Category

Aquatic Environment

Sharkwater Extinction: A Call To Save Sharks

It’s been 12 years since Toronto-born filmmaker Rob Stewart released Sharkwater. The award-winning documentary exposed worldwide practices of shark-finning. It was an industry threatening to drive sharks to extinction. Sharkwater also addressed the public’s fearful opinion of sharks–one fueled by Hollywood and the media. Sharks are not monsters, Stewart said, but vital animals worthy of our respect and protection. Over 100 countries have banned shark finning since the film’s release. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately not.

The plight of sharks didn’t end with the public’s new awareness; instead it went underground (or rather, underwater). 150 million sharks are killed by humans annually. But why?

Sharkwater: Extinction is Stewart’s follow-up to his 2006 film. The documentary picks up where Sharkwater left off. It seeks to expose continued incidents of shark finning in countries that have banned the practice, but not the importation of shark fins themselves. The film brings to light other human threats to sharks, such as drift nets, trophy fishing and the use of sharks in everyday products.

SHARK FINNING

Although over 100 countries–including Canada–have made shark finning illegal, the importation and exportation of shark products, including fins, is not. That means that a crew caught directly finning sharks would be arrested, but that transferring shark fins and carcasses to a shipping vessel would render their transportation and sale legal.

The film posits that additional legislation banning the importation and exportation of shark products and closer monitoring of shipping cargo are required to put an end to the practice of shark finning once and for all.

DRIFT NETS

In a particularly heartbreaking piece of footage, Sharkwater: Extinction shows how unsustainable fishing practices such as the use of drift nets are hurting sharks. These nets, nicknamed “death nets,” are stretched across a kilometre of open ocean, reaching as deep as 100 feet, in order to indiscriminately catch large fish such as swordfish. However, the nets also end up ensnaring other species, including sharks, who eventually drown when they are unable to swim free.

TROPHY FISHING

Another upsetting reality presented by the film is that of trophy fishing, whereby tourists pay local fishermen to help them hook and photograph so-called “dangerous” catches like hammerheads and bull sharks. While many of these sharks are released after the trophy photo is taken, most don’t survive the stress of their time out of the water, or live the rest of their lives with imbedded fishing hooks or lines.

USE OF SHARKS IN FOOD AND MAKEUP

The most shocking discovery for me while watching Sharkwater: Extinction was that shark is commonly used off-label in a number of the grocery and beauty products that we purchase every day. The mislabeling of seafood–for example, when a grocery store or restaurant labels a low-quality fish as a higher-quality fish in order to sell it for more money–is a huge problem. Seafood fraud can cause health problems, undermine sustainable fishing efforts and cost individual consumers hundreds of dollars annually.

Sharkwater: Extinction goes further, proving that a number of common grocery store items, including pet food, lipstick and fish purchased from the fresh seafood section, tested positive for ingredients made from shark. It is evident that shark fishing is fueling a greater industry than just shark fin soup.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Sharks are a vital part of the ocean’s health. As top predators, their health and vitality ensures that ocean food webs stay balanced. In fact, studies have shown shark populations help manage the negative effects of climate change by controlling populations of algae-eating fish. Algae, as you know is an important consumer of carbon dioxide.  The loss of sharks is directly related to how well oceans are able to navigate climate change.

ROB STEWART WAS A HERO FOR SHARKS

Tragically, Rob Stewart passed away in a diving accident while filming Sharkwater: Extinction.

He saw the problems facing his beloved sharks and used his voice and his talents to do something about it. With his passing the world lost a passionate advocate for sharks and our oceans–someone who dedicated his life to convincing us that sharks are worthy of our love and respect, and to exposing the atrocities that they are suffering at human hands.

As Educators here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we work with 13 different species of sharks. We know first-hand how impressive and charismatic these species are, and that they are not the monsters depicted in movies and news reels. We strive to educate aquarium guests about our sharks–to help them see what we see and what Rob Stewart saw in them–and the rate at which we are driving them toward extinction.

SPEAK UP FOR SHARKS

Sharkwater: Extinction is an important film for anyone concerned about the state of our oceans and its top predators. The first step in advocating change is to become better educated about these issues, whether here at the aquarium, by reading articles like those posted in our Deep Sea Diary blog or in a movie theatre. The documentary goes on to encourage its viewers to act on behalf of the sharks, like Rob Stewart did.

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO

—Educate yourself about the products you use in your everyday life–ensure that your groceries and health and beauty products are #sharkfree.

—Eat sustainable seafood–not only is sustainable seafood better for the health of fish populations and the ocean, but ethical providers of seafood will be able to tell you exactly what you are eating, where it came from and how it was caught

—Use your voice–educate your friends and family about these issues, and let them know what they can do to help. Consider contacting your local or national politicians to let them know that you care about sharks and want to see better governmental control of the shark trade and the use of harmful fishing practices

Sharkwater: Extinction premieres in Canada on October 19, 2018.

A Visit to Fiji’s Coral Coast

Fiji’s Coral Coast is absolutely breathtaking.

From the surface, everything you’ve heard is true… the white sandy beaches and the aqua blue water are stunning. But underwater, things are astronomically different than they were even just 20 years ago…

On my first day volunteering with Reef Explorer Fiji’s Director, Victor Bonito, and his team, I was filled with anticipation and excitement as we traveled to one of the local Marine Protected Areas in the district of Korolevu-i-wai. I couldn’t stop smiling as we unloaded our tools from the truck and could hardly wait to put on my snorkel gear and run into the water.

As my face plunged into the ocean I saw small coral colonies in the distance.

As we snorkeled further from shore, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the first coral colony I saw, and I smiled so wide that salt water started to flood my mask. Victor had warned me that 30-50% of the coral colonies along this coast were decimated in several mass bleaching events in the early 2000s, but the reef looked fine to me! As I swam past the first coral colony, I was so excited to see what was beyond… but instead of more coral bustling with life, what I saw was barren ocean floor, littered with coral rubble, and my heart fell. Since the climate change related mass bleaching events, some diverse coral communities have persisted in these Marine Protected Areas, but the vast expanse of “coral graveyards” that I saw, served as an ominous warning of the looming threat of future coral bleaching events.

In response to the current loss and future threats facing coral reefs along this coast, Victor Bonito and his team at Reef Explorer Fiji monitor the reefs in this district and have developed a coral restoration program with the goal of restoring the reefs.

They have identified heat resistant corals during previous bleaching events and hope to expedite the reef’s natural recovery by growing fragments of these heat resistant corals in “nurseries”. When they grow bigger, the coral fragments will be out planted to the reef where they will hopefully grow and reproduce with each other giving rise to more heat tolerant corals that have a better chance of survival during future bleaching events… and this is where volunteers, like myself, can help their effort.

As we continued snorkeling, we finally reached the first “coral nursery”. If I didn’t have a snorkel in my mouth, my mouth would’ve fell open; tiny corals of every shape and color were hanging from ropes, strung on a metal frame and already, these corals were home to tiny fish and invertebrates. I felt increasingly hopeful when Victor told me he had 6 coral nurseries consisting of over 50 species of coral in several Marine Protected Areas… I was excited to find out exactly how I could contribute to this coral restoration process!

We started our work by cutting corals from the ropes and dropping them into a laundry basket to be transported to the sites where we would transplant them.

Victor knew the reef like his own backyard and used his scientific expertise to choose restoration sites which would be ecologically receptive to these tiny corals. Once the restoration site was selected, Victor told us to brush the sediment from areas of hard rocky bottom on the ocean floor to prepare the attachment site. We then mixed batches of sand, plaster and cement and placed small balls of the mixture on the brushed areas.  As I took the first coral fragment in my hand and used special care to push it gently into the cement mixture, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, as one by one, I was helping to repopulate the coral reef. After one day of hard work by our team of four, the once barren patch of ocean floor was teaming with upwards of 200 corals! And by the end of 5 days, our team out planted over ONE THOUSAND corals!

After 5 days of cutting corals from ropes in the nurseries and out planting them to the reef, it was time to re-stock the nurseries.

During previous bleaching events, Victor had identified heat resistant coral colonies based on their response and survivorship. It was these heat resistant colonies of varying species that he cut tiny fragments from to use for re-stocking the nursery. After fresh rope was tied to the metal frame, myself and my peers took the tiny fragments, which were no larger than my finger, untwisted the new rope and tucked the coral pieces inside. These tiny coral fragments will grow on the ropes for 6-10 months depending on the species and their rate of growth, until they are large enough to be out-planted to the reef. As we finished our work and I swam away from the nursery for the last time, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to have been involved in this project and to have directly contributed to coral reef conservation.

I am very thankful that Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada sponsored me for the Reef Explorer Fiji volunteer program.

While I was in Fiji, I fell in love with the Pacific Ocean and the people who live there.  I was incredibly inspired by Victor and his small local team, who continue to do their best to restore the reef, one coral piece at a time. As I acclimatize back to life in Canada, I want to do everything I can to play my part in saving the reefs by changing the tide on global climate change, and I encourage you to do the same. Here’s a list of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and help to save the coral reefs:

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle trash
  • Purchase energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, and reduce overall energy consumption
  • Drive less – transportation accounts for more than 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Choose and support clean, renewable energy options
  • Consider eating less meat. Animal agriculture accounts for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions
  • Plant trees. Trees improve air quality while absorbing carbon dioxide.

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,

committed citizens can change the world;

indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”

 – Margaret Mead

Keeping Out the Cold

Welcome to Canada, where the winters never seem to end!

It’s near the end of February, but we may still have a way to go before spring arrives to free us from this bitter cold. Thankfully we Canadians have come up with a few helpful ways to stay warm during this long chilly season: fluffy coats, wool socks, long underwear, lots of warm beverages, you name it!

But what about the fish? How can they possibly tolerate these harsh winters?

They don’t wear coats, they don’t have houses with central heating, they can’t even regulate their own body temperature! Fish are poikilotherms, meaning their internal body temperature is largely dependent on the temperature of their environment. That’s bad news if you’re a fish and your environment is negative 20°C. But don’t fret my fish-loving friends! These scaly animals have come up with some pretty interesting ways to beat back the chill.

Antifreeze

Imagine if you could produce a protein that flowed through your blood and kept your heart from turning into a popsicle. Well, fish like the Atlantic cod, the winter flounder, and the sea raven have such a magical molecule! As soon as ice crystals begin to form in their blood, these antifreeze proteins will coat it and prevent it from growing. This handy little adaptation has allowed these fishes to survive their frigid ocean home by preventing their tissues from being damage by frost.

 

Salty

You know how you constantly have to salt your driveway in the winter to melt the ice? Well, fish have also figured out that salt is pretty handy for preventing themselves from freezing! In fact, salt water has a freezing point of about negative 2°C, which is two degrees more than fresh water. Many fish will have very high concentrations of electrolytes (salts), glycerol, and sugars in their body to stay ice-free.

Bottom of the Lake

We talked about chemistry, now let’s do a little physics. Ice is less dense than liquid water, which is most dense at 4°C. So when our lakes freeze over, the ice floats at the top, leaving the liquid water underneath that goes from 0 to 4 degrees the deeper it gets. This allows most fresh water fish to survive simply by staying at the bottom-most part of the lake.

Let’s take the walleye as an example. When the cold weather hits, this big tasty fish goes into a resting state while staying near the muddy or sandy bottom of the lake. Its metabolic activity – all the chemical reactions the happen inside its cells – is reduced, as is its need for food and oxygen. It’s a good thing they don’t need as much oxygen, because there will be a limited supply in the frozen lake, since ice at the top prevents any more of it in the air from dissolving into the water.

So there you have it! Canadian fish are just as amazingly adept at living through the winter as Canadian people, although they complain a heck of a lot less. So next time you think you can’t possibly survive another day in this snow globe of a country, remember the fish: if they can make it, so can you!

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!

Fin-tastic Fish Families

Families come in many shapes and sizes. While you may think your family has their fair share of problems, in the fish world things are a little different…

Some fish mouth brood.

Mouth brooding means that the fish keep the babies and/or eggs in their mouth until they are ready to swim on their own. The best example of this is the cardinalfish. Cardinalfish, like the pajama cardinalfish above, actually have to live with at least one other cardinalfish or they are too lonely to go on by themselves! When the mother lays eggs, the father fertilizes them and then holds them in his mouth. He removes the bad eggs and turns the healthy ones until they hatch. Once hatched, they then live in his mouth for 10 days! When they are ready, they swim off on their own to be adopted by sea anemones who protect them until the cardinalfish are larger.

The most protective parents are egg guarders.

For egg guarders, it is usually the male that finds or builds the perfect nest to attract a female and then watches the developing eggs until they are ready to swim off on their own. Our aquarium has many examples of nest guarding animals, two of which live in the kelp forest – the kelp greenling and lingcod.

In the fish world, it seems the fathers are more commonly the “stay at home” type.

Wolf eels, pictured above, are one exception. The father and mother live together in a cave. When the time is right, the mother will lay eggs and the father will fertilize them. Both parents take turns holding and turning the eggs with their tail until they hatch.

This next animal is not a fish, but this list would not be completed without mentioning them…

The female octopus dedicates her life to her children. Most species have a short lifespan. The giant Pacific octopus, for example, lives for a maximum of five years! An octopus usually grows really fast, reproduces and then passes away. The mating ritual between octopuses is pretty brutal, usually the father does not survive. The mother will lay thousands of eggs and gently brush them with her arms providing them with oxygen for their survival. During this time, the mother will usually fast. When the young octopuses are born, her final gift to them is her body as a food resource. Now the baby octopuses have their best foot forward for the new world.

The oddest families of all the fish? You may think are seahorses, but you would be wrong…

The oddest fish families are sharks! Here are a few amazing shark family facts.

Hammerhead sharks spend most of their days alone searching for food. However, once a year they have a family reunion! Many hammerheads swim in from their solitary homes to meet their relatives. Their reunion is at a good feeding ground and a great place to meet their mate. These are one of the few schooling sharks, which is one of the theories behind their cephalofoil (hammer-shaped head). Some scientists think the extrasensory organs in their oddly shaped head aids in communicating with other hammerheads of the same species. At the Aquarium, you will find the smallest type of hammerhead, the bonnethead!

If you are not a big fan of your siblings, then maybe you are a shark.

Adelphophagy! No, that was not a typo. Have you ever heard of shark children fighting to the death in-utero? Well adelphophagy is the fancy science word for it. Usually this is a characteristic of larger sharks, such as the great white or shortfin mako shark. However, the sand tiger sharks at our aquarium reproduce the same way. You may think this strategy is odd, and why not have a sibling? They can sometimes be your best friend! Sharks want their children to have the very best chance of survival. If three sharks are born at once, usually only one of those three will survive to adulthood. There are predators that think small sharks are tasty. But, if a shark has three young and one consumes the other two, that one shark has a good chance of survival based on their initial size and full stomach at birth. Talk about sibling rivalry.

Lastly, some female sharks can have children without a partner. They are not adopting their children; instead, they are making semi-copies of themselves. This process is called parthenogenesis. This is fairly rare and scientists only know this has happened because they have tested the genetics of the shark children. One of these parthenogenetic species lives at out aquarium, the whitespotted bamboo shark. If the sharks finds itself in an area without partners, female sharks will double the genetic material present in an existing egg, which can result in a child!

You may think your family is quirky and odd, but you proudly celebrate them anyway. And here at the aquarium we celebrate all of our fin-tastic fish families! Happy Family Day!

 

 

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!

 

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.

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!

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 deepseadiary@ripleys.com 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!