Aquatic Environment

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 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.


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.


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.



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 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!

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!

Celebrating Coastal Cleanup Day

In September, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Blue Team and over 50 members of the local community joined forces to celebrate Coastal Cleanup Day, cleaning Lake Ontario’s shoreline at the Humber Marshes.

Every year thousands of tons of garbage enter our oceans, harming wildlife, humans, and impacting the livelihood of those who work on the ocean.

Even though Toronto is located thousands of miles from the nearest ocean, the problem begins with us. Rivers, lakes, streams, storm drains and beaches are all connected, so litter at your shoreline can be transported far away from where it began.

Regardless of the origin, litter in the environment can have devastating consequences for wildlife. Animals mistake litter for food or become entangled in single-use plastic bags, rope and string. Litter can transport invasive species, or introduce dangerous toxins into an ecosystem. Plastic litter can break down into smaller pieces that are impossible to pick up and never truly disappear.

Over the course of the two-hour September cleanup, Aquarium staff and community members collected over 52 kg (113 lbs) of waste and recycling! The worst offenders? Cigarette butts, plastic bottle caps and small pieces of foam (less than 2.5 cm in diameter).

So, what do we do with that 52 kg of waste collected?

Waste collected during a Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada shoreline cleanup goes in one of three streams – trash, recycling and cigarette butts. The trash and recycling are collected by the City of Toronto, whereas the cigarette butts are sent to a recycling program called TerraCycle. Once collected in this program, the butts and packaging are separated by composition and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled industrial products, such as plastic pallets. The ash and tobacco are separated out and composted in a specialized process.

Coastal Cleanup Day was established by the Ocean Conservancy, an organization that work to help protect the ocean from the challenges it faces every year. The important day encourages us to get out to our beaches and help to limit this problem by cleaning up the garbage that has washed up on shore, and that left by visitors every day.

Twice a year, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada participates in a shoreline cleanup to help clean Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Humber River. This area, known as the Humber Marshes, is one of the few remaining river mouth marshes in Toronto. As part of Toronto’s largest watershed, the extensive marshes provide an important breeding habitat for ducks, turtles and fish, and are a significant corridor for migratory song birds and monarch butterflies. More than 60 species of fish live in the river including such sport fish as trout, pike and salmon.

A BIG ‘tank’ you to everyone that participated! Interested in participating in our next Shoreline cleanup in spring 2018? Subscribe to the Aquarium newsletter (located at the bottom of our website, here) for more information.

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


Life in Between the Tide


When thinking of extreme environments in the ocean you may picture the dead sea or hydrothermal vents.

It may be hard to imagine, but the shoreline created by tides is actually one of the most challenging places for an animal to live. In this week’s Deep Sea Diary post, we will delve into the amazing area of the ocean known as the intertidal zone, and discuss some of the aquatic animals that call this area home.

The intertidal zone is the area of the shore water reaches during high tides, but during low tide it is left exposed.

Canada is home to the largest tidal flux in the world – the east coast is home to the Bay of Fundy, which experiences tidal cycles with highs of over 16 meters (52 feet), about the height of a five-story building! These tidal cycles create a complex and dynamic environment with large fluctuations in many environmental factors. At high tide, the environmental conditions are relatively stable and constant as animals are covered by seawater. At low tide, however, the area becomes more of a terrestrial habitat and animals experience large fluctuations in temperature, salinity and oxygen level. Plus, during low tide, these species are exposed to predators and the threat of drying conditions!

Let’s explore some of the animals commonly found in the intertidal zone on our Canadian coasts, and how they survive in this extreme environment.

Limpets are small marine snails that inhabit the area known as the spray zone.

This area is mostly terrestrial and only becomes covered with seawater at very high tides. The spray zone, however, is frequently exposed to splashing waves and wind-blown spray. Limpets use a muscular foot to attach themselves to rocks so they don’t get knocked around and they have a strong shell to protect their body from the constant wave shock. They can even raise and lower their shell to help them control the temperature of their body. Limpets use their strong teeth to scrap algae off of rocks. This doesn’t sound very interesting until you learn that limpet teeth are the strongest natural material currently on record, six times stronger than spider silk!

In the high intertidal zone you will find an abundance of crustaceans.

Not the crustaceans you may commonly think of, like lobster and crab. Instead, barnacles (yes, they’re crustaceans too!) inhabit this area.  Larval barnacles get batted around the intertidal zone until they find a suitable place to call home. They glue themselves to that location and stay there forever, constructing a hard shell around their body. The shell not only protects them from predators, it also allows them to keep reserves of water to use during low tide. You may also see barnacles living on other animals such as whales and turtles, don’t be alarmed though, they are harmless and just filter feed on plankton in the water!

Sea urchins and sea stars are also animals common to the intertidal community, often inhabiting the mid intertidal zone.

Urchins and sea stars move using hundreds of small suckers, called tube feet. They have a complex system of water canals inside their body and they control the movement of their feet by squeezing water in and out of them. During low tides urchins, sea stars and sea cucumbers often become trapped in small pools of water and remain there until high tide. This is when they are vulnerable to terrestrial predators and it becomes a fight for survival! Urchins use sharp spines that protrude from their body to wound predators, some species also have venomous stinging spines they can use as an additional weapon. When attacked, sea stars will actually drop off their arm to escape and regrow it later. Sea cucumbers will take that strategy to another level and eviscerate (or “puke up”) their whole gut to distract and confuse predators!

Another resident often seen in these tide pools is the sculpin. These small fish are quite extraordinary! Tide pools often experience times of very low oxygen which would normally make survival quite hard. Sculpins however have adapted to extract oxygen directly from the air, using their skin to breathe! Their body also has no scales and instead they defend themselves using sharp spines on their head and gill covers. Many species of sculpin can also change the shade of their skin to camouflage with their surroundings and avoid predators.

This is just a small taste of some of the amazing inhabitants of the intertidal zone. You can find many more in the Canadian Waters gallery at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Swim on by to see these animals in action and learn even more about the ocean.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Drop us a line in the comments below before August 31, 2017 for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A post and win 2 tickets to the Aquarium!