A Head Start for Tortuga, Adventure Aquarium’s Rehab and Release Loggerhead Sea Turtle

By: Alicia Longo, Biologist II – Fish & Invertebrates

Sea turtle conservation is a very important issue in marine science. All seven species of sea turtles living in the oceans are classified as threatened or endangered in the wild, primarily due to human activity. As a result, many conservation strategies are currently being implemented in an effort to help save sea turtles from extinction. In November 2012, Adventure Aquarium began participating in a sea turtle conservation and tracking project ran by North Carolina Aquarium with the acquisition of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle hatchling our guests named “Tortuga.” This conservation program allows sea turtle hatchlings to get a head start at aquariums where they are closely monitored and grow in a safe environment for eventual release into the ocean.

A then, 3-month old Tortuga!

 Tortuga at 3 months old

If you’ve visited recently or have been tracking Tortuga’s progress, it may be no surprise how much he has grown! When he first arrived at Adventure Aquarium, he weighed only 129 grams. I remember how small he was, and how interested he was to investigate everything with his mouth. At his last weigh-in, Tortuga weighed 7800 grams, which is over 17 pounds!

Tortuga7

Tortuga now – officially a “yearling”

I have been working with Tortuga since his arrival in 2012. Being a Rehab and Release sea turtle, I limit human interaction with him, such as frequent handling or hand-feeding. This prevents him from getting used to or dependent on humans. Instead, Tortuga is handled only when being weighed and measured or being transported.

Alicia measures Tortuga's carapace

Alicia measures Tortuga’s carapace

I have also introduced many forms of enrichment that provide challenging methods of providing Tortuga’s daily diet. Allowing Tortuga to use foraging skills to “find” his food ensures that once released, he will be successful in foraging on his own. If you’ve visited Tortuga, or have been following his blog updates, you may have seen these enrichment items!

Tortuga's recent enrichment includes learning to hunt and forage, using a whiffle ball stuffed with food.

Tortuga’s recent enrichment includes learning to hunt and forage, using a whiffle ball stuffed with food.

The newest form of enrichment that has proven to be very successful is a “feed mat,” a large sinking PVC-square with screening mainly used to hold lots of greens for benthic, or bottom, foraging. This simulates foraging on vegetation he may find in seagrass beds. The feed mat has also been adapted to hold fish, shrimp, and a vitamin-supplemented omnivore gel.

Tortuga explores his sea grass mat enrichment

Tortuga explores his seagrass mat enrichment

And watch him in action:

Another new form of enrichment that Tortuga has been enjoying is blue claw crab. When he was younger, I would provide small portions of claws, but now that he is a yearling, I’ve begun offering whole crabs! He absolutely loves these, devouring every piece. This is very encouraging that he will be successful at foraging on benthic crustaceans and shelled-mollusks once released. The crabs Tortuga currently receives in his diet are not live, however the closer he gets to being released, more live food items will be offered to provide even better foraging skills.

Watch Tortuga tear into a blue crab!

Have you gone to visit Tortuga’s exhibit, but found he wasn’t there? Over the last few weeks, our team has been slowly introducing Tortuga into Rainbow Reef, a large exhibit in Zone A. Tortuga has grown so well that we must keep up with him! A larger space for Tortuga will allow more room to explore and provide lots of mental stimulation, as Rainbow Reef is very dynamic with many Caribbean fishes and creates an environment similar to what he will encounter when visiting coral reefs in the ocean. He has done very well in the new exhibit, and we hope to move him permanently into Rainbow Reef in the near future, where he will remain until his release later this year.

Exploring  his new home in Rainbow Reef

Exploring his new home in Rainbow Reef

Tortuga’s release is currently set for late September/early October 2014 and will take place back at North Carolina Aquarium where he first entered the program. Prior to release, he will have a satellite monitoring device attached to his carapace, or upper shell, that will further aid in sea turtle conservation research. Every time Tortuga surfaces for a breath of air, a signal will be sent to a satellite that records his coordinates, providing migration information. Typically the tags remain attached to the carapace for about one year. Many rehabilitated sea turtles that are released are participating in satellite tagging, allowing researchers to track migration patterns of various species, as well as determine onshore nesting sites.

Adventure Aquarium hopes to continue participating in the sea turtle conservation and tracking program with North Carolina Aquarium after Tortuga’s release.

Catching up with Adventure Aquarium’s juvenile penguins

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in our newest penguin chicks: 7 month old siblings Pumpkin and Patch, and 4 month old siblings Cornelius and Saba. One look at the “crew” and you will need to do a double-take. Almost overnight they’ve gone from being tiny, fluffy chicks to nearly full-grown penguins!

Juvenile Penguins_April10

Since the weather has been warming up, they’ve been spending the majority of their time outside.  In fact, they’re almost completely integrated with the rest of the colony – a big step, since the ability to “play nice with others” is a milestone in penguin maturation.

Enjoying enrichment with a penguin favorite - the 'red stick'

Enjoying enrichment with a penguin favorite – the ‘red stick’

4-month old Cornelius and Saba

4-month olds Cornelius and Saba

7-month olds Pumpkin and Patch

7-month olds Pumpkin and Patch

"The Crew"

“The Crew” checks things out, outside

Another major milestone in behavioral training was that Pumpkin, Patch, Cornelius and Saba each took their first swims. During their swimming “lessons” a biologist goes in the water with them, guiding them and ensuring the safety of the birds.

In case you missed it, check out our video capturing the moment below:

As you would guess – the penguins LOVE swimming! And thanks to the recent bout of springlike conditions, these warm weather-loving birds have been passing the day away by swimming in the pool at Penguin Island.

Be sure to watch a live penguin feed during your next visit! Daily at 11:15 am (and 3:45 on Saturdays and Sundays), biologists feed our penguins on deck. You won’t want to miss the juveniles as they get in on the action. Chowing down capelin, herring and squid. In total, they consume 20% of their body weight in ONE sitting!

Adventure Aquarium volunteers help plant trees in the city of Camden

“He that plants trees loves others beside himself.” – Thomas Fuller

Making the earth greener, one tree at a time! This past week, a team of Adventure Aquarium ‘Fins for the Future’ volunteers helped plant trees in the city of Camden. Working side by side with community and corporate volunteers and students, the Fins for the Future team – comprised of Adventure Aquarium employees – helped 35 lovely trees take root near the intersection of North 32nd & Hayes Street. The tree planting is part of a city-wide effort organized by the New Jersey Tree Foundation.

photo 1 (3)Together with the New Jersey Tree Foundation’s Urban Airshed Reforestation Program, Adventure Aquarium’s Fins for the Future team participates in several tree plantings in Camden throughout the year.

photo 4 (3)

The Program is dedicated to planting trees in New Jersey’s most under-served neighborhoods that help beautify the city, improve air quality, manage storm water, and provide shade. Tree planting is just one of Fins for the Future’s environmental initiatives. As Adventure Aquarium’s conservation program, Fins for the Future is committed to providing real opportunities for people to get involved and make positive changes to the environment.

For information on how you can help with a future tree planting, visit the NJ Tree Foundation online.

Big changes happening on Penguin Island! Cassie the penguin completes her first official molt.

Cassie7Do you recognize this penguin? Why it’s the one and only Cassie (or as you may know her by her other alias – Casanova). If she looks a tad different than the last time you saw her, it’s for good reason; because – big news – she just completed her first official molt!

A molt occurs when a bird’s feathers are pushed out and replaced by new ones, a process that occurs every year.  Unlike other bird species that shed a few feathers during the year, African Penguins actually undergo what is called a ‘catastrophic molt’, a 20 day period during which time each penguin loses all of its feathers at one time.

Before and after molt

And for 15-month old Cassie, this first molt means she says goodbye to her gray and white juvenile plumage, and hello to her new set of feathers.

Cassie6

At an about 95% complete molt, Cassie still has a couple days until her feathers are totally in, but as you can see – with her new black and white colors, she officially looks like an adult penguin.

Cassie1

Like fingerprints on humans or stripes on a zebra, African penguin chest patterns – including the lines and spots – are unique to each individual penguin.

Cassie3

Want to spot Cassie during your visit? Ask a biologist to point her out at Penguin Island!

Behind-the-scenes for a sea turtle enrichment session

As an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)-accredited institution, Adventure Aquarium’s husbandry team provides daily enrichment for our animals, using a variety of tools and changes meant to enhance their health and welfare.

Enrichment can take on many shapes and sizes. It can be something as simple as changing an exhibit design or features to enrich an animal’s habitat; to incorporating objects that can be manipulated by an animal in order to stimulate certain behavioral skills or increase intellectual focus.

Each animal has a specific plan and schedule that is followed rigorously by our biologists. Today we captured moments of enrichment that Biologist Liz Hann was providing our massive Loggerhead and Green sea turtles.

Turtle EnrichmentSea turtles are given enrichment on a daily basis, often incorporated into their feeding schedule. During the afternoon shark feeds in Ocean Realm, biologists throw lettuce into the exhibit. Not only does this provide a distraction (so they don’t steal the sharks’ food!), it also allows turtles Bob, Stitches and Old Green the chance to hunt and forage.

Feeding Bob3

Another essential enrichment exercise is scrubbing the turtle carapace, or shell. Liz shows how they use a hard bristle brush to remove any algae buildup.

Scrubbing Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Bob enjoys a good scrubbing.

Loggerhead Bob enjoys a good scrubbing.

Their foraging skills are put to good practice by way of an oversized gray whiffle-type ball stuffed with vegetables. The ball stays afloat on the surface, allowing the turtles to push it around as they work out the broccoli or lettuce.

Liz Hann prepares to drop the oversized 'whiffle ball' into Ocean Realm for the turtles.

Liz Hann prepares to drop the oversized ‘whiffle ball’ into Ocean Realm for the turtles.

Whiffle Ball and Green Sea Turtle

One of Loggerhead Bob’s favorite enrichment exercises is a block of ice: capelin and lettuce frozen in water infused with fish juices. Bob seems to love the ice block, pushing it around the surface and working at the lettuce as the block melts.

Bob and Ice Block

output_VnXNBM (1)

Did you know? You can actually help biologists with enrichment exercises during our behind-the-scenes “Sea Turtles Up Close” Adventure. During this exclusive encounter, you can actually go ON DECK with our biologists to feed the turtles; even getting to scrub their shells!

Masters of Disguise: The Unique and Crafty Ways Frogs Distract Predators

By: Leah Ben

April 1st is a day revered by mischievous lovers of pranks, jokes, and foolery. Some may wish that fooling friends and family would be socially acceptable all year round. For one species, this is not only possible but necessary for survival. Frogs are masters of disguise! Even the biggest tricksters around may have something to learn from these amazing amphibians.

Mossy Frog_317x211

Vietnamese Mossy Frog

Some frogs use camouflage as a defense mechanism to disguise themselves from predators in the wild. For example, the Vietnamese Mossy Frog’s red, green and black coloration along with it’s uneven, bumpy texture enables it to blend in among mosses and lichens within its habitat.

 

Fire-Bellied Toad

Fire-Bellied Toad

 

There are also some species of frogs that use their appearance to send messages to other animals who may be thinking that a frog would make a tasty afternoon snack. The Fire-Bellied Toad is a semi-aquatic frog species native to Korea, north-eastern China and adjacent parts of Russia. The Fire-Bellied Toad is bright green with black spots, and as its name indicates, it has a bright yellow to reddish-orange stomach area. It’s bright coloration tells predators “Stay away!”. When bothered by a predator, it will exhibit an “unken reflex” by arching its back and limbs to expose its bright belly. Its skin can secrete a mild toxin that can sting.

Blue Poison Dart Frog

Blue Poison Dart Frog

Another frog that uses its coloration to ward off predators is the Blue Poison Dart Frog. This frog’s bright blue skin warns predators of its highly toxin venom. These little guys average lengths of 1.2-1.8 inches and 8 grams, but don’t let their size fool you. Their venom can certainly pack a punch! Their skin can secrete a venom that can paralyze and even kill predators. Blue Poison Dart Frogs are native to South America, and indigenous people of Columbia have used the toxic mucus of the blue poison dart frog to coat the tips of their arrows and blow-gun darts. In the wild, Poison Dart Frogs create their venom from insects they eat, but in captivity, their diet eventually makes them venom-free.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Perhaps the biggest prankster of them all is the Red-Eyed Tree Frog. As its name suggests, the Red-Eyed Tree Frog has red eyes along with a brilliantly green body. These rainforest tree dwellers are not poisonous, but they flash their bulging red eyes, huge orange feet and blue-and-yellow flanks when disturbed, tricking predators into thinking they are toxic. Red-Eyed Tree Frogs are nocturnal, spending the day on green leaves in the rainforests of Central America with their legs tucked in and eyes shut. This makes them practically invisible.

Want to see these frogs up close and personal? Visit Adventure Aquarium to experience Frogs: Nature’s Messenger, a limited-time opportunity to discover more than 20 kinds of frogs and see the world through their eyes.

Adventure Aquarium Biologist Leads Local Horseshoe Crab Conservation Efforts

By: Matt Ferroni, Senior Biologist

Hello my name is Matt Ferroni, and I’m a Senior Biologist here at Adventure Aquarium. While my main responsibilities include overseeing our 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit and several holding systems, I am also in charge of our Horseshoe Crab Head-Start Program, which began in July of 2011.

Over the past few decades Horseshoe Crabs have been harvested for use as eel and conch bait, as well as by the biomedical industry for the production of LAL (limulus amoebocyte lysate), which is produced from Horseshoe Crab blood. LAL is used to screen surgical implants, intravenous drugs, and vaccines for bacteria that could otherwise make you very ill. For that reason alone, Horseshoe Crabs are incredibly important to humans.

Horseshoe Crabs also serve a very important ecological role. Every spring and summer, females crawl onto the beaches of the Delaware Bay and lay eggs, sometimes up to 80,000 in one season. It is said that of these 80,000 eggs only ten might reach adulthood. So what happens to the rest of them? Unfortunately the majority of the eggs and hatchlings are eaten by fish, crabs, and even shorebirds. In fact, these eggs are the only food source for the threatened Red Knot, a migratory shorebird that stops in the Delaware Bay during its 10,000 mile flight from southern Chile to the Canadian Arctic.

Without these eggs as a food source, the Red Knot cannot finish the flight to its breeding grounds and many have perished as a result. Horseshoe Crabs are also an important prey item for sea turtles, and their numbers could directly influence the health of turtle populations.

For the reasons mentioned above, we felt it was important to get involved in helping to increase the Horseshoe Crab population. In July of 2011 I traveled to Kimbles Beach in Cape May Court House, NJ with Dr. Dan Hernandez of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Dan helped me locate and excavate several clutches of eggs that were buried below the surface.

HSC1.1

Excavating Horseshoe Crab Eggs

The eggs were brought back to Adventure Aquarium where they hatched and have been growing ever since. This process has been repeated every year and each year we are even more successful. Come this summer Adventure Aquarium will be releasing hundreds of crabs from both the 2011 and 2012 collections. These Horseshoe Crabs grow faster than those in the wild due to the conditions we raise them in as well as the food that they receive.

Each morning I come into work eager to see how many new molts there are, I then separate the crabs according to size, and offer them different food items based on those sizes.

It has been truly incredible watching these animals grow from just a few millimeters to the size of my hand in what is actually a very short period of time. I am excited to release these animals back into their environment and look forward to collecting some more eggs this summer.

Horseshoe Crab developing in the egg

Horseshoe Crab developing in the egg

Trilobite Larvae

Trilobite Larvae

Trilobite Larvae 0.3 cm 1 day old

Trilobite Larvae 0.3 cm 1 day old

2nd Instar.  One week old (now has a tail)

2nd Instar. One week old (now has a tail)

6th Instar 2 months old

6th Instar 2 months old

 

11th Instar 1 year old

11th Instar 1 year old

14th Instar 2 yrs 9 months

14th Instar 2 yrs 9 months