. Fees: $4.00 per child for members and $8.00 per
child for non-members. No fee for adult participant. The non-member fee
does not include Aquarium admission. To register, call (617) 973-5206.

Sunday, December 12, Behind the Scenes Guided Tour, 3 p.m.
Take a peek behind the scenes in one of our galleries! This 45-minute
program will also include a look at the Food Room, the Aquarium "fish
kitchen." Children must be accompanied by an adult. Fees: $5.00 per person
for members; $10.00 plus admission for non-members. Tours limited to 12
people. To register, call (617) 973-5206.

Wednesday, December 15, 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: Studio Two.

Sunday, December 19, Creatures with Pincers Explorer Class, 9:30 a.m.
Explorer classes are designed with the preschooler in mind. This program
combines a story about the sea and the featured animal with a take-home art
project, a related activity, or a closer look at some live animals. Each
program lasts one hour and fifteen minutes, and concludes with a visit to
see the featured animal. Fees: $4.00 per child for members and $8.00 per
child for non-members. No fee for adult participant. The non-member fee
does not include Aquarium admission. To register, call (617) 973-5206.

Monday, December 27 - Thursday, December 30, Create a Creature Art
Workshop, 9 a.m. - 12 noon.
With guidance from local artists, kids in grades 4-8 will learn about
aquatic animals and then make life-size puppets to wear at the First Night
Parade through downtown Boston. Program runs from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. for
four days. Fees are $120 per person for members and $170 per person for
non-members. Call (617) 973-5206 to register.

Friday, December 31, First Night
For those ringing in the new millennium with their special First Night
Button, the Aquarium participates with hands-on exhibits at the Hynes
Convention Center and enters some creative puppetry in the parade. Call
617-973-6588 for more information.

Friday, December 31, Cruise to the Millennium, 9 p.m. - 1 a.m.
Celebrate with us! Join us for the New England Aquarium's one and only
Cruise to the Millennium on New Year's Eve. Enjoy the spectacular midnight
fireworks from the festive, heated decks of Voyager III on this four-hour
narrated tour of Boston Harbor, its islands, its lighthouses and its
legends.  Cruise includes lavish dinner buffet and champagne toast.  Cash
bar available.  Televisions throughout the ship broadcast the ball drop
from Times Square. Cost: $175 per person ($150 if booked by December 4 and
for members). To register, call (617) 973-5206.

***** COMING IN DECEMBER **************************************************
Saturday, December 4, Winter Bird-Watching Cruise, 9 a.m. - 12 noon.
Join Aquarium bird care expert Steve Baker along with Massachusetts Audubon
ornithologist Wayne Petersen for a three-hour Boston Harbor winter bird-
watching tour. For more information, e-mail <>. To
register, call (617) 973-5206.

Saturday and Sunday, December 4 and 5, Planet of the Penguins, 9 a.m. - 5
Join us for our annual weekend-long celebration of our tuxedoed feathered
friends with a series of live animal programs, craft and educational
activities, penguin tattoos, and a special Happy Birthday song to Robben,
our 30+ -year-old African penguin. For more information, e-mail

***** SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE INFORMATION ***********************************
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To unsubscribe to Seabits, send email to <>. In the body
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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 ****************************************************
Who knows that the next millennium of Seabits will bring you?
Transgenically fluorescent dogs are probably just the beginning. Happy
2000! -- Jen Goebel