Go behind the scenes with some of the animal ‘artists’ at Adventure Aquarium

If you’ve ever participated in one of our penguin encounters or have seen some of their artwork in the gift shop, you know that our African penguins are very good artists. However, have you ever wondered why our penguins paint? Or, what other animals at Adventure Aquarium have taken their turn with paint and canvas? If so this blog entry will answer those questions and have some super cute photos of animals putting paint to canvas!

Minnie Painting with Jamie

Jamie paints with African penguin (and artist!) Minnie

The main reason we paint with our animals is for their enrichment (providing something new or different for the animal to mentally stimulate them or just simply have a different activity in their day). Part of the animals’ benefit through painting is actually the process of learning how to paint. Another reason we paint with the animals is because it’s fun for us too! We can use that time to further bond with the animal or to enhance guest experience in the case of the penguins painting during the encounter programs.

In order to train the penguins to paint, they must first be comfortable being handled by the trainers and taking a bath in the sink afterwards. (All penguins need clean feet before going back on exhibit and some even splatter paint up their bellies!) The next step is to introduce the penguins to the paint tray and canvas and teach them to walk across it in a straight line, although some of our penguins seem to prefer walking in circles across the canvas instead!

Minnie finishes her painting

Minnie finishes her painting

Once comfortable with the routine, the penguins start painting. Eleven penguins of our colony have passed art school and make footprint paintings for our guests and other events. Some of the penguin artwork has helped raise money for their fellow endangered species in the wild during Adventure Aquarium’s African Penguin Awareness Weekend. This is yet another benefit for training the penguins to put paint to canvas.

Another species in the “foot painter” group at Adventure Aquarium is the cape porcupine, brothers Julian and Vince. Both porcupines already knew how to target to a pole and follow it around so the trainers added in the new behaviors of stepping in paint and walking across a canvas. 

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Vince is target trained to walk through paint onto canvas.

Rule #1 of painting - always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

Rule #1 of painting – always clean up afterwards! Vince walks through a foot bath to rinse off his feet.

And just like the penguins, our porcupines have bath time afterwards too. In order to rinse off their feet, the boys were trained to walk through a tray of water.

Combining both old and new behaviors in a series is great mental stimulation for the porcupines. It also helps the process when they get their favorite treat, banana slices and peas, as their reward. Just look at that happy face!

You may not have guessed our last big painters, but believe it or not, our trainers have actually taught hippos Button and Genny to paint too! Instead of making footprint art, these girls paint with their muzzle and whiskers. Just like training the porcupines, our hippos started out with behaviors they already knew – such as resting their head on ballards, targeting, and “touch,” a cue given to let the girls know when they will be touched. Then the trainers added to the “touch” behavior by applying paint to the hippo’s muzzle.

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Once the paint is applied the hippo can target to the canvas, ending with a unique whiskered face print! Button and Genny even look forward to the clean-up and enjoy being sprayed off with the hose. Also like the porcupines, the girls are quite excited to work for treats, which are given after the painting is made to avoid food bits in their art.

Hope you enjoyed seeing some of our artists in action! 

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

5 species you may spot at the Jersey Shore this weekend

If you look carefully, you can find plenty of different kinds of creatures on your trip to the Jersey shore! In fact, you can find so many that I’ll be narrowing it down to talk about only five animals: minnows, fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, comb jellies and smooth dogfish. Coincidentally, they just happen to be my favorite.

#1 – Minnows
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First, minnows! I’m sure everyone has seen tons of these little guys swimming around your feet. A couple common ones are silversides and mummichogs. Silversides are found in schools and have a bright silver stripe down the side of their bodies. We actually have an exhibit of silversides at the aquarium, where you can see them school and change formation. The mummichogs can be found in muddy marshes, channels, and grass flats along coastal areas. They are euryhalide, which means they can adapt to a wide range of salinities. Their heartiness probably helped them to become the first fish in space!

#2 – Fiddler Crabs

Fiddler Crab
These guys are found mostly in the muddy areas of marshes too. If you look down and see little tunnels in the mud, you’ll eventually see them crawl out to defend their burrows or hunt for food. The females have two equally sized claws, but the males have one regular sized claw and one HUGE claw that is about half of the weight of his only body. The males use this big claw to pick up the ladies. They wave the claw to make an acoustical signal.

#3 – Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe Crabs

You’re probably thinking, “hey, another crab??” but technically they aren’t crustaceans at all! Horseshoe crabs belong to their own class, Merostomata. They even predate dinosaurs! If you see any on the beach during the day, it is most likely a horseshoe crab molt. But if you go out at night time, they look like little walking army helmets with a long tail. They use the long tail to flip themselves over not as a weapon. Horseshoe crabs are highly valued because of their blue blood. Medical researchers use it to test drugs and vaccines to make sure there is no bacterium contamination. To help increase the population, Adventure Aquarium’s senior biologist, Matt Ferroni has led the horseshoe crab head-start program. Baby horseshoe crabs were collected then raised in our holding systems and this year we released them back into their environment.

#4 – Comb Jellies

Comb Jellies
Comb jellies are one of my favorites finds in the ocean. Comb jellies or ctenophore are oval shaped and have comb like plates to help them swim through the water. They can expand their stomach to hold prey about half the size of their own body! If disturbed in a dark environment, some comb jellies give off a bright green luminescent flash.

#5 – Smooth Dogfish

Dogfish

And last but not least, smooth dogfish. They like shallow waters less than 60 feet deep. If you are a fisherman you probably have caught one at some point or another. They can get up to about 5 feet long. Dogfish are usually nocturnal and have pavement-like teeth. These crushing teeth help them open their favorite foods: crustaceans.

On your next trip to the shore, keep an eye out for these 5 common Jersey shore natives!

By: Sarah Stafford, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates 

Aquarium Insider: Tips and suggestions for providing enrichment for your animals at home

By: Callin Mulvaney

Tortuga enjoys special food enrichment

Tortuga enjoys special food enrichment

Hippo with tractorWhen walking through Adventure Aquarium have you ever noticed a whiffle ball in an exhibit or the giant tractor tire in Hippo Haven? They might look out of place but actually they were put there on purpose. This is called animal enrichment, which is providing stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. The Biologists provide many different types of enrichment for our animals to keep them happy and healthy. You can provide your pets at home with enrichment too! Here are a couple different examples of how you can make enrichment for your pets.

Callin's dog Lily enjoys her specially-designed enrichment toy.

Callin’s dog Lily enjoys her specially-designed enrichment toy.

Dogs love toys, right? You can make toys very easily for your dog. If you have an old sock that no one is using anymore and a tennis ball, it can make a great tug toy. Simply put the tennis ball inside the sock all the way to the bottom. Tie a knot around the top of the tennis ball, and ta da! You have a wonderful new toy for your favorite pup. Another kind of enrichment is using food. You can put peanut butter inside of a rubber chew toy. Your pup will love trying to lick out all the yummy peanut butter. Always make sure that your dog does not have any food allergies before giving them new treats.

Callin's cat Milton checks out the string enrichment toy.

Callin’s cat Milton checks out the ribbon and string enrichment toy.

Cats are really easy to please if you have some ribbon or paper and some string. You can tie bits of ribbon or shredded paper to the end of a string. Then tie the other end to the back of a chair so that it hangs just above the ground. Cats love pouncing and grabbing for the hanging toy. Another thing that you can do for your furry friend is get a bird feeder. Set the bird feeder up outside of a window that your cat can easily see out of. This will be like kitty TV. This is also great in the winter because you will be helping feed the birds as well as amusing your cat.

Callin provides Bugsy some exercise enrichment

Callin provides Bugsy some exercise enrichment

For those of you who have the more exotic pets such as parrots, hedgehogs, chinchillas, and other small critters it is very easy to find things just around your house to make enrichment out of. The easiest is cardboard boxes. Our parrots here at Adventure Aquarium love boxes. You can hide their food inside the box so that they have to discover how to open the box to get their treat. Our small mammals such as the hedgehog and chinchillas love just hiding inside boxes. Anything that they can munch on is great too.

Biologist Kate Budion provides our penguins some enrichment by way of bubbles!

Biologist Kate Budion provides our penguins some enrichment by way of bubbles!

Trinidad explores a cardboard box and shredded paper during a special enrichment session.

Trinidad explores a cardboard box and shredded paper during a special enrichment session.

We create enrichment for many of our animals here at Adventure Aquarium. We hope that these tips will inspire you to create enrichment for your critters. Just remember to mix it up as the same enrichment used repeatedly can become less exciting.

What it’s like to work with sharks at Adventure Aquarium: every day is #SharkWeek!

By: Matt Ferroni, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates

I saw JAWS for the first time about twenty years ago. That movie terrified me so badly that I was convinced there were sharks in the deep end of the swimming pool. If you had told me then that I’d be swimming with twenty-nine of them on a regular basis I would have laughed in your face. Who knew that one of my biggest fears would someday become a reality that I’d happily accept?

Biologist Matt Ferroni of Adventure Aquarium's Fish & Invertebrates team, responsible for caring for the 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit.

Biologist Matt Ferroni of Adventure Aquarium’s Fish & Invertebrates team, responsible for caring for the 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit.

Hi, I’m Matt Ferroni, the biologist responsible for Adventure Aquarium’s 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit. The most common question I hear is “Why don’t the sharks eat the other fish in the exhibit?” The answer is that our sharks are very well fed. In the wild sharks can go for weeks between meals, but we feed our sharks three percent of their body weight three times per week.

Some of Matt's 'co-workers'

Some of Matt’s ‘co-workers’

Feeding the inhabitants of Shark Realm!

Feeding the inhabitants of Shark Realm!

Each shark has a marking or distinguishing feature that we use to identify them. Our sand tiger and sandbar sharks are fed off of feeding poles from two different areas of the exhibit. Separating the sharks this way allows us to feed more quickly and accurately, but also keeps the sharks safer by reducing the chance of accidental bites when multiple sharks go for the same piece of food. As the shark takes food from the feed pole, the biologists call out the name of that shark to a recorder, as well as the amount of food that it ate. Keeping records of the feed allows us to closely monitor the sharks’ diets.

All of the sharks are fed a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita.

All of the sharks are fed a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita.

So what do we feed the sharks? All of the animals in the aquarium are fed restaurant quality seafood. We offer a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita. Once a week the fish are stuffed with a specially formulated shark vitamin.

The second most common question I hear is “Why don’t the sharks attack the divers?” The answer to that question is that sharks are not the man eaters you have all been led to believe. Sand tiger, sandbar, and nurse sharks are all relatively docile as far as sharks go. When diving in the exhibits for routine maintenance we are always very aware of our surroundings. For the most part we give the sharks their space and they give us ours.

Preparing for a dive

Preparing for a dive

The sharks at Adventure Aquarium also receive routine physicals. The process is quite involved and requires the Fish and Invertebrates team to work really well together. A team of five divers enters the water, and using L shaped PVC poles, they corral the designated shark over a rectangular net, operated by four additional team members. The net is then raised slightly to restrain the animal until the door that separates the exhibit from our acclimation area is opened, and the shark can be pushed through. Once the shark has calmed down, the team mobilizes a stretcher and guides the shark inside. At this point, the shark is flipped on its back in a position known as tonic immobility, which is a natural state of paralysis similar to a human being put under anesthesia. Once in tonic, the shark relaxes and oxygenated water is forced over its gills. A typical physical consists of obtaining various measurements of the shark, as well as its weight, and usually a blood sample. At the conclusion of the physical the shark is flipped back over and spends several minutes swimming in the acclimation area before it returns to the exhibit.

Sharks are amazing animals and we go to great lengths to exhibit them for you. Our hope is that by the time you leave the aquarium you have gained an appreciation for how incredible they truly are and have maybe, just maybe, left some of that fear behind.

All in a day's work!

All in a day’s work!

#SharkWeek Special: Behind the Scenes with Adventure Aquarium’s Great Hammerhead Shark

Here at Adventure Aquarium, one of our most unique animals is the great hammerhead shark, which is in fact, the only one on exhibit in the entire country!

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As you can guess, he gets a lot of attention from visitors and biologists alike. Our husbandry team takes great care to ensure that the hammerhead, along with the other fish, sea turtles, sharks and rays in our 760,000 gallon Ocean Realm (the hammerhead’s home), is well cared for; and, one of the important factors in maintaining the great hammerhead shark’s health is making sure he is well-nourished.

Biologist Liz Hann prepares to pole feed our great hammerhead shark

Biologist Liz Hann prepares to pole feed our great hammerhead shark from the top of Ocean Realm

The great hammerhead is fed six times a week, with a varied diet that consists of mackerel, herring, squid, blue fish, among other species. During each feed, he is fed around 2% of his body weight, which measures out to 900 – 1,000 grams of food. Due to the large amount of fish we feed the animals each day, the fish come to the aquarium frozen. When the fish is frozen, it loses some of its nutritional value. Therefore, our biologists will put a vitamin supplement inside the fish before feeding the sharks once a week, with our hammerhead receiving four and a half vitamins each feed.

Before even going to Ocean Realm to feed the great hammerhead, the biologists first get the vitamins and “fish of the day” to feed the shark. Once at Ocean Realm, there’s a specific procedure for feeding. First, the biologist will prepare the pole used to feed the sharks. The feed pole is around 12 feet long and has short, skinny prongs that stick out laterally at the bottom where the food is placed. Then, the biologist weighs one fish and records the weight on a form before sticking it on the pole. The biologist then taps the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding! This procedure is repeated until the shark becomes full or he has eaten his entire meal.

Fish is placed at the end of the pole and dropped into Ocean Realm. Biologists tap the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding!

Fish is placed at the end of the pole and dropped into Ocean Realm. Biologists tap the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding!

Doesn’t seem too hard right? Well, sometimes competition can arise, even from our loggerhead sea turtles! The biologists work around this by having turtle-favorite treats like lettuce and veggies in case curiosity gets the better of the hammerhead’s shelled neighbors!

Loggerhead Bob checks out the feed action

Loggerhead Bob checks out the feed action

Curious sea turtles!

Curious sea turtles!

So what happens during a great hammerhead feed and what does it look like? Well, check out the exclusive video below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=booeIVi1SL8

Adventure Aquarium sponsors ocean trawl to research plastic polluton

Content and images courtesy of 5 Gyres

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The 5 Gyres Team from their Viking Gyre Expedition, a 2,500 nautical mile journey from Bermuda to Iceland. Adventure Aquarium sponsored Trawl #17.

We love our oceans! Unfortunately, modern times have led to negative repercussions on the health of our oceans, in part due to an overabundance of trash that has found its way into waterways.  Did you know that – in fact – in the world’s oceans, there are massive currents carrying floating debris in what are called the five (5) subtropical gyres: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Ocean Gyre.

The 5 ocean gyres

The 5 ocean gyres – illustrated

And while we can all agree that it’s a major issue, little is known about ocean pollution – specifically what role plastic pollution plays.  One organization leading the charge to change this is the team at 5 Gyres, an institute whose mission is to conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the 5 subtropical gyres.

The manta trawl

The manta trawl

5 Gyres conducts the majority of their research via ocean trawls in which a data-collection device called a Manta Trawl is lowered into the water and towed behind their vessel to skim the surface. The goal is to collect samples of the ocean’s surface to quantify and research the mass, size, color and type of pollution floating in these massive gyres.  Fish caught during the expedition are examined for plastic ingestion.  Stomach contents are sorted and weighed with tissue samples being preserved for future analysis of persistent organic pollutants.  This research provides valuable data for scientists and others desperate to know the impact plastic pollution has on our environment.

Debris is separated and sent back to the United States for research.

Debris is separated and sent back to the United States for research.

Recently, Adventure Aquarium and our Fins for the Future Committee had the privilege of supporting the team at 5 Gyres during their Viking Gyre Expedition, a 2,500 nautical mile journey from Bermuda to Iceland.  We sponsored Trawl #17 that was taken more than 500 miles east of Nova Scotia, with whales and sargassum seaweed nearby.  An hour after the trawl was dropped into the water, the 5 Gyres team pulled out a sample containing multiple fragments of plastic pollution typical of ocean samples around the world. Each sample is then taken back to the US to be analyzed for plastic particle count and weight per square kilometer.

Check out this exclusive video from the trawl:

We’re honored to be part of the effort to increase research about and spread awareness of plastic pollution! Learn more about the expedition, and what you can do by visiting www.5gyres.org.

Adventure Aquarium’s three-banded Armadillo gets into World Cup fever – and for good reason!

By: Brandon Deane – Biologist, Birds & Mammals

GGGGGOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!! You’ll be hearing this a lot during the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup being played in Brazil. The World Cup is played every 4years in different locations around the world and for the last 48years they have had a mascot representing not only the World Cup but also the Country in which the games are played. Well, say hello to Fuleco the Brazilian mascot.

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Fuleco is a fusion name for Futbol and Ecologia which means soccer and ecology, two things that are of great importance to not only Brazil but the world. Now what makes Fuleco so cool to us here at Adventure Aquarium is that he is a three-banded armadillo…just like our very own Tank.

Tank2The three-banded armadillo, unfortunately, is a species on the decline because of deforestation and hunting by humans so having Tank…I mean Fuleco as the FIFA World Cup mascot will be great for education and awareness for this species. Not to mention he is just so stinkin cute. Brazil kicks off the World Cup on June 12 against Croatia and Fuleco will be there rooting for his country. Root all you want Fuleco, we have a Tank that says team U.S.A. is going to make some noise.

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U.S.A. plays June 16th vs. Ghana @ 6pm, June 22nd vs. Portugal @ 6pm, and June 26th vs. Germany @ Noon.

So lets Kick It!!!! The soccer ball of course, not Tank.