The Maritime Aquarium’s “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit lets you get close looks at the sand tiger sharks and their rows and rows of sharp jagged teeth.

But, when you visit, be sure to check out the very impressive teeth of a new resident of that exhibit: a cubera snapper.

Maritime.Aquarium-cubera.snapper

Check out the big white teeth of the cubera snapper now in The Maritime Aquarium's "Ocean Beyond the Sound" exhibit!

The largest of the species of snappers in the Atlantic, cubera snappers (Lutjanus cyanopterus) commonly are about 3 feet long and 40 pounds, but the fish in among the Aquarium’s sharks weighs about 60 pounds. (They can – rarely – grow to 5 feet in length and 125 pounds.)

Cubera snappers have a large mouth with thick lips and a big set of teeth – including very white, very long canine teeth that are visible even when the fish closes its mouth.

And what do cubera snappers do with these big teeth? They crunch through the shells of their favorite foods: crabs and lobsters.

Although cubera snappers range in the western Atlantic from Massachusetts down to Brazil, they’re not common this side of Florida. But obviously they do swim this far north, especially during the warm summer months, because the big cubera now at the Aquarium was brought in from a fisherman’s “fish trap” off Rhode Island.

They tend to stay in deeper waters, especially around rocky ledges and overhangs – which is exactly where you’ll probably find the cubera snapper in the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit.

Maritime-Aquarium.cubera-snapper

A cubera snapper in The Maritime Aquarium's Sea Turtles Exhibit also boasts an impressive set of teeth.

You’ll also find a slightly smaller cubera snapper – but with similarly impressive teeth – in the Sea Turtles Exhibit. (Where you’ll also find a barracuda. More big teeth!)

Cubera snapper are considered to be “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which says the fish are particularly vulnerable to overfishing during their spawning activities off the coast of Florida and in the Caribbean.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If there was such a thing as the Church of Scientific Literacy, Bill Nye the Science Guy would be the head preacher. And that Church’s rolling wacky thunder filled The Maritime Aquarium’s IMAX Theater last night with his worshippers.

Nye the preacher doesn’t preach about souls being saved. He wants the planet to be saved.

Maritime-Aquarium-Bill-Nye

Bill Nye the Science Guy does some explaining during his talk at The Maritime Aquarium on Dec. 8.

The famed bow-tie-wearing inspirer of Sheldon Coopers everywhere has been sounding the alarm about climate change for years. And, after a now-infamous televised debate on evolution vs. creationism in February, he’s also carrying the banner for scientific literacy.

In an appearance sponsored by First County Bank, Nye’s Aquarium talk zigged and zagged through comical asides, starting with an explanation for how this all got “in my blood”:  his mother was a U.S. Navy cryptographer during World War II, and his father, even as an adult, called himself “Ned Nye, Boy Scientist.”

Nye recounted how his father’s obsession with sundials was reborn through him while Nye was attending a planning meeting for the Mars Exploration Rovers. The visual trigger was a tall knob on a dial that the rover would use to “color balance” the rover’s camera.

“ ‘Guys, we have to make the photometric calibration target into a sundial!,’ ” Nye recalled exclaiming.

[Author’s note here:  writing what Nye said pales in comparison to actually hearing & seeing him say it in person. Sorry.]

Talk of Mars led Nye to compare Mars and Earth – the colors and contents of their atmospheres – and that’s how his presentation reached its true target: the increase in Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“That tiny change is changing the world,” he said.

“The reason the atmosphere is changing, the reason we have climate change, is not that complicated,” he said. “In my lifetime, (Earth’s population) has more than doubled. And everybody is burning something some place for energy.”

Nye said solutions are available, beginning with solar energy, which he uses for his home.

“When you get your electric bill every 60 days, every two months, and it’s $10, it’s just … fun,” he said. “Installing it costs about as much as a pretty nice car.”

Wind energy in North Dakota, he added, could power the country five times over “if we could just get it from there to where we need it.”

And he supported a national “fee and dividend” system, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund, that would motivate everyone to move toward renewable energies.

Maritime-Aquarium-Bill-Nye-CaptLvngSound

Bill Nye the Science Guy meets the Aquarium's Captain LivingSound.

In explaining his solutions, in a goofy way that only Bill Nye can, he would speak like a prophetic mystic, saying, “We can – dare I say it – change the world.”

Nye expressed surprise over the publicity from his debate on evolution vs. creationism in February with Ken Ham (who also dismisses the idea of current climate change).

“Almost 4 million people have watched it! I thought it would just be a gig like this, with all due,” he said to laughs.

“This matters because the leader and his flock have a world view that’s not going to help,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter, but I live here too. … This is not what you want in your citizenry: the inability to think critically.”

It was that debate, he said, that inspired him to write his new book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation.”

Nye – the CEO of the Planetary Society – book-ended his presentation with photos from space: first, the famous “Earthrise” photo by Apollo 8 astronauts in 1968 and, to close, a view from the Cassini spacecraft looking up a section of Saturn’s rings with Earth just a distant blue dot.

“There’s nobody coming to save us,” he said.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Imagine if you could not only hear movements all around you but if you could actually feel them too.

And not just feel movements but also sense objects and obstacles around you too.

It wouldn’t be quite as good as having eyes in the back of your head. But pretty close.

No one could sneak up on you. You’d bump into things a lot less.

We might wish for such a special physical ability. But most fish already have it, in a unique sensory system that only they have.

In The Maritime Aquarium's "Go Fish" exhibit, the lateral lines of cod (top) and pollock (below) are obvious.

You can see where this “sixth sense” occurs on a fish. It’s the line down the sides of their bodies called the lateral line.

In this lateral line are sense-receptor cells called neuromasts. The neuromasts have tiny hair cells, similar to what you have in your inner ear. These cells are connected to nerves that run to the fish’s brain. Even the slightest wave energy in the water bends the hair cells in the corresponding direction and that sends a message to the fish’s brain telling it where the wave energy came from.

Just by swimming, a fish creates wave-energy impulses in the water.  Like a boat’s bow wave. Lateral lines let one fish detect these impulses of other fish – not just detect the movements but understand the speed and direction. Thus, lateral lines help fish avoid predators. And lateral lines help to enable schooling fish to swim in tight schools, moving as if synchronized in a one huge mass.

Another point about that wave-energy impulse – that bow wave – created by a swimming fish:  when that wave impulse hits an object, something like an echo impulse bounces back at the fish. The fish’s lateral line can detect that as well. That can tell a fish at night where rocks, reefs and other obstructions are. It also can tell a fish in an aquarium where the glass is.

Lateral lines generally extend from a fish’s gills back to its tail.  Some are more obvious than others. Some are ruler straight, others flow back in an arch.  Variations in the lateral line’s shape can help to distinguish closely related species.

The lateral line of the hogfish is not so obvious.

During your next Maritime Aquarium visit, make it a challenge to find the lateral lines on the fish in all the galleries.  They’ll be easy to see on – say – the cod and pollock in the “Go Fish” exhibit.  But you’ll have to look closely to see the lateral lines on – for example – the red drum (in the Ocean Beyond the Sound “shark tank”) and the sergeant majors, hogfish and other reef fish in the Tropical Travelers exhibit.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Perhaps you – as we are – are deep into leaf-raking time.  So let us take a moment to remind you what NOT to do with your leaves.

Don’t dump them into a waterway or wetland.  Not into a creek, stream, river, pond, marsh, etc.

leaves-on-river

Sure, leaves are going to fall and blow into the water. But things get out of whack when we add in quantities of leaves far beyond what happens naturally.

First of all, a big influx of leaves can clog up small streams (and culverts) and/or build up the bottom of a waterway, which makes the waterway shallower and more likely later to flood or spill over. Plus, shallower water tends to heat up faster in the summer, and that warmer water can be less accommodating to animals and more likely to lead to problematic algae blooms.

Second, an unnatural extra “load” of organic matter – say, from all the leaves off your lawn  – can lead to the deaths of the animals (big and small) that live in the water.  Here’s how. When organic matter decomposes in water, that process can use up the water’s dissolved oxygen (D.O.).  Less dissolved oxygen makes it harder for animals to breathe.  Drop the D.O. low enough, the animals die.

Third, for reasons 1 & 2, dumping leaves in waterways is illegal in many communities.

A TV/radio pitchman for one of the big lawn-fertilizer companies – one who speaks with an appealing brogue – urges us to “Feed your lawn. Feed it.”  Rather than paying for a big bag of fertilizer, you can feed your lawn naturally by using your mower to mulch the leaves.  These shredded leaf bits will add nutrients to the lawn as they decompose to become part of the soil.

Remember:  no matter where you live in Connecticut, you live in the watershed of Long Island Sound. The water that runs off each of our properties feeds the Sound.  Feed it well.

– Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s the week for pumpkins and hauntings, so let’s look at a fish whose haunts include pretty much all of Connecticut’s freshwater lakes and ponds: the pumpkinseed sunfish.

Because they’re abundant, live to close to shore and aren’t picky about bait, “sunnys” are the fish that many of us caught the first time we ever cast a line.

pumpkinseed sunfish

A pumpkinseed sunfish. (Flickr.com photo by Michael)

Pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) are among the most common of the sunfish – a family that includes bluegill, crappies and the black basses.

They’re shaped less sleekly than how you picture most fish; they’re shaped more like discs or … like pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkinseeds range in North America from New Brunswick down the East Coast to South Carolina and west into the Midwest. They’ve been introduced in Washington and Oregon.

They’re generally 6 to 8 inches long and weigh about half a pound. The record pumpkinseed in Connecticut is 1 lb., 3 oz.

Sunnys tend to hug the shoreline of lakes, ponds and slow streams, especially around weed beds and docks.  They eat smaller fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects and worms. When hooked, they put up a good little fight. They’re generally too small to try to make a meal out of, so most are catch-and-release.

Their willingness to bite sometimes annoys anglers whose bait is meant for bass or other game fish.

(Another way that sunfish are unappreciated involves an invasive species: the aquatic plant called Eurasian watermilfoil. This noxious plant is the bane of such Connecticut lakes as Candlewood Lake. Studies have shown that attempts to introduce aquatic insects to eat the milfoil are … er … foiled when there is a larger population of sunfish. The sunfish eat the insects before the insects can eat the milfoil.)

Did you just catch a bluegill or a sunfish?  Pumpkinseeds are more vibrantly colored but here’s the best clue: look at the black spot by its gill slit.  Pumpkinseeds have a bright red half-moon-shaped spot there. Bluegill don’t.  Also, both species have vertical dark bands on their sides, but those on a bluegill are more obvious.

Here’s a helpful website that makes it easy to figure out of you caught a bluegill or a sunfish or something related:  http://www.tnfish.org/FishIdentificationID_TWRA/TWRA_Sunfish_Identification_Key.htm

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Maritime-Aquarium-research-vessel-Oceanic

Students from John Hay High give one final cheer for the research vessel Oceanic after the boat's final study cruise for The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk on Oct. 29, 2014. After 34 years of environmental education on Long Island Sound, the Oceanic is being sold to a company that will use her for "lobstering tours" on Boston Harbor. The Aquarium's bigger, quieter, greener research vessel – the R/V Spirit of the Sound™ – begins operations in mid-December.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

 

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After 34 years of being a sturdy worthy vessel for environmental education on Long Island Sound, the research vessel Oceanic will chug back into Norwalk harbor on Oct. 26 from its final public outing with The Maritime Aquarium.

You can join us. There’s limited space left aboard the R/V Oceanic for her final two Fall Foliage Study Cruises – at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27).

Maritime-Aquarium-Oceanic

The research vessel Oceanic, at work on Long Island Sound during one of The Maritime Aquarium's Marine Life Study Cruises.

After this weekend, the next cruises we offer will be in mid-December for the season’s initial Seal Spotting Cruises – and these outings put into service The Maritime Aquarium’s sleek new high-tech research vessel Spirit of the Sound.  This $2.7 million 63-foot catamaran will be the country’s only research vessel with hybrid-electric propulsion, making her bigger, quieter and greener than Oceanic, a 40-foot diesel-powered trawler.

So we will say thanks and goodbye to the Oceanic, which has been with us since the beginning.  Since before the beginning, really.

The Oceanic was designed by Robert L. Lowell in 1978 and her hull was manufactured by John Cousins at the Webbers Cove Boat Yard in East Blue Hill, Maine. Vessel construction took place at the Atlantic Boat Works in Booth Bay Harbor.

Beginning in 1980, the Oceanic Society – at the time, based in Stamford and led by Christopher du Pont Roosevelt – began using her to reveal the marine world of Long Island Sound to the paying public. Within just a few years, however, the Oceanic Society became one of the organizations to come together to plan and build an aquarium in Norwalk.  (And Roosevelt would be first president of our Board of Trustees.)

When we opened in July 1988, the Oceanic became the Aquarium’s. We’ve been taking families and school groups out onto Long Island Sound aboard her ever since; some 5,000 participants a year.

In our first few years, our study cruise season was from April to October. But by the early 1990s, as more and more seals began to enter the Sound for the winter, we added Seal Spotting Cruises, and the Oceanic gamely took on practically a year-round schedule.

Oceanic’s legacy at The Maritime Aquarium will be this: for many children – and not just those from underserved neighborhoods – a field trip to the Aquarium for a study cruise aboard the Oceanic was their first (and still only) opportunity to ever go out on a boat.

What’s next for Oceanic? Her future remains in environmental education. She is being sold to a company that operates “lobstering tours” in Boston Harbor.

The forecast for Oceanic’s final public weekend on Oct. 25-26 at The Maritime Aquarium looks lovely; two perfect fall days to be out on the water – and for us to show you what lives in the water.  Tickets are $22.95 (or $17.95 for Aquarium members).  You have to be 42 inches tall to come aboard. Reserve your spots by clicking here (or on “Buy Tickets” at the top right of this page) or by calling (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

 

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

Posted in Conservation, education, Long Island Sound, Marine Life, News, Research | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s say you’re a bottom-dwelling fish that prefers to eat animals that often hide in the sea floor; things like crabs, shrimp, worms and mollusks.

To find your prey, your options could be:

–  sit and wait for your hidden prey to move or rise on the sea floor and make itself more obvious.

–  randomly swallow up mouthfuls of the muddy or sandy bottom and hope you got something edible.  (Although often your result will just be a mouthful of sand. Yuck.)

A sea robin probes the bottom with its "feeler" rays – a specially adapted part of its pectoral fins.

–  poke around in the bottom to see what you can find.

Option No. 3 seems pretty good, right?  But, alas, what can a fish use to poke around in the sea floor?

Well, a number of species have adaptations that solve the problem.  Catfish, cod, carp, sturgeon, nurse sharks and some other species have whisker-like organs near their mouth called barbels. (There’s a fish called a barbel that has … surprise! … barbels too.)  Barbels have taste buds, allowing a fish to stick its barbels into the bottom to taste around for food without – and here’s the sweet part – having to get a mouthful of sand or mud.

(Let’s stop for a moment to imagine what life would be like if, say, our pinkie fingers had taste buds on them.  Barbels are something like that.)

Another common bottom-dwelling fish has a different adaptation for finding food. The sea robin (Prionotus carolinus) has large pectoral (or side) fins that can open out like a fan. But the first three rays of the pectoral fin are separate from the rest of the fin. The sea robin can use these independently moving rays like feelers, to poke around in the sea floor and flush out prey. These feeler rays don’t have taste buds, so they’re not barbels.

Sea robins also use their rays sometimes to “walk” along the bottom.

Maritime-Aquarium-study-cruise

Participants in a recent Maritime Aquarium Marine Life Study Cruise get a look at a sea robin from out of Long Island Sound.

Sea robins are common up and down the Atlantic coast, including here in Long Island Sound. Although they’re said to have a nice taste, most fishermen consider sea robins to be a nuisance fish, taking bait intended for more sought-after (and easier to filet) species.

Look for sea robins in The Maritime Aquarium’s “Sandy Bottom” exhibit and the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit (a.k.a. the big shark tank).  There’s also a great image of a sea robin on the display graphic as you enter the aquarium galleries via the balcony over the harbor seals.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

 

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

 

Posted in animals, Long Island Sound, Marine Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Valid question:  if The Maritime Aquarium’s mission is to let you discover and get close to the wonders of Long Island Sound … in hopes of inspiring you to become stewards of the Sound, through all of your actions, big and small … then why is there a BARRACUDA in one of the Aquarium’s exhibits?

Since when are there barracuda in Long Island Sound?!

Swimmers and divers, relax.  You don’t have to worry about barracuda when you dip your toes in the Sound.

barracuda-Maritime-Aquarium

A 4-foot barracuda has a new home in The Maritime Aquarium.

There is, however – yes – a barracuda in The Maritime Aquarium.

A 4-footer. It’s in the Sea Turtles Exhibit.

Why it’s here is a feel-good story about cooperation between aquariums. The barracuda came to us recently from New England Aquarium in Boston, which no longer had a place for it.  New England’s options were limited. Endanger the barracuda’s health (and other animals’ health) by over-populating a tank? Not good. Releasing the barracuda into Boston harbor? Clearly not an option. Reaching out to colleagues to find it a new home?  Hello, Maritime Aquarium.

This is hardly the first time The Maritime Aquarium has exchanged with, accepted from or distributed animals to other aquariums.  Our jellyfish-culturing operation is so good that we have shipped jellies to such facilities as the Georgia Aquarium, Tennesse Aquarium, Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and the Atlantis aquarium in the Bahamas.  Over the years, even larger animals like seals, sharks and sea turtles have come and gone.  These exchanges haven’t been limited to marine animals.  The meerkats on exhibit at The Maritime Aquarium came to us from the Hogle Zoo in Utah.

Our ability to communicate with, assist and be assisted by other aquariums has only increased since The Maritime Aquarium received prestigious accreditation last year by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).

And so we have a barracuda.

These fearsome-looking fish commonly unnerve snorklers and scuba divers, because of their pronounced underbite of fang-like teeth and because of their disconcerting habit of curiously hanging around you in the water.  They have a reputation – perhaps exaggerated – for being attracted by shiny objects (like rings and bracelets), which they mistake for the shiny scales of fish.  One confused bite can inflict a serious wound.

Barracuda grow to 5 to 6 feet long, and 30 pounds. Their elongated bodies are built for speed – reportedly as fast as 36 mph.

They live around the world in warmer waters. In the western Atlantic, barracuda range from about Bermuda all the way down to Brazil, including all of the Caribbean, Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico.

Historically, you wouldn’t find them in Long Island Sound. But the Sound is getting warmer, you know, so …

– Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

 

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

Posted in animals, Marine Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment