"Estuaries such as Long Island Sound are among the most valuable ecosystems in the world. The Sound supports diverse marine life, including most of the fish and shellfish we value as food ..."

– Connecticut Sea Grant

Conservation & Research

LIS map copy

Long Island Sound Fun Fact

Long Island Sound is 113 miles long, 21 miles wide (at its widest) and holds about 18 trillion gallons of water. Its average depth is 63 feet – which is just a little deeper than the height of our IMAX screen! Can you fathom that?!


Common Name:  Harbor seal

Latin Name:  Phoca vitulina

Size/weight:  Between 5 and 6 feet long; 175 – 225 pounds. Males are sometimes larger.

Range:  Harbor seals can be found throughout the northern Atlantic, along both coasts.

Habitat: Harbor seals “haul out” on offshore rocks and sand bars in the Sound that are exposed during low tide. The term “haul out” refers both to the location like a rock where the seal is resting (the “haul out” site) and to the action of a seal climbing out of the water onto land (to “haul out”).

Diet: Varies regionally, but generally consists of fish, crabs, lobster and squid.

Predators: Main predators include killer whales and sharks. Large eagles, coyotes and gulls have been known to prey on seal pups.

Description: Harbor seals range in color from brown, tan, light grey and silver with dark spots. Their thick short coat is made of coarse guard hairs and finer, but denser under hairs.

Conservation Note:  Since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, harbor seal populations have been rebounding from depletion by hunting and other threats. The generally improving health of Long Island Sound also seems to be a factor in the seals’ return.

See them in Newman’s Own Hall.  Feeding times are 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 & 3:45 p.m. daily. »

forbes seastar copy

Common Name: Forbes sea star

Latin Name: Asterias forbesi

Size/weight: Five or so inches in diameter

Range: Gulf of Maine to Texas

Habitat: Low tide line to depths of 160 feet; rock, gravel or sandy bottom.

Diet: Clams, scallops and oysters.  Stomach is everted into the prey animal, where it digests the tissue.

Predators:  Spider crabs and, occasionally, lobsters.

Description: Five arms radiating from a central core with an eye at the end of each arm, thousands of tiny tube feet, and a mouth on bottom.  Tough, almost spiny skin; color brownish red or orange.  The sea star is able to regenerate severed arms.

Conservation Note: Not listed as threatened or endangered.

See them in the Salt Marsh gallery and at the Intertidal Touch Tank »

Aquar.green sea turtle copy

Common Name: Green sea turtle

Latin Name:  Chelonia mydas

Size/weight:  Green turtles are the largest of all the hard-shelled sea turtles. They can grow up to 4 feet long and 400+ pounds.

Range: Tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world. In the western Atlantic, as far north as Massachusetts (including Long Island Sound) in summers. Nesting occurs in over 80 countries.

Habitat:  Primarily coastal areas, where they’ll find the plants they eat. 

Diet: Adult green turtles are unique among sea turtles in that they eat only plants; they are herbivorous, feeding primarily on seagrasses and algae. This diet is thought to give them greenish-colored fat, from which they take their name.

Predators:  Newly hatched turtles are vulnerable to everything from raccoons and gulls to crabs and large fish. Some sharks may prey on adult sea turtles.

Description: Heart-shaped shell, small head and single-clawed flippers. Color will vary. The top shell (or carapace) is smooth with shades of black, gray, green, brown, and yellow; the bottom shell (or plastron) is yellowish white. Oxygen reserves allow them to dive without surfacing for 30 minutes and even sleep underwater for more than two hours without breathing.

Conservation Note:  Breeding populations in Florida & on Mexico’s Pacific coast are endangered. All other populations are threatened. Despite conservation agreements around the globe, the main threats remain the over-harvesting of eggs and adults, and from accidental mortality in the nets and long-lines of fishing and shrimping fleets.Artificial lights confuse the ocean-bound babies, causing them to lose their way. Real estate development eliminates their nesting habitat. And cast-off plastic bags, fishing line and other trash can suffocate, strangle or otherwise harm the animals.

See them in the Sea Turtle exhibit »

loggerhead turtle

Common Name: Loggerhead sea turtle

Latin Name:  Caretta caretta

Size/weight:  Up to 38 inches long and 400 pounds when fully grown.

Range: Found in warmer waters in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.  In the western Atlantic, loggerheads can be found from Newfoundland to Argentina.  Juvenile loggerheads sometimes visit Long Island Sound during the summer.

Habitat:  Loggerheads can be found throughout their range anywhere from shoreline lagoons, bays and river mouths to thousands of miles out to sea.  Nests are typically dug on sandy beaches between the high tide line and the beginning of dunes or vegetation.

Diet:  Mollusks, crustaceans, fish, etc.

Predators:  Loggerheads are at greatest risk from a variety of human and animal predators who disturb the nest sites, eating and taking eggs.  Many hatchlings are also eaten as they try to make their way from the nest into the water.  Seagoing adults are often trapped and drown in long-line fishing nets.

Description:  Loggerheads are so named for their large, seemingly over-sized  head. They have a sharp beak, a large reddish-brown carapace and yellowish skin.  Unlike land turtles, a sea turtle can’t tuck its head or flippers into its shell.

Conservation Note:  Although loggerhead sea turtles are the most abundant sea turtle in U.S. waters, their population is still low enough to list them as “threatened” on the Endangered Species List.  Newer “turtle exclusion devices” on fishing nets may be reducing turtle deaths.

See one in the Sea Turtle exhibit »

sand tiger

Common Name: Sand Tiger Shark  (known in other parts of the world as the spotted ragged-tooth shark and the grey nurse shark)

Latin Name:  Carcharias taurus

Size:  Males, to about 6.5 feet long;  females, to over 7 feet.  Reports of lengths to 10 feet.

Range:  Worldwide in subtropical and temperate waters except for the eastern Pacific. In the western Atlantic, from the Gulf of Maine (including Long Island Sound) down to Florida, as well as around the Bahamas and the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat:  Coastal waters, including bays and estuaries (including Long Island Sound), usually closer to the bottom in depths down to 100 feet.

Diet:  Wide variety of fish and invertebrates

Predators:  They're an apex predator, so only larger sharks. Humans are the real concern. (See Conservation Note)

Description:  This is the largest of the sharks considered to be native to Long Island Sound. Sand tigers are tan-gray (often with hints of spots) with whiter undersides.  The snout is flattened, and the two dorsal fins are of equal size. Their long thin "snaggle" teeth are visible at all times (unlike, for example, the recessed teeth of the Aquarium's similarly sized lemon shark). Their hardy adaptability to human care and their mouthful of visible teeth make them a common and popular shark in public aquariums. 

Conservation Note:  Listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature & Natural Resources). Their numbers have been reduced by commercial fishing (especially as a food dish in Japan), and sport fishing. With only two pups per litter, they are slow to repopulate.  In the U.S., sand tigers received full protection on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in 1997 under the Atlantic Fishery Management Plan. Any sand tiger caught must be immediately released with minimal harm to the shark.

See them in the "Ocean Beyond the Sound" exhibit »