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General Aquarium

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?

Welcome Home, Mr. Sandbar!

On Wednesday, November 8, 2018, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada welcomed its newest resident: a 6-foot-long, adult male sandbar shark!

But how did we get a 2-metre-long shark into the building, you might ask?

The same way all of our large animals get here. The answer involves a truck (with its own life support system etc.), a crane and the coordination and hard work of our entire husbandry team, in charge of animal care.

Prior to his arrival our sandbar shark was living at the Ripley’s Aquarium holding facility in Buffalo, New York. This facility is a fully-operational aquarium staffed by full-time aquarists (aquarists are aquarium biologists, the team responsible for feeding and caring for our animals), where our animals are cared for while they grow or undergo a period of quarantine before being transported to their final destination at one of our three aquariums.

On that momentous Wednesday, our sandbar shark was loaded from his habitat at the holding facility into a tank on the back of a special Ripley’s moving truck. This mobile tank was not only large enough for him to swim around in during transportation, but was also fully equipped with a life-support system, including huge cylindrical oxygen tanks. Sandbar sharks are obligate ram ventilators, meaning that they push oxygenated water through their mouths and over their gills via the action of swimming in order to breathe. So making sure that our sandbar shark had room to swim in his mobile tank for the duration of the drive from Buffalo to Toronto was important!

After a brief holdup in traffic on Spadina Avenue (have you ever heard of a shark stuck in traffic on Spadina before?), the truck carrying our shark arrived in the early afternoon. Almost our entire husbandry team, including our veterinarian, was on-site and waiting eagerly for his arrival.

When the truck backed into the loading dock at the back of the building, they sprang into action removing the lid and layers covering the shark’s tank. If you have owned a fish before you probably know that once they arrive home, you need to slowly introduce them to their new habitat. The same was done for our new sandbar shark, whereby water from the transport tank was slowly exchanged with water from our Dangerous Lagoon exhibit.

This process took nearly two hours, but when the time came to move him from the truck into the aquarium, the husbandry team had to act quickly.

The shark was safely secured into a body-length net, which was then lifted out of the water by a crane system built into the ceiling of the loading dock and husbandry hallway behind-the-scenes here at the aquarium. From the moment our shark left the water, the aquarists set timers to ensure that he wasn’t out for more than 1 minute. The husbandry team slowly guided him off of the truck and into a waiting mobile tank, already filled with water from the Dangerous Lagoon. He was out of the water for just over 30 seconds.

 

The new tank, now containing our shark, still in the full-body sling net, was secured to the crane system, and then it was off, being slowly guided down the hallway to the acclimation pool, which feeds directly into the Lagoon.

The timers started again as he was lifted out of the mobile tank, and into the acclimation pool. Still in his net, the team set about measuring his length and width, and our veterinarian worked to collect a blood sample.

As the team approached the fifteen-minute mark from the time the shark left the truck – the maximum amount of time our shark could stay in his net – everyone backed away and set him loose in the acclimation pool.

He swam around and around, getting his bearings, and then, just an hour later, watched by our husbandry team and guests alike, he swam out into the Dangerous Lagoon for the first time.

His arrival was met with curiosity from his new neighbours – his every move followed by our school of yellow snappers – but he was soon accepted into the fold, and our smaller male sandbar shark began to swim with him.

The husbandry team congratulated one another on a job well done, and our team from Buffalo got back on the road.

Since his arrival, our newest shark has done just swimmingly (pardon the pun) in his new environment. His journey might have been a long and exciting one, but now he’s home, and we couldn’t be happier.

Canada’s Orcas: Population in Crisis

Canada’s Orcas: Population in Crisis

For many, the orca (or killer whale, which is in fact the largest species of dolphin) is a symbol of the beauty and diversity of the Canadian Pacific.

The Southern Resident orcas live in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and Northern California. This group–which is comprised of three pods (J, K and L pods)–is well-known and well-loved in British Columbia. Tourists come from around the world to BC to whale-watch and locals report the annual comings and goings of the whales to research groups.

Unfortunately, this beloved population of whales is currently in crisis.

As of October 2018, there are only 74 Southern Resident orcas remaining

(down 24% from their population high of 98 whales in 1995). In August a mother orca lost her newborn calf to starvation and carried it with her for 17 days. A month later a juvenile male died after growing emaciated and falling behind the rest of his pod. Scientists are now concerned that due to the high mortality and slow reproduction rates among these whales, the Southern Resident population could be facing extinction.

The issues affecting orcas are those affecting many ocean species, but the specialized nature of their diet means that the Southern Residents are especially susceptible.

Other orca ecotypes have a diet comprised of marine mammals and other large prey in addition to fish. But due to their reliance on chinook salmon as a primary food source, the decline of salmon in the Salish Sea (by 60% since 1984) has led to malnutrition and starvation among the Resident population. The salmon are disappearing due to traditional migratory runs being blocked by dams, habitat loss, interbreeding with hatchery fish and overfishing.

In addition to the decline of salmon, the increase in underwater noise in the Salish Sea–due to ship traffic, construction and the use of sonar–has affected the orcas’ ability to hunt using echolocation and communicate effectively with one another while hunting.

Finally, as a top predator, orcas are particularly affected by bioaccumulation from pollution.

When chemicals leak into the ocean, they become concentrated up the food chain (bioaccumulate), meaning that orcas are some of the most contaminated animals on earth. High concentrations can damage reproductive organs and the immune system, as well as cause cancer. Fat-rich milk from mothers then passes that contamination to calves at alarming levels.

What can you do?

Although we don’t have orcas here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, they are an indicator species–a signal of what is happening to marine life across the planet. The issues affecting orcas are the same ones negatively impacting many of our favourite aquarium species, like sharks, sea turtles and stingrays.

This crisis serves as an example of what can happen when all of these issues compound to affect the health and lifestyles of one species. The ball is already rolling–we have to act quickly to save our orcas and, as a result, the species we know and love at RAOC.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Eat Ocean Wise-approved sustainable seafood and skip the salmon
  • Reduce your personal use of single-use plastics, find out how here: link
  • Consider voting for political candidates who prioritize the health of our oceans
  • Choose organic cleaning supplies to help reduce the amount of everyday chemicals finding their way down sink drains and to the ocean

 

Photo

Sources

  1. Carrington, D. (2018, September 27). Orca ‘apocalypse’: Half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution. Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/27/orca-apocalypse-half-of-killer-whales-doomed-to-die-from-pollution
  2. Center for Whale Research – Orca Conservation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.whaleresearch.com/orca-conservation Southern Resident Killer Whales. (2018,
  3. August 28). Retrieved October 11, 2018, from https://www.epa.gov/salish-sea/southern-resident-killer-whales

I’ll Have a Green Christmas

Tis the season…

to shop ‘til you drop, to eat a little more than usual and spend time with loved ones. Personally, I look forward to the holiday season all year. I just can’t get enough of it, the décor, the baking, the quality time with family (pets included!) and friends, it truly is magical. Despite all of the splendor, the holiday season can also be one of the most wasteful times of year. Take a moment to think about all of the waste produced over the holidays: food, wrapping paper, ribbon, bows, cards, the list goes on and on. If you’re looking for small ways to ensure your holiday is a green one you have come to the right place!

Let’s start with the lighting shall we?

In this case, LED is better, or at least more efficient and cheaper. LED lights consume 95% less energy than their incandescent counterparts. On top of that, the lifespan of an LED light is almost 10 times longer, way more bang for your buck if you ask me. Christmas can already be expensive enough, and this hack is a great way to cut costs! Better still, why not have the sun pay your lighting bill for you?! This is easy to achieve by visiting your local hardware store and investing in solar powered outdoor Christmas lights (yes, those exist!).

While we’re on the topic of lights, did you know many people accidently leave their holiday lights on long after they have retired for the night. Now is also a great time to think about investing in a light timer! By having lights on an automatic timer you can toss the responsibility of remembering to turn them off out the window!

Let’s move on and discuss my personal favourite part of the holidays, the tree.

For as long as I can recall getting the tree has been the best part of the holidays. My family would load up our dogs and trek out to the farm to find that perfect tree to decorate. You may be in for a shock if you think artificial trees are the way to go green, it’s actually live trees that are the more sustainable option. Being a petroleum-based plastic product, artificial trees last forever, that’s true. However, after a few holiday seasons they start to show a little wear and tear and are relegated to landfills shortly thereafter. Live trees, as we all know, do wonders for our air quality during the growth process and are grown on specific tree farms where they get re-planted on a regular basis. By selecting a locally grown, live tree you are also not contributing to the carbon emissions that come from shipping over long distances.

Moving on to the act of gift-giving now, why not try to opt for battery-free gifts? About 40% of annual battery purchases occur over the holidays, and batteries (rechargeable or not) can be an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly. If you do choose battery powered gifts, be sure used batteries are dropped off at designated battery disposal sites after use.

When wrapping those thoughtful presents, there are so many options! Between ribbons, wrapping paper, bows and tags, there are so many ways to spruce up their appearance.

Did you know, in Canada, the annual waste produced from gift wrap and shopping bags is close to 54, 500 tonnes? To put that into perspective, consider this: a blue whale (the largest mammal on earth) weighs a mere 200 tonnes in comparison. You can minimize your waste contribution by wrapping gifts in cloth bags, giving new life (as gift wrap!) to old calendars, maps or comic strips or by recycling gift wrap from year to year. Here at the aquarium we make tree ornaments from recycled maps and tickets. Another great hack (which, admittedly I just learned about) is to cut the front of last year’s holiday cards off and re-vamp them into this year’s gift tags!

My final suggestion is something we all probably do far too infrequently. Defrost your freezer! Not only will this make it more energy efficient, it also means you have more room for all those delicious holiday leftovers.

There you have it, some quick and easy ways to join me in making this year’s holiday season a green one!  I’m sure you all have other ways to help. Why not share them below?