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

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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!

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.

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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

Behind the scenes at Adventure Aquarium during inclement weather conditions

On days like today, when your natural instinct is to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers, Adventure Aquarium’s team of dedicated biologists brave the snow and ice to take care of our more than 8,500 animals who depend on these diligent keepers to feed and watch over them!

Heading out to a snow-covered Penguin Island

Heading out to a snow-covered Penguin Island

Biologist Kate Budion feeds African penguins behind Penguin Island

Biologist Kate Budion feeds African penguins inside Penguin Island

Because penguins are fed multiple times a day, our Birds and Mammals team must stick it out through the day to feed them – once in the morning, and again in the afternoon.

Feeding juvenile penguins Pumpkin and Patch

Penguins, including juvenile penguin Pumpkin look forward to mealtime

Extra care must be taken with our penguin chicks, who depend on a little more care than the adult penguins. During extreme weather conditions, it’s not unheard of for a biologist to actually take a chick home with them!

The show must go on! For biologists like our Fish & Inverts team, inclement weather days mean the same normal feed schedule.

The show must go on! For biologists like our Fish & Inverts team, inclement weather days mean the same normal feed schedule.

Broadcast feed for Ocean Realm’s fish, sharks, rays and turtles

The team heads to the top of Ocean Realm to feed our massive Green and Loggerhead sea turtles.

The team heads to the top of Ocean Realm to feed our massive Green and Loggerhead sea turtles.

Feeding Turtles3

Our Green sea turtle enjoys some delicious gel food

Biologist Liz Hann gets ready to pole feed Bob a head of lettuce.

Biologist Liz Hann gets ready to pole feed Bob a head of lettuce.

Bob needs her food!

Bob needs her food!

Yummmm…snow day lettuce

Our Fish & Inverts team prepares capelin for a broadcast feed, ensuring that the rest of the inhabitants of Ocean Realm meet their dietary demands for the day.

Our Fish & Inverts team prepares capelin for a broadcast feed, ensuring that the rest of the inhabitants of Ocean Realm meet their dietary demands for the day.

We’re all so grateful for the men and women who trudge through such awful weather conditions to ensure the safety of our finned and furry friends!

Penguin’s First Christmas!

Our newly hatched Penguin chick siblings Pumpkin and Patch are experiencing their very first holiday season at Adventure Aquarium! See what happens when they take in the sights of our annual Christmas Celebration:

Underneath the Tree2.v2

Dear Santa, I would like a bucket of fish for Christmas…

Meeting Santa

A meeting of epic proportions: Rudolph meets Pumpkin!

Rudolph meeting Pumpkin2v2

Meeting Rudolphv2

Posing with Rudolph3

Follow our blog for ongoing updates on the latest additions to the Adventure Aquarium family!

On-board a Dolphinfish Collection Trip with Adventure Aquarium

MahiMahi

This month, a team of Adventure Aquarium biologists set off from the coast of New Jersey and traveled 50-75 miles from shore on a collection trip for Dolphinfish, commonly known as “Mahi-Mahi,” a beautiful surface-dwelling Pelagic fish.

A peek at the Mahi-Mahi collected during Adventure Aquarium’s collection trip September 8.

A peek at the Mahi-Mahi collected during Adventure Aquarium’s collection trip September 8.

“We’re always trying to bring new and exciting species to our guests,” said Husbandry Director Marc Kind. “Adding a species like Mahi-Mahi to Adventure Aquarium will allow us to educate our guests about a fascinating fish literally right in their backyard, as well as the impact the public has locally on their environment.”

For Adventure Aquarium’s Animal Husbandry Department, the collection process is completely strategic.  Long before setting off in the boat, there has been a ton of planning put in place: building a targeted species list, researching the anticipated availability of fish based on historical knowledge, weather and local sightings; studying water temperatures, tides, etc. to create a thorough calendar and plan.

As they are collected, the Mahi-Mahi are transferred through the clear hatch into a large transport tank positioned on the deck, in the back of the boat.  A specially designed lid keeps the water from sloshing and stabilizes the environment for the fish.

As they are collected, the Mahi-Mahi are transferred through the clear hatch into a large transport tank positioned on the deck, in the back of the boat. A specially designed lid keeps the water from sloshing and stabilizes the environment for the fish.

And in par with our dedication to responsible collecting, our team works with state, local and federal authorities to acquire proper permits and to work within the allowable quota for collecting and minimize environment impact whenever possible.

“These trips are part practical, and part observation,” said Marc. “We can make gross evaluations and study the habitats and ecosystems that we are sampling in and take note of the water quality and any pollution, the health of fish and their populations, and we can talk to local fishermen about what they are observing.” This hands-on information helps us convey the message of animal and habitat conservation within our own state.

Adventure Aquarium biologists Liz Hann and Lauren Hauber filter sea water into the holding tank, pumping oxygen to ensure that the fish stay stabilized.

Adventure Aquarium biologists Liz Hann and Lauren Hauber filter sea water into the holding tank, pumping oxygen to ensure that the fish stay stabilized.

The entire process makes for a rather long (but exciting!) day – starting early in the morning, a 3 hour ride out nearly a hundred miles from shore, locating the fish, then working as a team to collect the fish, and later stabilizing and transporting them back to the Aquarium.

Charter pic2

Biologist Gregg McIntyre tests water quality as the Mahi-Mahi are transported back to the Aquarium.

All the while, the team must closely monitor the Mahi-Mahi, testing the water quality and ensuring that they’ve acclimated to their new surroundings.

In the end, the trip was a success! The team successfully collected about a dozen Mahi-Mahi, averaging 16-24” and 8 to 12 pounds. They are currently in quarantine at Adventure Aquarium, waiting until they are able to be released into our 760,000 gallon Ocean Realm exhibit in early November.

Once arriving at the Aquarium, Biologist Liz Hann transports the Mahi-Mahi from the holding tank to inside the Aquarium.

Once arriving at the Aquarium, Biologist Liz Hann transports the Mahi-Mahi from the holding tank to inside the Aquarium.

Thanks to OverUnder Sportfishing Charters for photos. Like them on Facebook/OU-Sportfishing-Charters!

Deck the (sea) Halls!

It’s official…Christmas is on it’s way!  Our team installed the first round of decorations in anticipation of Christmas Celebration, kicking off November 23. Seven days away! Are you in the holiday spirit?!

Check out our brand new candy canes, on display near Shark Lab, in Zone A.

And of course…File this in the “only at an aquarium” category. Only at an aquarium would you see Megalodon Jaws and snowflake decorations.

Megalodon Exhibit Set Up – Time Lapse Video!

Check out this exclusive time lapse video, giving viewers a behind-the-scenes peek as a team of individuals from Adventure Aquarium and the Florida Museum of Natural History set up Adventure Aquarium’s newest exhibit, the limited-engagement Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived on display now through September 3.

Now through Labor Day, get up close and personal with Megalodon – a prehistoric giant that once cruised the world’s oceans over 2 million years ago.  Your entire family can explore this 5,000 exhibit highlighting the evolution, biology and misconceptions of what was unquestionably one of history’s most massive predators. See specimens, check out full-scale shark models, walk through a 60-foot metal Megalodon replica and even touch and find out what a Megalodon tooth feels like – plus much more!

CLICK HERE for more info.