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Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Alien Invasion: Lionfish

Lionfish. These red and white striped beauties are dazzling with their bright colours and “lion’s mane”.

But while their appearance may lure you in, make sure you don’t come too close! These fish have 18 long, venomous spines that are used for defence against predators. In fact, they have been known to cause extreme pain for humans, leading to headaches, vomiting and paralysis. Ouch!

Lionfish originate from the Indo-Pacific Ocean, where their predators include many species of large fish and sharks. In the 1980’s, this popular aquarium fish was introduced to the Western Atlantic and Caribbean, where they have quickly become an extremely destructive invasive species.

With no natural predators in these parts of the world, their population has rapidly expanded, destroying marine sanctuaries as it grows. As an invasive species, prey do not recognize lionfish as predators, making it easy for these predators to consume any fish or invertebrate in their path. They easily feast on many vital members of the food chain, causing entire underwater ecosystems to collapse!

And if you think one lionfish sounds dangerous, a single female can lay 50,000 eggs, every 3 days, for up to 30 years!

So what is Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada doing to combat this alien invasion?

For the last few years, the Aquarium has volunteered in the Lionfish Invitational at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas. The Invitational sends dive teams down into the marine sanctuary to remove as many invasive lionfish as possible using a spear fishing technique. While spear fishing is regularly illegal in the sanctuary, special permits are issued for the research team to capture lionfish.

The lionfish caught are tallied, measured, bagged and tagged with labels noting location and time before heading to the lab. The results are then analyzed to determine gut contents, genetics and age.

The work completed at the Lionfish Invitational helps to combat this incredibly successful invasive species while furthering a scientific understanding of the effects on native fish communities and habitats.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada Holiday Gift Guide

Looking for the perfect holiday gift? Swim by Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and give them an underwater adventure they’ll never forget!

 

Express Anytime Tickets

Our premium general admission tickets are valid for 365 days from the date of purchase and allow guests to swim by anytime – no reservations required! Buy now.

Annual Pass Memberships

Give the gift of unlimited trips to the tropics for an entire year! Members also enjoy other great benefits such as saving onsite and saving at other attractions! Learn more here.

Gift Cards

Purchase a gift card for friends and family! Load this card with sand dollars that can be redeemed on admission tickets, food from our Café, photos from our Photo Port and keepsakes from our Cargo Hold Gift Shop!  Buy now.

Sea the Sky Combo Tickets

From the depths of the ocean to the heights of cloud nine, Sea the Sky with this Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and CN Tower combo ticket!  Buy now. (*Online only.)

Stingray Experience

Trade in your snowsuit for a wetsuit and get up close and personal with stingrays this winter! This one of a kind experience now offers an optional snorkel add-on, making it a truly ray-markable and unexpected gift! Cost starts at $99+HST per person. Learn more here. 

Aquarist for a Day

Fishing for the perfect gift for the marine biologist in your life? Work alongside our Husbandry team to prepare food, monitor water quality and even feed the sharks in this half-day behind the scenes adventure! Cost is $175 + HST per person.  Learn more here. 

Sleep with the Sharks

Spend the evening under the sea with hands-on activities, a behind the scenes tour and more! After a bedtime snack, crawl into bed in our Dangerous Lagoon shark tunnel and sleep with the sharks! Cost is $99 + HST per person.  Learn more here. 

Yoga

Our six week yoga sessions are perfect for the fishy fitness fan in your life! Find your zen under the sea as you transport yourself to the tropical islands with our next session starting January 9. Cost is $120 + HST per 6 week session.  Learn more here. 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Drop Us a Line – November Q&A

You ask, we answer! Welcome to Deep Sea Diary’s monthly Q&A – a great way to connect with Aquarium experts as you fish for more information about all things Ripley’s.

 

Katie asked…

Q: Am I able to SCUBA dive with the sharks at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada?

A: Yes, you are! Our Discovery Dive program allows guests to get up close to the sawfish, sharks, turtles and fish on this 30 minute guided dive in Dangerous Lagoon. This program runs Wednesdays at 3:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm, and can accommodate a maximum of two people per session. Participants must be at least 16 years of age and SCUBA certified. Cost is $250 per person plus tax, and reservations must be made in advance. Learn more about this experience, including how to book, here.

Our Assistant Manager of Education and Conservation, Marla, shares her experience diving with the sharks in the Dangerous Lagoon, here.

Diane asked…

Q: How do you test the water at the Aquarium?

A: Our water quality lab is equipped with high-end scientific equipment to make certain we get accurate and precise results. Routine testing involves the use of multi-parameter meters, pH/conductivity/luminescent dissolved oxygen probes, incubators, burettes, and the pièce de résistance, a UV/Vis spectrophotometer with an added on flow thru apparatus.

With this equipment we are able to measure, and thus closely monitor, the pH, salinity, alkalinity, oxygen saturation and oxygen content, levels of nitrogenous waste products, potential heavy metal contaminants, chlorine content, phosphate levels, and bacterial growth in our exhibits. Among other important parameters. We test our water constantly as early detection enables us to correct potential issues within our exhibits before they progress to the point were they pose a threat to the well-being and health of our animals.

Learn more about our water quality lab, here.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Ripley’s Got Talent!

 

November 24 is Share Your Unique Talent Day!

Humans have a lot of talents. Some of us can sing, some of us can juggle and some of us can even play piano. But, did you know amazing talents go beyond the human-world and also occur in other parts of the animal kingdom, such as the underwater world.

To celebrate this unique day, we are sharing just a few of the unique talents of the animals that call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home.

Cuttlefish

Related to squid and octopus, the cuttlefish is considered by many to be the ultimate master of disguise. Thanks to special pigments cells found on its skin, called chromatophores, it possesses the ability to alter its appearance and adapt to its surroundings very easily. It can easily imitate the appearance, and even the texture of anything that it sees such as rocks, creating the perfect camouflage to evade both predators and prey.

To see this amazing talent in action, check out this video, taken by one of the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada Aquarists, Carmen.

Archerfish

The archerfish is small tropical fish that feasts mainly on insects. It gets its name from the astonishing way it catches its prey. The fish, which are typically no more than 4 inches long, has the ability to shoot a jet of water (sometimes up to 6 feet) and hit insects hanging on vegetation near the water. They’re able to accurately hit their small targets with enough force to knock them into the water, where they can then gobble them up.

 

Sharks

One unique feature of a sharks is their sixth sense. Sharks have a network of special cells in their heads that can detect electricity. These special cells are called electroreceptors, and are used for hunting and navigation. This sense is so developed that sharks can find fish hiding under sand by honing in on the weak electrical signals emitted by their twitching muscles.

Sea Stars

Starfish are not in fact fish, but invertebrates call echinoderms. This is the reason why they are more often referred to as sea stars. Beyond their distinctive shape, sea stars are famous for their ability to regenerate limbs. This talent is useful if the sea star is threatened by a predator. It can drop an arm, get away, and grow a new arm. They accomplish this by housing most or all of their vital organs in their arms. This means that some species can even regenerate an entirely new sea star from just one arm and a portion of the star’s central disc.

 

Clownfish

Clownfish are scientifically known as “sequential hermaphrodites” – they are initially born as male but are able to swap gender. As adults, clownfish develop complex hierarchies, led by a dominant female. Should this female die, one male with then transforming himself into the next alpha-female.

 

Make sure to swim by Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada to see these amazing talents in action!

 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Go With The Flow

Water. We have A LOT of it here. In total, the tanks at the Aquarium contain just over 5.2 million litres! Most of which is salt water.

So, with all of that water, how do we keep it clean?

The answer? A dedicated Life Support System team and lots of pumps, skimmer, sumps and filters.

The Life Support System at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is so efficient, collectively, we are able to pump 90,000 litres of water per minute. That’s about 132 million litres of water per day!

Just how exactly is this done? Let’s take a quick look…

Water is removed from both the top and bottom of the tanks using skimmers and sumps.

This is called parallel flow and it ensures all manner of delightful waste is removed. This water is then diverted to the fractionators and the sand filters.

The big yellow and blue vertical cylinders (pictured below, on upper level) are called foam fractionators and are used to sterilize the water and remove dissolved waste. If you look up to the transparent cylinder on top, you can see this removal in action. This frothing and foaming is waste being bubbled out of the water.

What is shown here is the filtration systems for only TWO tanks at the Aquarium – the Dangerous Lagoon and Ray Bay. We have 3 levels below this one that house all the other filtration units for every other tank at the Aquarium.

Another important thing to note is that we keep the larger exhibits on entirely separate systems, (but some of the smaller ones do share).

Water from, say, the Lagoon never mixes with water from, say, Ray Bay. Not in the tanks, not in transit, during filtration or recovery or storage, never. This ensures that if something goes wrong, biologically, mechanically, or chemically, there is no risk of cross contamination.

As water enters the foam fractionators, it is mixed with air bubbles and ozone gas. The ozone gas will kill viruses and bacteria while the air bubbles trap the dissolved waste using surface tension. If you visit the Aquarium, you may see the foam, just like sea foam, coming off the top of these units. Fresh water will then move the foam and waste to a recovery system.

Sand filters (colorful, horizontal filters on lower level, pictured below) are another important part of the filtration process.

Water that is skimmed from the tanks is diverted to either here or to the fractionators. In the sand filters, we’re able to filter out much of the larger, solid waste that builds up within the tanks: fish waste, leftover food… the really fun stuff. These large sand filters function much like backyard pool filters, but on a monstrous scale. Each has about a 3000 litre capacity! The water is strained as it flows through the different sand grain sizes located in these filters.

Water flow is horizontal which helps with efficiency.

Different sized grains of sand are found inside (from coarse to fine) and as water is pumped through it is strained. Unlike the fractionators which shed waste material, the sand filters will get clogged with debris by their very nature and so must be cleaned. When they drop in flow capacity by about 25% (usually every week) they’ll go on “back flow”. The filter is automatically shut off from the system and water is pumped in the reverse direction to free up that waste. This is then collected and piped to the lower levels where it is combined with the foam wash from the fractionators. That water will cycle from the recovery basin through a smaller version of this system, which is how we’re able to recover over 99% of the water we filter.

One fact that always surprises guests is that, in total, we are able to recycle about 99% of the water we filter.

We’ll actually lose more water each day from human sources (i.e. washrooms and the cafe) than we will from the actual tanks.

This is just a small taste of how we maintain the tanks at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Make sure to swim on by to learn more!

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Keeping Our Oceans Happy & Healthy

As someone that works at an Aquarium, I often get the comment, “Well, you must not eat seafood.” This is usually followed by a chuckle. My response? “I love to eat seafood. BUT when I do, I make sure the seafood I am consuming is sustainable.”

Our world’s oceans are essential to life on earth.

Covering approximately 70% of the planet, our oceans maintain the earth as we know it by regulating the climate, supplying oxygen to the atmosphere and by maintaining the lives of the millions of organisms that make up the complex aquatic food web. Its essential functions go beyond the deep blue, as the ocean also works to support life on dry land. This includes providing us humans with an important protein source – fish!

However, our oceans are in danger.

One of the biggest threats that our oceans face today is overfishing.

In the past 50 years, global consumption of seafood has nearly doubled. Improvements in technology have allowed us to remove fish at alarmingly fast rates, with much less effort. Today, roughly 90% of the world’s fish stocks are fully fished or overfished.

The amount of seafood we consume is not the only issue. To add to the issue, what we remove and how we remove these species from the water are also an issue. Certain fishing and farming practices can have negative impacts on critical marine or aquatic habitats. An estimated 40% of what is caught in commercial fisheries is unintended catch, or bycatch, and is often tossed back overboard. Bycatch species can range from small organisms to those that are much larger, from sharks, to rays, and even turtles.

Unfortunately, the majority of these animals do not always survive, even if they are returned to the water. It is important to understand how your seafood has been harvested as some fishing gear types can increase the likelihood and amount of bycatch.

 

But despite these issues, you CAN help to make a difference!

One way to do so is, like myself, opting to eat only sustainable seafood.

Sustainable seafood can be defined as species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.

I’ll admit, ensuring you are making a healthy and sustainable choice for our oceans when it comes to buying seafood can be difficult. Without the proper information about where your food is coming from, how can you know for sure that you are purchasing sustainable seafood? Luckily, there are resources to help you make those important decisions.

Next time you are at a restaurant or grocery store, look for the Ocean Wise symbol on seafood items.

The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is your assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice, ensuring the health of our oceans for generations to come.

Interested in learning more about sustainable seafood, and tasting what our oceans and lakes have to offer? Check out Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown. Taste delectable original chowders, local craft beer as top Ocean Wise chefs compete head-to-head for the title of 2017 Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Champion, all in support of sustainable seafood.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This Jelly

One of the most photographed animals at the Aquarium, the Pacific sea nettles, are easily one of the most bizarre creatures on display. These brainless, eye-less creatures are almost 95% water! With no eyes to help detect their food, they rely on light-sensing organs.

Did you know that tomorrow, November 3, is World Jellyfish Day?!

To celebrate, today on Deep Sea Diary, we are going to interview one of our Aquarists, Eric.

Eric is our resident “jelly man.” He has been working with Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada since 2014 and has always been a vital part of our jellyfish husbandry team. He currently takes care of our Pacific sea nettles, moon jellies and works with culturing live foods such as zooplankton.

Eric, aka Jelly Man, is an aquarist at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

How did you get involved working with jellyfish?

“It all started with an internship at an aquarium. A lot of my daily tasks required me to work with jellyfish. One day, my supervisor was showing me how to feed sea nettles and he got stung. I asked him what it felt like to be stung and he responded with “Oh, I don’t feel it anymore.” That really lowered my fear of working with jellyfish – I actually got excited and curious about getting stung myself!”

What does it feel like to get stung?

It ranges from an irritating itch to individual pins and needles poking you. The worst one I ever got felt like getting a scratch and then cleaning it with rubbing alcohol for hours.

Moon jellies can grow up to 40cm in diameter and can be found in the Atlantic Ocean. These jellyfish are capable of life cycle reversal, where individuals grow younger instead of older! At Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we grow our own moon jellies to display in our Life Cycles Exhibit.

What is your favourite part about working with jellyfish?

I think my favourite part is knowing that you can get them super big and beautiful by doing some of the simplest things like feeding them and keeping their exhibit clean. Also cultivating jellyfish is still very new in the aquarium world and being able to learn so much about jellyfish and their niche always keeps me interested.

How is caring for jellyfish different than caring for fish?

Besides the fact that their tanks are round, not square, they also are an animal that can’t communicate with body language or anything. They can respond with certain behaviours such as retracting their arms from water turbulence or pulsing when they encounter a current but otherwise they are animals that most people don’t understand and I enjoy that!

Upside down jellies lie on the bottom of the ocean (upside down) to expose their algae covered arms to the sun. When disturbed, these jellyfish will swim off the bottom of the ocean or excrete stinging cells contained within mucus as a defence.

What is your favourite jellyfish?

Carukia barnesi, also known as Irukandji jellyfish. They are the about size of your pinky finger and can deliver incredibly painful, venomous stings which can result in a powerful sense of impending doom and even death!

If you want to learn all about jellyfish, their care, what they eat and how they work, check out our blog post Jellyfish 101.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Drop Us a Line – October Q&A

You ask, we answer! Welcome to Deep Sea Diary’s monthly Q&A – a great way to connect with Aquarium experts as you fish for more information about all things Ripley’s.

 

Matthew asked…

Q: How much do the sharks in Dangerous Lagoon eat, and when do you feed them?

A: On average, the Husbandry team prepares around 800 pounds (360 kilograms) of food for the animals EVERY WEEK! This is about a quarter of what is eaten by Aquarium guests every week in the cafe. The food comes from a restaurant supplier so its human consumption grade. About 65% of that food feeds the sharks, stingrays, sawfish, green sea turtles and other small fish that live in the Dangerous Lagoon. These feeds occur on Tuesday and Thursdays. Find the times here. 

Learn more about how we feed the animals in the Dangerous Lagoon here.

shark-feed-aquarist-maude

Diane asked…

Q: Where does the water in the Aquarium come from?

A: All of the water in the Aquarium comes from city water. However, we have a special process to remove added chlorine, fluoride and ammonia. From there, we can do whatever we want with the pure water. For the freshwater tanks, that’s essentially nothing. For saltwater tanks, we added a tremendous amount of salt. This is done in our salt mixing room! Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has our own secret salt water recipe, mixing about 15 different types of salts and minerals! The most common salt is sodium chloride, or what most people know as table salt. Once this water is fully mixed and passes the water chemistry tests, it is moved to another holding basin where it can be sent to any system that requires it.

In total, we are able to recycle about 99% if the water we filter. In fact, we’ll actually lose more water each day from human sources (i.e. washrooms, cafe, etc.) than we will from the actual tanks.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at deepseadiary@ripleys.com for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Recap: International Sawfish Day

On Tuesday, October 17, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada joined several aquariums across North Americain celebrating the first annual International Sawfish Day!

Did you know? There are only five species of sawfish in the world – Dwarf, Knifetooth, Smalltooth, Largetooth and Green sawfish. The largest being the smalltooth sawfish, which can grow up to 25 feet!

One of the ways that Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada celebrated these incredible species with TWO Facebook LIVE events! If you didn’t get the chance to “tuna” in on Tuesday, check them out below.

First up, our Marketing Coordinator Sarah joined our Senior Aquarist Ka in the Dangerous Lagoon Tunnel to discuss all things sawfish. During their chat, they were even joined by a very special guest – our male green sawfish! The male and female green sawfish that call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home can often be seen lying on the tunnel, giving guests the perfect view.

 

During the second Facebook LIVE, Sarah joined one of our Lead Educators, Danielle, behind the scenes to give viewers a look at how we feed the animals in the Dangerous Lagoon, including the two resident sawfish.

Danielle answered some great questions – including the purpose of the sawfish’s rostum, how they are able to eat and even what they are fed here at the Aquarium.

 

One important topic that both Kat and Danielle discussed was the many threats that face these animals, and how we can help.

The sawfish gets their name from their long rostrum, or “saw”. Due to this unique morphology, combined with slow growth, all five species of sawfish are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Their rostrum often causes entanglement in fishing nets and other marine debris and can often lead to targeted trophy hunting. They are also continuously hunted for their meat, liver oil and fins for the shark fin trade. And, as a species commonly found in shallow coastal waters, their habitat is at risk due to development.

Even though we may be located thousands of miles from the nearest sawfish habitat, there are many ways that we can help. Most importantly, it starts with education and creating awareness. By participating in activities such as International Sawfish Day, we can create awareness of these animals and their importance in the ocean and threats they face.  We hope that you enjoying “tuna”ing in to our Facebook LIVE events, and they you will share them with your friends so that they too can build a connection with these magnificent ocean creatures.

 

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Celebrating the Sawfish

Next Tuesday, October 17th is the first annual International Sawfish Day!

There are only five species of sawfish in the world – Dwarf, Knifetooth, Smalltooth, Largetooth and Green sawfish. The largest being the smalltooth sawfish, which can grow up to 25 feet!

Sawfish are considered the most threatened group of Elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) in the world. Here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we have two resident green sawfish, who live in the Dangerous Lagoon exhibit.

Green sawfish are more closely related to stingrays than sharks. They are a modified ray with a shark-like body, and can grow over 15 feet in length! Commonly mistaken for swordfish, sawfish are elasmobranchs meaning their skeleton is made of cartilage (like our ears and nose), and not bone. Our female green sawfish is easily our largest animal at the Aquarium, weighing in at over 400 pounds over 14 feet long from end to end! (Don’t know which one is female, and which one is male? When viewing the sawfish from within the Dangerous Lagoon tunnel, look for the presence of claspers. These male reproductive organs are modifications of the pelvic fins and are located on the inner margin of the pelvic fins.)

The rostrum, or “saw,” is what makes these animals so unique!

A sawfish’s rostrum is long and narrow, edged with teeth and can comprise up to 30% of their length! Depending on the species, the rostum is comprised on 16-37 pairs of teeth on either side. Once lost, these teeth will never grow back.Contrary to popular belief, the saw is not used to saw into other animals. An efficient weapon covered in electroreceptors, called ampullae of Lorenzini, the rostrum allows sawfish to detect their prey in the substrate, before taking lateral swipes to stun or kill.

With all five species listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN, the first annual International Sawfish Day couldn’t have come at a better time!

Sawfish are a vulnerable species due to their unique morphology and slow growth. Their rostrum often causes entanglement in fishing nets and other marine debris and can often lead to targeted trophy hunting. They are also continuously hunted for their meat, liver oil and fins for the shark fin trade. And, as a species commonly found in shallow coastal waters, their habitat is at risk due to development.

aquarium-photography-tips

But, you can help!

One way to do so is by joining Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada on Facebook! On October 17, we will be celebrating International Sawfish Day with TWO Facebook LIVE events – 8:45am & 1:00pm (topics listed below).

8:45am – “All About Sawfish” Facebook LIVE with our Senior Aquarist Kat!

1:00pm – “Sawfish Feed” Facebook LIVE with our Lead Educator Danielle!

We hope to ‘sea’ you there!

 

Is there something that you’ve always wanted to know about sawfish? Leave your sawfish questions below (before Monday, October 16) for your chance to WIN a sawfish stuffed animal, two general admission tickets and a keychain, AND have them answered during our Facebook LIVE on International Sawfish Day!