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General Aquarium

Raising a Marine Biologist

Fall is here, and with it comes all the excitement of back to school! Not everyone is sliding in sneakers and throwing on backpacks, though. Lots of little tots will be staying home as they await being school-aged. Learning starts long before the classroom, and there are loads of things caretakers and parents can do to foster love and respect for the ocean early on.

Here are our top 5 tips for raising a marine biologist:

Promote curiosity

Teaching your little one to think like a scientist is a major part of empowering their learning. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage and nurture their curiosity. Luckily, children have an innate tendency to wonder- when you see it, don’t squash it! Let them try age-appropriate activities on their own first before intervening or correcting them. Encourage them to play with familiar things in unconventional ways- a great example of this is letting them raid the kitchen for some fun with strainers and spoons! Ask them questions when they encounter new things, try to get them thinking about how things work around them, and be sure to take note of their answers- there’s nothing quite as surprising (or as funny) a toddler’s perspective!

Explore nearby water bodies

Marine biology is so much more than what is under the water. Life can be found thriving on the beach, on rocky shores, and along creeks. Whatever water bodies you live near, take your child exploring. Learn with as many of the senses as you can- what can you see in these areas, what can you touch? What smells do you smell, what sounds do you hear? Be sure to bring plenty of supplies with you on your scientific excursions, like crayons and notebooks to draw what you see, or magnifying lenses to take a closer look. It might get messy, but that’s ok! White clothes should be all packed away now that labor day has passed, anyhow. Head out while the sun is still shining!

Go underwater

My earliest and fondest childhood memories are of swimming in local pools and lakes, playing with family and friends, and exploring underwater with goggles. What better way to entice your future marine biologist than to put them in the water themselves? Even as the weather becomes colder and we bundle up more, the GTA is filled with recreation centers that offer swimming classes and free swim to children of all ages and abilities. Find one near you, grab some goggles, slap on a swimsuit, wiggle into some water wings, and go for a dip! Can’t make it to a pool? Adventure needn’t be much further than your own bathtub. Find some fishy toys and create a fun underwater scene.

Think, talk, and act green!

We get it- reducing your waste and being green is easier said than done. Factor in raising toddlers, and it gets even trickier. Between the convenience of pre-packaged snacks and the ease of relying on single use plastics, the waste can add up. The solution? Remember who’s boss (your toddler, always). Talk to your children about how your actions affect the environment, and think up some ways to be more sustainable together. Chances are, once they understand, they’ll be the first to remind you when you’re slipping. If you hear them reminding you to opt for reusable bags, rejoice- you’ve got a pretty environmentally conscientious tot to keep you in check!

Meet some fish!

Here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we run a program called Sea Squirts. Sea Squirts is a 6-week long program for children aged 2-4 and their caregivers that runs from 9-10am on Thursday and Sunday mornings. Each week, a new topic of under-the-sea life is explored through songs, games, crafts, and stories. Sea Squirts brings you up close and personal with our animals with animal visits that take you behind the scenes. This program is the perfect way to connect with your child as you learn and play together, all the while enjoying the wonders of the sea.

For more information, visit our website, here.

There you have it! Our top 5 ways to encourage a love and respect for the ocean in your little ones from an early age. Keep them curious, get them down to the water, let them play under water, reinforce the importance of sustainability, and meet some fish! Chances are you’ll have so much fun together, you’ll develop some new healthy habits, too. Remember that a marine biologist works to learn about and protect the blue world that they love.

Do you have any other suggestions for raising a marine biologist? Comment below!

Fighting the Invasion: RAOC at the Lionfish Invitational

There’s no doubt of the lionfish’s beauty. It’s written in their stunning red and white striped colouration, and the fanciful sway of their fins.

But as with so many things in nature, that beauty is a warning. The lionfish has 18 long, needle-like spines that deliver a painful dose of venom if touched. It’s an excellent defense against predators, and a real headache for humans–while not fatal, lionfish venom has been known to cause extreme pain, as well as headaches, vomiting, and paralysis.

There’s something else deceptive in the beauty of the lionfish–in certain parts of the world, they are destroying the colourful diversity of coral reefs.

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, where they are kept in balance by predators such as large fish and sharks. However, due to its popularity in the aquarium industry, this fish was introduced off the southeastern coast of the United States and in the Caribbean, where it has become an invasive species.

How did this happen? The answer is threefold.

  • Lionfish are excellent hunters. They are lightning-fast and have been known to hunt cooperatively, using their fanned pectoral fins to steer prey until they are trapped. Add to this equation the fact that local prey species do not recognize lionfish as predators and the lionfish’s buffet-style approach to feeding–they feed easily and indiscriminately on a wide variety of fish and invertebrates.
  • A single female lionfish can lay approximately 2 million eggs a year, meaning that what started out as a few aquarium fish inadvertently introduced to a part of the world where they don’t belong, quickly became a full-scale invasion.
  • Finally, the lionfish has no natural predators in these parts of the world and is highly resistant to disease and infection. This means that they have rapidly overpopulated reefs in the Western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea–a population that is long-lived (lionfish have a lifespan of about 15 years) and that remains largely unchecked.

Why is that such a problem? A single lionfish can consume 80 to 90 percent of native life in small coral reef environments within just five weeks of establishing its territory there. This is wreaking havoc on these fragile underwater ecosystems.

It’s a grim picture, but luckily, scientists and conservationists–including members of the team here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada–are taking steps to help combat the so-called “lionfish problem.”

In August of 2019, Ripley’s joined trained volunteer divers and research partners from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean for the sixth annual Lionfish Invitational at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico.

This event sends teams of divers into the sanctuary to remove as many lionfish as possible through spearfishing. This practice is typically illegal in the sanctuary, but special permits are issued to the team for the duration of the event.

Lionfish caught are counted, measured, bagged and tagged, before being sent to a lab for further analysis, including their age, growth patterns, genetics and stomach contents.

Not only does this annual event help to relieve the overpopulation of invasive lionfish in the Gulf, but it also serves to further scientific knowledge of the effects of lionfish populations on native species and their habitats.

This year, a 22-diver team removed 122 lionfish over the course of four days. Despite the skill of these divers, this represents the least amount of lionfish removed from any Invitational to date.

It is hypothesized that lionfish populations throughout the Gulf and Caribbean region have been reduced due to an ulcerative skin disease, present in lionfish removed from the marine park, and elsewhere. A decline in lionfish population has also been observed in Florida.

This could be good news in terms of restoring balance in Flower Garden Banks, but continued monitoring and removals of lionfish will be essential to assessing their population and the health of ecosystems in the region, and beyond.

*Lionfish Invitational photos courtesy of Louise Patricio, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada Dive Operations Manager

5 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

Periods of natural climate change have occurred for millennia, but human industry since the 20th-century has contributed to change at an unprecedented rate, primarily due to our increased consumption of fossil fuels. (A fossil fuel is a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed from the remains of living organisms).

The effects of this change can be seen in the increase of the planet’s surface temperature, the warming and acidification of the oceans, the rise of sea levels and the retreat of glaciers. Changes are happening at such an accelerated rate that plants and animals are hardly able to adapt quickly enough. For reference, adaptation occurs over several generations and the current rate of climate change is far too fast.

I’m sure that you know all this.

What you might not know is that you have the power to do something to help reverse the tides of climate change. We all do.

The term carbon footprint refers to the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the consumption of fossil fuels by a person or organization. The changes outlined below might seem small, but if each of us commits to reducing our carbon footprint in tangible ways, that can add up to big change—change that has the power to positively affect the planet. Here’s how:

1. Unplug electronics when not in use

We all know to turn the lights off when we leave the room—that’s Energy Conservation 101. But did you know about something called home idle load, or ghost energy? Ghost energy refers to the electricity being continuously used in our homes, even when we’re not there. This kind of passive energy use accounts for more than 30% of household electricity consumption!

Reducing your use of electricity is a clear way to also reduce your carbon footprint, and home idle load is a great place to start. Prevent the silent sap of ghost energy by:

  • Unplugging electronics such as your cellphone and game consoles when not in use
  • Using a timer-switch that stops electric consumption from devices not in use
  • Replacing old, inefficient appliances that must remain running (i.e. refrigerators) with newer, more energy-efficient models

2. Eat less meat


Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to go vegetarian. A simple reduction in the amount of meat you eat can have a tangible effect on your carbon footprint. In fact, eating just one less burger a week is the equivalent of taking your car off the road for about 515 kilometres! Consider taking the Meatless Monday pledge—committing to meatless meals just one day of the week.

How does farmed meat affect the environment you ask? It has to do with deforestation to make way for livestock (less trees means less ability for the planet to process carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), methane emissions from fertilizer use and the animals themselves (I’ll let you use your imagination to figure that one out), and agricultural runoff polluting our streams and rivers. Not to mention the food and water resources needed to feed our, well, future food.

3. Buy local


Meals are another way in which we can reduce our carbon footprints. By buying fresh, local foods, not only are we supporting local growers and grocers, but also reducing the distance that our food has to travel from production to our plates.

To put it simply, locally-grown fruits, vegetables and fresh meats don’t have to travel hundreds of miles by truck or get on a plane to the grocery store. And it really is that simple: less travel means less use of fossil fuels in transportation, which means a win-win way to reduce your carbon footprint…and put money back into your community, to boot.

4. Take care of your clothes

clothes

When it comes to our carbon footprints, so many of us wear them on our sleeves. Fast fashion is the trend of quickly and cheaply producing new clothing collections inspired by celebrities and designers. But fast fashion is also a disaster for the environment.

Fast fashion relies on synthetic materials such as polyester, which, when washed in washing machines, shed microfibers that pass into our waterways in the form of microplastics. These are often consumed by animals low in the food chain, and eventually make their way into the stomachs of apex predators—like us.

So what can you do? As a consumer, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is. Consider clothing brands that use recycled materials.

But the best way to reduce the environmental impact of your clothing is to keep your clothes on the hanger for longer—to buy high-quality, long-lasting pieces that you can repair or upcycle rather than discard—and resist the temptation of constantly buying new stuff.

5. Share what you know

clothes

The final and most powerful way you can help fight climate change is to share what you know and to talk about the changes you’re making to your habits with your family and friends.

You may be just one person making what seem like small choices for the health of the planet, but by serving as a good example and passing on what you know, there’s no telling how big of an impact you could have.

Photos

  1. Meatless Monday Infographic, https://www.meatlessmonday.com/earth-day-2015/
  2. Fast Fashion, https://phys.org/news/2019-01-fast-fashion-environment-workers-society.html
  3. Foodland Ontario Logo, http://www.foodland.gov.on.ca/media/

Sources

  1. “About Meatless Monday.” Earth Day Network, www.earthday.org/take-action/about-meatless-monday/
  2. “Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?” Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, NASA, 5 Feb. 2019, www.climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
  3. Environment.” Meatless Monday, www.meatlessmonday.com/research/environment/
  4. Holth, Jesse. “7 Instant Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 6 June 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/7-instant-ways-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint_us_59321992e4b00573ab57a383
  5. Milman, Oliver. “Why Eating Less Meat Is the Best Thing You Can Do for the Planet in 2019.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Dec. 2018, www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/21/lifestyle-change-eat-less-meat-climate-change
  6. Perry, Patsy. “The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 8 Jan. 2018, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/environment-costs-fast-fashion-pollution-waste-sustainability-a8139386.html

ROYAL FISH FLUSH

Have you heard the news? The royal baby has arrived!

That’s right, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex–a.k.a. Meghan Markle–have welcomed their first child, and that people are excited about it. Even the London Eye–the famous landmark along the River Thames–has been lit up with the colours of the Union Jack to celebrate the little one’s arrival.

We at the aquarium would like to celebrate the “o-fish-al” arrival of the seventh in line to the Crown in our own special way, by checking in with some of our favourite royals under the sea.

RED KING CRAB

king crab

The undisputed ruler of the crustaceans is…the red king crab! This giant decapod (that means that it has 10 legs) is one of the largest crustaceans in the ocean. Adult king crabs can have a leg-span of nearly five feet, and can weigh over 20 pounds. This makes them a coveted prize for anglers, but they also play an important role as the ocean’s clean-up crew. Red king crabs are scavengers; they eat dead and decaying plant and animal matter on the ocean floor.

Like all decapods, the shell of the red king crab is in fact its skeleton, which covers the outside of its body. This exoskeleton does not expand as the crab grows, so red king crabs must shed (molt) their old shells in order to grow, revealing a new, larger shell underneath. This new shell is soft for a time and leaves the red king crab open to predation–it’s not easy being king!

QUEEN ANGELFISH

queen fish

The queen angelfish is downright iconic. With her yellow, green and blue colouration, the queen angelfish is one of the most eye-catching fish in the already rainbow-coloured coral reefs of the Caribbean. Her name comes from the dark splotch of colour on her head, which makes her look as though she’s wearing a crown.

Queen angelfish are foragers–they eat everything from sponges to algae to coral. Juvenile queen angelfish have also been known to clean parasites and eat loose scales off much larger fish.

Every queen (angelfish) has her king–queen angelfish live in pairs year-round, suggesting a monogamous bond.

EMPEROR ANGELFISH

emperor angelfish

The emperor angelfish is a master of disguise, in more ways than one. The adult emperor angelfish (right image) is patterned in a way designed to confuse predators, with alternating blue and yellow stripes and a dark band across its eyes. Its colours as a juvenile (left image) are so different–dark blue with white and blue rings–that the two were once considered to be two completely different species!

Male emperor angelfish are territorial. While a few females might cohabitate peacefully with a single male, he will attack any other male angelfish that tries to enter their living space. This emperor doesn’t like to share his court!

REGAL BLUE TANG

blue tang

That’s right, it’s Dory! Not only is her common name decidedly regal, but she’s Hollywood royalty! Dory has many aliases, including the blue surgeonfish and palette surgeonfish. Her regal common name comes from her royal blue colouration.

Regal blue tangs are important for the health of the reefs they live in, because they eat away at the algae that might otherwise grow on and cover the coral, affecting its ability to photosynthesize.

The name surgeonfish comes from the sharp spines that line the tang’s back and tail–so sharp that they have been compared to a surgeon’s scalpel. Male regal blue tangs establish dominance by “fencing” with their caudal spines, but they have another foolproof way to deter predators–by lying on their side, motionless, essentially “playing dead” until danger has passed. Didn’t Dory try that one in the movies?

LIONFISH

lion fish

You might wonder why the venomous lionfish has made this royal list–what’s so royal about a lion? Well, apart from being the undisputed king of the jungle, the lion is in fact the national animal of England, and has long represented the British royal family!

Everything about the lionfish warns you not to touch it–its red and white stripes, its long, showy fins… And for good reason. The lionfish is able to defend itself with 18 needle-like dorsal spines, which deliver a painful dose of venom if touched.

The lionfish is an excellent hunter–its huge mouth is perfect for gobbling up prey, and it can use its fanned pectoral fins to steer prey until they are trapped. This has made the lionfish a problematic species in parts of the world that it is not native to. The lionfish’s hunting prowess, quick reproduction rates and adaptability have made it an invasive species in the Caribbean and southeastern coast of the United States.

So welcome, Royal Baby! And remember, cod save the Queen!

Photos:
Queen Angelfish www.animals.mom.me/diet-queen-angelfish-4669.html
Adult Emperor Angelfish www.fishkeepingworld.com/emperor-angelfish/
Juvenile Emperor Angelfish www.mashbox.org/underwater-10-the-brightest-sea-inhabitants/

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10 BRIGHT WAYS TO SPEND YOUR EARTH HOUR

Have you heard of Earth Hour?

Earth Hour is a movement founded by the World Wildlife Fund in 2008. This annual event encourages individuals, communities and businesses to turn off non-essential electricity for one hour as a symbol of commitment to the environment and to the health of the planet. The event is now observed in over 7,000 cities across 187 countries, and continues to raise awareness about energy consumption (especially coal-fired electricity) and its effects on the environment.

This year Earth Hour will take place on March 30, from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM. Will you be participating?

Here are some fun ways you can spend your hour without electricity, all for the health of the planet:

  • Bust-out the candles: no lights? No problem! Light your space with beeswax candles (they’re all-natural and non-toxic!) and turn even the simplest activity into an event (candle-lit dinner, anyone?).

  • Go for a walk: grab your dog, or the whole family, and get outside. In past years, even the CN Tower has gone dark for Earth Hour–this night-time walk could give you a whole new perspective on your city. Depending on your neighbourhood, you might even be able to see the stars!

  • Plan a game night: crack out your favourite board games, invite your friends, and you’ve got yourself a candlelit games night! (Just make sure candles are set well out of the way of the action–we all know how contentious those games of Monopoly can get!)

  • Do some yoga: roll out your yoga mat, fengshui your candles, and there’s everything you need for a relaxing, candlelit hour of Zen. Or, take this electronics-free hour to clear your mind through meditation.

  • Read a book: there’s nothing quite like getting under the covers and reading a book by flashlight to make you feel like a kid again. If you’re feeling especially brave, choose a spooky mystery or classic horror title to read in the dark.

  • Go camping: speaking of acting like a kid…why not set up a tent or build a fort in your living room? It’s indoor camping! Pack a picnic dinner and eat sprawled out on your best blankets and pillows. Or (carefully) roast marshmallows by candle-fire using chopsticks.

  • Soak in the bath: bliss-out in a candlelit bubble bath, and let the world (and the energy crisis!) slip away for an hour.

  • Take a nap: it’s like the whole world is dimming its lights, just for you! Shut your eyes and catch up on some much-needed z’s.

  • Tell ghost stories: use the dark to your advantage, and set the stage for some spooky ghost stories, whether from a book or straight from your imagination.

  • Come to the aquarium: finally, consider spending your Earth Hour with us here at the aquarium! We won’t be in the pitch-dark, but we will be turning off our non-essential lighting outdoors and in the lobby, to do our part for Earth Hour. Want to do even more for the environment during your visit? Consider traveling by bike, foot or public transit.

Regardless of how you choose to spend your Earth Hour, the event is meant to encourage us to “go beyond the hour,” by taking energy-saving action year-round. You can visit the World Wildlife Fund website here to make a pledge to reduce your energy use–whether by committing to purchasing less plastic or to restoring nature in your community–in the coming year.

Sources

  1. “What Is Earth Hour?” Earth Hour, World Wildlife Fund, 18 Mar. 2019, www.earthhour.org/what-is-earth-hour

BLUE PLANET, GREEN PLANET

What do you think of when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? The rolling green hills of Ireland? Green shamrocks and leprechauns? Green food colouring in otherwise perfectly-good beer? Whatever images you associate with March 17, the cultural and religious holiday celebrating Irish heritage, it’s likely that they’re awash in green!

And when it comes to the colour green, the ocean might not be the first thing that pops into your head. After all, when we look down at our planet from above, it’s our terrestrial spaces that appear green—the oceans have always been, and will always be, blue. …or will they?

The planet is warming—the effects of climate change can be seen all across our oceans, from the phenomenon known as coral bleaching, all the way down to changes in the growth and abundance of phytoplankton (microscopic photosynthesizing algae). These changes are happening at an unprecedented rate due to decidedly human factors such as industrial carbon emissions.


There are two main classes of phytoplankton, dinoflagellates – which have a whip-like tail (flagella), and diatoms – which do not.

While you are more than likely aware of the harmful effects that climate change is having on our planet, a new study has shown a surprising side-effect that you might not have considered… The planet is about to get a whole lot greener—and not in the environmentally-sustainable way you might have been hoping for.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA and the US Department of Energy published a paper last month summarizing their findings using a global model that simulates the growth patterns of different species of phytoplankton, and how those phytoplankton absorb and reflect light. This model could serve as an early warning signal for ocean health–or ill health.

In short, the researchers found that more than 50% of ocean waters will experience a change in colour by the year 2100!

Regions appearing blue (such as the subtropics) in satellite photographs will become bluer due to a loss of life in general, and phytoplankton in particular, compared to those regions today. However, water that currently has a greenish tinge, such as that near the Earth’s poles, will become even greener, due to warmer water temperatures creating blooms of more diverse species of phytoplankton in those regions.

So what creates the ocean’s colour to begin with, and how does algae affect it?

It has to do with how sunlight interacts with what’s in the water itself. As you may know, light is comprised of all the colours of the rainbow. Water molecules absorb almost all light frequencies except for the colour blue, which is reflected back to us, which is why the open ocean appears as a deep blue in photographs taken from space. But ocean water that contains a lot of phytoplankton will appear greener, as the chlorophyll (the green pigment that helps plants and algae photosynthesize the sun’s energy into food) in phytoplankton absorbs almost all of sunlight’s blue spectrum, and reflects back more green light.


This side-by-side comparison from NASA illustrates typical Arctic waters (left) and the same waters during a massive algal bloom (right).

What does this all mean, apart from the fact that our planet could soon be looking a lot greener?

Plankton of all kinds—and phytoplankton in particular—are at the bottom of a huge number of ocean food chains. So if climate change shifts the growth of phytoplankton—whether from one species to another, or from one part of the ocean to another—this will change the types of food webs that they can support, and that will impact on species further up the food chain. Entire ocean ecosystems will be affected.

Not to mention that phytoplankton produce about 50% of the oxygen we breathe… Needless to say, changes to their distribution across the ocean means a whole lot more for the planet’s health than just its colour.

But don’t despair. When it comes to climate change, we have more power than you might think. Stay ‘tuna’ed to the Deep Sea Diary for an upcoming post about what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, and join the fight against climate change.

For now, sláinte, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and may all your rainbows end in a pot of gold(fish)!

Images

  1. Phytoplankton, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html

Sources

  1. Anderson, Paul Scott. “Much of Earth’s Surface Ocean Will Shift in Color by End of 21st Century.” EarthSky, 7 Feb. 2019, www.earthsky.org/earth/mit-study-climate-change-affect-color-earth-oceans
  2. Dennis, Brady, and Chris Mooney. “Climate Change Will Alter the Color of the Oceans, New Research Finds.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Feb. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/02/04/climate-change-will-alter-color-oceans-new-research-finds/?utm_term=.9295b2a6173e
  3. Moran, Barbara. “Climate Change Is Altering the Color of the Ocean.” WBUR, WBUR, 4 Feb. 2019, www.wbur.org/news/2019/02/04/climate-change-ocean-color-phytoplankton
  4. Obscura, Atlas. “Climate Change Is Shifting the Color of the Oceans.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 5 Feb. 2019, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/climate-change-ocean-color-algae-nature_us_5c59e918e4b09293b208ea51
  5. Dutkiewicz, S. et al.Ocean colour signature of climate change. Nature Comm. www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-08457-x

STRANGER THAN FICTION: THE INSPIRATION BEHIND MYTHOLOGICAL SEA MONSTERS

It was explorer Robert Ripley himself who said that “truth is stranger than fiction.” Where tales of mythological sea monsters are concerned, this is definitely true. Ancient seafarers saw strange and wonderful real-life sea creatures on their ocean journeys, and through the power of imagination and oral storytelling, these animals took on larger-than-life proportions.

Today we’re taking a closer look at some fantastically strange sea monsters, and the real-life sea creatures that inspired them.

Those beautiful siren sea cows…

The legend of sirens or mermaids – half-human, half-fish and, in some versions of the story, sweet songstresses that lure sailors to their doom – is probably one of the best known tales of mythological sea creatures. From The Little Mermaid to “mermaid hair, don’t care,” mermaids and sirens proliferate our culture.

These stories are thought to have been inspired by a rather unlikely source. Manatees are the largest aquatic herbivores. Also called sea cows, they are big, slow-moving, mustachioed grey animals related to elephants. They are from the order Sirenia, a clue that they were probably the animal that inspired written documents about so-called sirens

So how did the giant, slow-moving sea cow inspire the legend of mermaids? It could have to do with their decidedly human-like behavior with their young. Female manatees have been known to cradle their pups in their flippers while nursing. Add to this a behaviour known as spy-hopping, whereby a manatee rises vertically out of the water to check things out at the surface, and it’s easy to see how a sailor might mistake this curious sight for a siren, especially after months at sea.

Even famed explorer Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids. In 1493 he wrote in his journals about spotting three mermaids from aboard his fleet to the Americas. This is one of the earliest European accounts of a manatee sighting, though it was hardly complimentary to the manatees: they are “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

Kraken or giant squid?

Out of all the sea monsters of legend, few are as fearsome as the kraken.

The kraken is a terrifying sea monster said to live off the coasts of Norway and Greenland – it is described as a vast creature with giant tentacles, all the better to drag fishermen or even entire ships of sailors to their death beneath the waves. The kraken is hard to detect, because it lurks under boats in the dark of the water, but it was said that if fishermen suddenly started catching a great many fish, it was because the kraken had scared them to the surface, and was ready to attack.

Once the kraken sinks back below the surface, the real trouble starts: its massive size was said to create a colossal whirlpool, taking anything still at the surface down with it.

That’s definitely the stuff of nightmares. The good news is that the kraken does not exist. The giant squid, however, is a real animal, and was likely the inspiration for these cautionary tales.

The existence of giant squid was confirmed by Danish naturalist Japetus Steenstrup in 1857; he named it Architeuthis dux, which translates as “ruling squid” in Latin. Today there are 21 confirmed species of giant squid. They can grow up to 15 metres, including their tentacles. That’s huge, but not likely to take down any ships.

The giant squid is elusive, so its maximum size is still hotly debated. It lives at depths of up to 1,000 metres, probably in order to avoid making a tasty snack for its top predator – the deep-diving sperm whale.

Leviathan

Speaking of whales…

In the earliest days of sailing, encounters with whales led to strange stories and the creation of the myth of the Leviathan, which manifested in different ways. To some the Leviathan was a giant fish. To others, it was a serpent, crocodile or marine mammal. In some versions of the legend, it was a monstrous whale (called the Devil Whale) that lay asleep in the water and was frequently mistaken for an island. But when sailors stepped aboard to prepare their dinner on land, the great whale would wake, and sink below the surface, bringing the sailors and their ship with it.

Another version, the prister, was described as being “two hundred cubits long, and very cruel.” It had two blowholes, which could fire onto ships like water cannons. How to defeat this fearsome beast? Try sounding a trumpet, in order to startle it away. Obviously.

These tales were likely inspired by real-life encounters with whales – both alive and dead. The sperm whale – the largest toothed predator in the world, at up to 67 feet long – has been known to strand itself on shallow beaches, and was likely the source of many legends of sea monsters. It should also be noted that baleen whales like blue and fin whales have two blowholes – they too seem to be an inspiration for this fearsome beast.

The sea serpent

Lastly, no exploration of sea monsters would be complete without mentioning the sea serpent. A sea serpent or sea dragon was a type of dragon described in various mythologies. They were imagined as huge, toothy, serpentine monsters.

The possible real-life inspiration for these tales – the oarfish – is almost as fantastic as the legends themselves. First described in 1772, the oarfish is the longest (known) living species of bony fish, at up to 56 feet long and weighing up to 600 pounds. Like the giant squid, oarfish are deep-dwelling animals, thought to live at a depth of 1,000 metres, and sightings of living oarfish are rare.

They are known as the “king of the herrings,” due to their resemblance to those smaller fish. Despite their massive size and monstrous looks, they are not dangerous – they eat plankton and have a tiny gullet! Still, sometimes oarfish get pushed to the surface by storms or strong currents, where they can become distressed and die. It’s not hard to see why a sputtering, squirming oarfish might have been thought of as a terrifying sea serpent.

Are you feeling curious? Swim by the aquarium to visit our Curious Creatures exhibit and learn more about the strange and bizarre animals living below the surface.

Photos:
Manatee www.time.com/4719439/manatees-endangered-species/
Giant Squid www.behance.net/gallery/54729185/Giant-Squid
Sperm Whale www.hakaimagazine.com/news/sperm-whales-have-eve/
Oarfish www.nbcnews.com/science/weird-science/caught-camera-rare-sighting-oarfish-worlds-largest-bony-fish-n76376

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OPEN WIDE: UNDERSEA TOOTH ADAPTATIONS

Open wide! February 9, 2019 is International Dentist Day – a day to celebrate one of the oldest and most important jobs in the world. While you might not be the biggest fan of sitting in the dentist’s chair, you can’t deny that keeping our teeth clean and shiny is a huge part of our overall health.

What better way to honour IDD than to dive into an underwater exploration of the different kinds of tooth adaptations found in the ocean?

Shark teeth

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CONGRATULATIONS! IT’S A…SEAHORSE?!

As you may have heard, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s newest residents are a whole herd of baby lined seahorses. But wait, there’s more! You may also have heard that they hatched on New Year’s Day – our very own new year’s babies! They arrived on January 1, 2019 with much fanfare; in fact, their arrival was covered by media across the country.

We’re very excited about our new fry (baby fish), so we thought we’d take this opportunity to teach you a bit more about them.

First things first: they were the size of grains of rice when they were first born, not jellybeans.

But that doesn’t mean that they were any less cute!

The lined seahorse (a.k.a. the northern seahorse, a.k.a. the spotted seahorse) is found in the Atlantic Ocean, as far north as Canada and as far south as the Caribbean, Mexico and even South America. It swims in an upright position (thus its scientific name – Hippocampus erectus), using its dorsal and pectoral fins to guide it through the water. Seahorses have an armoured body made up of bony plates and prehensile (capable of holding) tails, which they use to grasp onto sturdy structures such as seagrass or coral. Due to their weak swimming abilities they spend much of their time anchored like this, sucking in small prey through their tubular snouts.

Due to their unique digestive system – they lack a true stomach for the gradual digestion of food – seahorses may feed continuously for up to 10 hours a day!

Here at the aquarium our shoal of seahorses is fed at least three times daily, and our new babies, up to six times a day! That’s a lot of work for our aquarists!

Lined seahorses eat plankton and small crustaceans such as brine shrimp. Their eyes are able to move independently of one another (like a chameleon’s), all the better to survey their surroundings and ambush unsuspecting prey. While they are found in a wide variety of colours (from black, grey and brown to green, orange, red and yellow), they also have colour-changing skin cells called chromatophores (like an octopus) that allow them to blend in with their environment.

The lined seahorse is monogamous through the mating season; a bonded male and female will perform a special ritual dance every morning to reestablish their connection. They revolve around one another, change colours in unison, and sometimes even grasp tails.

As you may know, seahorses are unique in the animal kingdom in that the male is the primary caregiver of young. The female seahorse passes her eggs into the male’s brood pouch – a pouch where the eggs are protected before hatching – where they are incubated for about three weeks. Upon hatch, they are only the size of a grain of rice! Regardless of size, the male releases them into the water column and from that moment on they must fend for themselves.

The number produced from the male is anywhere from 97 to over 1,500 offspring!

You might ask why so many baby seahorses are spawned at a time, when only a fraction of them will survive to adulthood. Think of it as quantity versus quality. Essentially, organisms living in inhospitable environments with limited resources and lots of predators (like the ocean) reproduce quickly and in large numbers to ensure that at least some of their offspring survive to their own age of reproduction. This is the same strategy employed by sea turtles and horseshoe crabs – both species lay thousands of eggs, but few survive.

Luckily, here at the aquarium, the new year’s babies have been separated from the rest of the shoal, and have a better-than-average chance of surviving this vulnerable period.

Lined seahorses have a lifespan of 1-to-4 years; here at the aquarium, they live 3-4 years, the maximum reported for their species.

Now that you know all there is to know about the lined seahorse, giddy-up and get yourself to the aquarium to see our New Year’s babies, now on display in The Gallery!

 

Sources

  1. Bester, Cathleen. “Hippocampus Erectus.” Florida Museum, 12 May 2017,
    www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/hippocampus-erectus/
  2. Langley, Liz. “Romance of the Seas: Strange Mating Habits of the Seahorse.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 25 June 2016,
    www.news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/seahorse-reproduction-behavior-conservation/
  3. “Lined Seahorse.” Chesapeake Bay Program,
    www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/lined_seahorse

Tips to Green Up Your Travels

Good day Deep Sea Diary readers!

Now that we have entered the winter season, some of you are probably already thinking of a tropical getaway (myself included!). Planning a vacation involves many decisions, and, for your reading pleasure this month, we here at Ripley’s Aquarium are going to help make those decisions easier, cheaper and greener!

After you’ve picked your travel destination, you need to decide how to get there, and how can you make your choice a green one?

My first suggestion would be to select a non-stop flight. Did you know that airplanes produce over 25% of their carbon emission during landing and take-off?

By opting for a non-stop flight you reduce the overall carbon footprint of your trip.

Even better, why not travel by train instead? While I understand this may not be applicable for all trips, but to those Europe-bound readers, Europe is a fantastic place to put this suggestion into practice. Rather than using short plane trips to sight-see overseas, opt for the train. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation of the landscape, you will also be using a cheaper (yay $), greener method of transportation.

With a big check mark beside the method of transportation box, we can move on to picking a place to stay. If you’re looking into hotels, ask yourself this question: how green is my hotel? There are many organizations world-wide that specialize in identifying green hotels, one you may be familiar with is LEED. LEED accredited buildings partake is energy saving strategies such as solar heated pools, graywater systems and using recycled construction materials.

Now we arrive at a big hurdle…what to pack?!

I try to live by the motto: skip the plastic, pack the cloth.

Save room in your suitcase for a cloth tote that you can carry on your daily travels. Be it farmer’s markets, shops or large malls, being able to skip the plastic bags limits the number of petroleum-based products you use.

If you’re destined for a sunny spot be sure to pack the SPF! As a redhead, I can’t stress this enough! There is nothing like a bad sunburn to ruin a vacation. Just remember, your sunscreen can be harmful aquatic life, especially sensitive aquatic organisms like coral. Thankfully, there are many companies that make reef-safe sunscreen for you coral-bound travelers!

The time is here! It’s vacation time!!

Now I know while on vacation staying green may not be at the forefront of your mind. My next suggestions however, are very simple!

Suggestion the first: don’t touch that!

When out hiking and being one with nature be sure to keep to marked paths, and keep a safe distance from wildlife. If you’re like us here at the aquarium, you will probably opt for either a snorkel or a dive while on vacation. Be sure to also keep a respectable distance from aquatic life, and never touch those lovely coral reefs you see as they are very sensitive animals.

Suggestion the second: pick up garbage you see.

This may not be the first thing that you want to do on vacation, but it is an important thing to do. I recently visited a tropical resort and was shocked and disappointed by the state of some beaches. The number of straws, plastic cups, bottles and wrappers that littered the beach was heartbreaking. Every day while walking the beach I brought a bag with me to collect what garbage I found. Not only was it great exercise, but I also lent a helping hand to the community and environment.

Travel souvenirs have always been a staple in my family. Even now, as an adult, I’m still excited for my parents to bring me something from their travels. Try to stick to local souvenirs, not only will you help support the local economy, local products have a minimal carbon footprint because they aren’t shipped long distances. One thing to NEVER do is buy wildlife souvenirs. Unfortunately, in many places, illegal wildlife harvesting (poaching) still occurs and unknowing travelers buy into it this way.

Now I have a challenge for you, rather, homework. If you’re travel destination is on a coast, why not take a photo and submit it to COASTWARDS (http://www.coastwards.org/)? Coastwards is using citizen scientists to map out coasts worldwide in an effort to determine their vulnerability to erosion and rising water levels.

There you have it, some quick and easy ways to green up your travels. I’m sure you all have other ways to help.

Why not share them below?