Category

General Aquarium

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?

5 Unexpected Ways You Can Reduce Your Plastic Use

Our everyday lives are ruled by plastic. It’s in the products we buy, it’s in the packaging we buy those products in and it’s in the bags we use to bring those products home. When we’re done with plastic, at best it can be recycled. But whether through littering or by being placed in the wrong bin, millions of tonnes of plastic end up in our landfills every year. And from there, loose plastic can make its way into our waterways, and ultimately, to the ocean.

Once there, that plastic is deadly to marine life. The bellies of whales are found filled with plastic bags. Fish can become permanently disfigured after getting trapped in six-pack rings. Plastic straws too-often end up choking sea turtles.

And it’s not just marine life that is suffering. Plastics don’t biodegrade (cannot be decomposed by living things). Rather, they break down into ever-smaller pieces called microplastics. Those microplastics are eaten by small organisms such as plankton, which are then consumed by larger organisms such as small fish, and so on and so on. As top predators in some seafood food webs, it is ultimately us that wind up with that plastic in our systems. In fact, in October 2018 a study showed that microplastics are now being found in our poop. That’s just gross!

But don’t despair. As you know, you can make simple changes to your habits, such as carrying a reusable water bottle or using cloth shopping bags, that can greatly reduce your production of plastic waste. And there’s even more you can do to become part of the pollution solution, that you might not have thought of! Read on

  1.  Consider a bamboo toothbrush.
    Over 99% of the toothbrushes in the world are made using non-recyclable plastic (hard plastic for the handle, rubber for the handle and nylon for the bristles). Not only are bamboo toothbrush handles biodegradable, but with its antimicrobial properties, bamboo is a more sanitary alternative to plastic.

  2. Try toothpaste tabs.
    Making the switch from conventional liquid toothpaste to toothpaste tabs reduces plastic use times two. Not only will you be swapping out your toothpaste tube for more sustainable packaging, but many toothpastes with whitening properties contain small, abrasive microbeads, a form of microplastic that washes down the drain and can be consumed by egg-eating animals. Toothpaste tabs come in a solid form and activate into a minty, frothy paste when combined with the water from your (bambo
    o) toothbrush.
  3. Use shampoo bars.
    By switching from conventional liquid shampoos in disposable plastic bottles to shampoo bars you can reduce your plastic use AND save money. Shampoo bars last longer than shampoo bottles, as consumers are less likely to waste product by pouring out more than they need. Bars are also less likely to contain chemicals such as sulfates, which can damage your hair over time. Saving plastic, money and my hair? Sign me up!
  4. Invest in a long-term razor.
    By replacing the disposable plastic in our lives with longer-lasting alternatives we benefit from better-made products that have the potential to save us money in the long-term. Such is the case with the classic safety razor, which requires only the replacement of (recyclable) metal blades rather than the entire razor handle and head. After the initial purchase of a safety razor, blade replacements will run you about $0.50 each.

  5. Make food choices based on packaging
    When it comes to grocery shopping, there are brands that come wrapped in lots of disposable plastic, and others that are packaged with more environmentally-friendly materials, such as cardboard. While it might be difficult to avoid plastics entirely while grocery shopping, making a move toward buying (and not wasting!) fresher products (which require less packaging for long-term freshness) and staples such as detergents in boxes vs bottles can reduce the amount of plastic stocking your cupboards.

The plastic problem in our oceans can seem overwhelming, but we have the power to purchase products that help reduce our environmental footprint, and let companies know (through our dollars and cents) that we care about protecting our planet. Consider making a pledge to lower your plastics use today, and spread the word about it to your family and friends. Check out the hashtag #liveplasticfree online and on social media for more ways in which you can choose to live with less plastic today and every day.

How do you reduce your plastic use? Please share in the comment section!

The Monster Splash: Halloween in the Ocean

Happy Halloween Deep Sea Diary readers! Whether you look forward to Halloween for the jump-scares or for the opportunity to dress up as somebody (or something) else, there’s no doubt that this holiday is full of spooky fun.

While you might choose to seek out monsters at a haunted house or by watching a classic horror movie, we at the aquarium know that you don’t need to look any further than the ocean to find them. The ocean is home to a whole graveyard’s worth of creatures who look as scary as they sound, or who practice behaviours that make them ready for Halloween year ‘round.

Let’s dive deeper and take a look!

GOBLIN SHARK

Brace yourself for this one. The goblin shark is one ugly fish.

The goblin shark is an ancient species of shark identifiable by a flattened snout that juts from the top of its head. Its jaws protrude outward and contain as many as 50 rows of upper teeth and 60 rows of lower teeth.

The goblin shark has a thin body with blood vessels close to the skin, which give it a pink colouration. This is the stuff of nightmares.

Goblin sharks are found globally, at depths between 1,300 and 1,370 metres. They are also known to venture into shallower waters to find prey. Their dietary staples include fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. This slow-moving fish is an ambush predator, meaning it waits patiently for animals to get close before it strikes (easier to do in the murky depths, where it uses electroreception to sense its prey, rather than its small eyes).

 

COFFINFISH

Despite its rather sinister name, the coffinfish is…almost cute. This sea toad (part of the Chaunacidae family, which also contains the anglerfish) looks like a pink balloon covered in tiny spines. Coffinfish live between 274 and 305 metres and are found in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.

The coffinfish uses its pectoral fins to “walk” on the ocean floor (be sure check out its relative, the frogfish, in our Curious Creatures exhibit, who do the same thing) and can fill its body with water to enlarge itself when threatened (similar to some species of pufferfish). Like the anglerfish, it uses a small lure on its head to attract prey.

As far as I can tell, coffinfish get their name from the fact that the inside of their mouths are completely black. Scientists don’t know why, but to the unfortunate fish fooled by their lure, it certainly serves as their final resting place.

FLASHLIGHT FISH

Safety is paramount on Halloween. If you plan on trick-or-treating in the dark, it’s best for you to carry a flashlight or reflectors with you to help you watch your step and alert cars to your presence.

There’s one species of fish at the aquarium that doesn’t have to worry about that, of course. Flashlight fish, also called lantern-eye fish, are three species of fish in the family Anomalopidae characterized by bioluminescent organs below their eyes.

The flashlight fish’s light is created by bioluminescent bacteria. They can create an on-and-off blinking of this light by covering and uncovering it. Scientists believe that this blinking is a form of communication between fish, and used in the detection of prey.

Be sure to swim by and check out the flashlight fish at the aquarium in our Curious Creatures exhibition!

VAMPIRE SQUID

Ah, the vampire squid, or Vampyroteuthis infernalis, whose Latin name translates to “infernal vampire from Hell.” Kind of intense. Originally mistaken for a new species of octopus in 1903, the vampire squid is an ancient species of cephalopod that strangely shares characteristics with both squids and octopodes.

The vampire squid has large fins at the top of its body that resemble ear flaps, but which serve as its primary means of propulsion through the water. Although they grow to only one foot, the vampire squid has the largest eyes relative to its body size of any animal. Depending on the light, these eyes can appear blue…or glowing red!

The vampire squid’s eight arms are connected by a web of skin, which looks like a long cape trailing behind it. When the squid is threatened it can draw its arms over its head to form a spiny defensive web that covers its body.

Using light-producing cells called photophores, the vampire squid can illuminate to create patterns that attract prey or frighten predators. This is similar to other cephalopods, who use chromatophores to change colour, but which would be useless in the dark, deep waters where vampire squid live. The vampire squid also lacks the ink sack used as a defense mechanism by other cephalopods, and can instead eject a cloud of bioluminescent (glowing) mucus from the tips of its arms when threatened.

DECORATOR CRAB

What are you dressing up as this year? Regardless, you’d be hard-pressed to win a costume contest against a decorator crab.

Decorator crabs are a group of crabs belonging to the family Majoidea that collect and use materials from their environment to hide and protect themselves from predators. They stick sedentary animals (animals that don’t move) and plants to the hooks covering their bodies to help them camouflage, and even use venomous decorations such as anemones to ward off predators.

Talk about DIY – everything from algae to seaweed to shells to gravel is fair game when it comes to decorating their shells!

Decorator crabs live in intertidal zones (an area that is underwater at high tide and dry at low tide) and can be found here at the aquarium in our Canadian Waters gallery.

Thanks for joining us in this exploration of Halloween-y sea creatures. Here’s a spooky joke for you:

Q: Why wasn’t there any food left after the deep sea party?
A: Because everyone was a goblin (shark)!

Happy Halloween!

Photos

Goblin Shark (http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3254)
Coffinfish (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/science-blog/mysterious-identity-bright-red-sea-toad)
Vampire Squid (https://www.mbari.org/dream-team-of-scientists-and-aquarists-gives-public-first-view-of-a-live-vampire-squid-and-other-deep-sea-cephalopods/)

Sources

  1. Australian Museum. (2010, January 05). Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://australianmuseum.net.au/decorator-crab
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018, January 04). Flashlight fish. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/flashlight-fish
  3. Jordan, V. (2018, April 05). Mitsukurina owstoni. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/
  4. Knight, J. (n.d.). Vampire Squid. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from http://www.seasky.org/deep-sea/vampire-squid.html
  5. Sain, T., Sr. (2018, August 21). Coffinfish l Amazing Living Balloon. Retrieved October 12, 2018, from https://www.ourbreathingplanet.com/coffinfish/

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.

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!

 

Love is in the Air

It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day is right around the corner! Whether you are looking to meet that special someone or show your partner how much you care, the animals at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada have some tips for you.

#1 Dress to impress.

Flamboyant cuttlefish are experts in this department. Cuttlefish possess special skin cells called chromatophores that allow them to change colour. Waves of colour pulse atop their bodies and are used to mesmerize and entice mates. Cuttlefish are also able to change the texture of their skin, creating tall peaks or deep grooves. If you don’t know what to wear this Valentine’s Day look to the cuttlefish, bright colours and puffy shoulder pads are a sure hit (if you’re trying to attract a cuttlefish that is)!

#2 Don’t beat around the bush.

Lobsters take a less subtle approach during courtship. Female lobsters approach a mate wearing only their undergarments…that is to say they have just molted (shed their shell). During this time, she is vulnerable and must venture into uncharted territory, the man cave! Male lobsters spend much of their time alone in protective rock crevices, the perfect place for a molting female to hide. In order to gain entry, the female releases a special perfume outside the man cave to signal a male. The couple remains together for only 2 weeks, enough time for the females’ shell to harden, at that point she is off and the next molting female is free to call upon the male.

#3 A friendly greeting goes a long way!

Our syngathid couples (sea horses and pipefishes) here at the aquarium can be seen re-affirming their bond each morning using this simple tip. This greeting consists of the couple swimming together and entwining their bodies in a loving embrace. It must work well because these fish form monogamous couples, often staying together for life. Remember this tip, a simple “Good Morning” text message can mean a lot!

#4 Be persistent.

When male horseshoe crabs find a suitable female they grab hold of her to guard her from other males. A male will stay attached to a female for months on end hoping that she will release eggs for him to fertilize. Little does the male know, she will only release her eggs in the same area where she herself was hatched. It could be a long wait.

#5 Show off your skills.

A male mantis shrimp is an expert fisherman. Using a powerful club-like appendage he will strike out and stun unsuspecting fish swimming by. He supplies his mate with food so she can use her energy to produce offspring. Often times the male is solely responsible for providing the food and in the event of his death the female will starve.

 

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

 

Drop Us a Line – January Q&A

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

 

Sarah asked…

Q. I have heard that some sharks have a nictitating membrane. What exactly is this, and what is it used for?

A. While we have eyelids and eyelashes to protect our eyes from debris and injury, sharks lack these protective measures. Instead, some species of sharks have what is called a nictitating membrane. This thin, tough membrane, or inner eyelid, covers the eye to protect it from damage, especially prior to feeding event where the prey may inflict damage while defending itself. Not all sharks have a nictitating membrane. Sharks, like the great white shark and whale shark, lack a nictitating member and instead roll their pupils back in their heads for protection when feeding.

Peter asked…

Q. How can you tell a male from a female shark?

A. Male sharks have paired, external reproductive organs called claspers, located on the underside of the shark. These claspers are actually modifications of the pelvic fins that function to deposit sperm into the female via grooves that lie in the upper side of the claspers. Females do not have claspers. Claspers are found on all male elasmobranchs (sharks, rays and sawfish).

Next time you’re in the Dangerous Lagoon Tunnel, be sure to look around and see if you can pick out the males from the females.

 

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!