Behind the scenes at Adventure Aquarium: the wonderful world of chinchilla enrichment

Cheech and chong

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Cheech takes his turn at the wheel

Fluffy, soft and furry are not the words you would use to describe the majority of the animals at Adventure Aquarium but they do perfectly describe Cheech and Chong the chinchillas. That’s right! We have 2 chinchillas here at the Aquarium as part of our program animal collection. Many of you have probably seen them out on stage at one of our up-closes. However have you wondered what these guys do when they’re not hanging out with everyone? If so, this blog shows some of the enrichment provided to Cheech and Chong.

One important part of any animal’s life is exercise, so we provide the chinchillas with a few different things to keep them active. The chinchillas have a multi-level enclosure they can run around in, and boxes or houses provide great surfaces to jump/climb on. One of their favorites though is the wheel which they can run around in just like a hamster would.

in boxesChinchillas also like to hide so the houses and boxes provided can double as places to hide or sleep in. Another favorite hiding spot for Cheech and Chong is their plastic tube.in tube

The biologists can get creative with their enrichment items too and create more unique toys for the boys to play with. Sometimes they’ll get a hanging cardboard platform to jump to or get a box full of hay with treats inside that they have to find. As shown in the picture below Cheech and Chong got to chew apart a paper mache ball to find some treats inside. As part of the rodent family, chinchillas need items they can chew on so the paper mache and even the cardboard boxes work well for that.

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Cheech and Chong checking out a paper mache ball with treats inside

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Chong participates in a weekly weight check

Enrichment for their minds is important too and the chinchillas were trained to do few basic behaviors to keep them thinking. Cheech and Chong were trained to voluntarily hop into the crate used to take them to the up-close area. They were also taught to station to a particular target (or symbol). After they knew how to target, both boys were trained to sit on the scale for their weekly weight checks, as Chong demonstrates below.

Thanks for checking out two of the aquarium’s furry animals and make sure to look for them at an up-close at our Irazu Falls stage our outside in Critter Courtyard during your next visit!

By: Jamie Hogan, Biologist – Birds & Mammals

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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!

HH Feed1

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!

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!