Join us all week for National Zookeeper Appreciation Week! We’ll introduce you to a new animal care staff member everyday.

Today, meet seal trainer Azzara Oston!

What are three of your normal daily tasks? 

Three things I do every day are work on new training with the harbor seals, clean and reorganize the meerkat exhibit (from rearranging their logs to hiding new enrichment, or toys, in their exhibit to keep them challenged all day) …and do a mountain of dishes that could probably rival Mount Everest on some days.

How/why did you become a trainer and what was your major in college?

Once I realized I was interested in animal behavior, I did a number of internships at aquariums and zoos along the east coast, having the chance to work with animals ranging from beluga whales to primates to walruses. I majored in Biology in college and was able to focus on animal behavior with my course load, but experience in some top notch zoos and aquariums was a big part of where I am today.

What is your favorite animal that you’ve ever worked with?

Northern fur seals are amazing – I worked with animals from young to old and their personalities and dispositions were all incredibly different, and very fun to get to know. And although they’re called seals, they are not actually true seals like Maritime’s harbor seals. They should actually be called Northern fur sea lions. Fun fact.

Honorable mention to beluga whales; the training they had was pretty complex, and it was so rewarding as an intern to help with furthering it on a daily basis.

What’s the funniest experience as an aquarist/animal care staff member?

One of our maintenance staff accidentally knocked a drain valve off large vat of water once. (Don’t worry, no animals were harmed in the making of this funny experience.) In trying to stop the gushing water, we accidentally flipped a switch that caused the top of the vat to start overflowing and by the end we both looked like cats that had fallen into a swimming pool. Needless to say, it was pretty funny to everyone that got to see us afterwards!

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more looks behind the scenes! 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 FacebookInstagram, Snapchat (@maritimeaqua) TwitterPinterest,  and Tumblr.

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View of Barbuda from the plane!

We have arrived safe and sound to Barbuda! The 20-minute flight from Antigua was a breeze, unless you are not a fan of small planes. The plane only sits about eight people, including the pilot! Word traveled quickly that we had arrived on the island and old friends came to greet us.

Since our arrival we have been working on planning our week and setting up our equipment. We have a lot to do in a very short amount of time. Today marked the first day of our reef fish and benthic cover survey. Within minutes of putting our faces in the water we had a welcomed visitor, a 15-20 pound juvenile hawksbill sea turtle! We hope this is a good omen for the rest of the trip!

In addition to the hawksbill, we saw numerous juvenile and adult fish species including various parrotfish, surgeon fish, sergeant majors and many more. As we were heading back to shore we swam alongside a southern sting ray. Overall a great start to the week.

We will be beginning our beach sea turtle nesting patrols tonight. More to come, stay tuned!

Meet the Researcher
Maxine Montello started working at the Maritime Aquarium in 2008. She is currently the primary Aquarist for all our reptile and amphibian exhibits. Before starting in the Aquarist department, she worked in Education on the research vessel.  Maxine has a Masters in Wildlife Ecology and Environmental Science from Pace University and her thesis focused on site selection of nesting sea turtles on the island of Barbuda. In addition, Maxine is an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Manhattanville College. Maxine will be continuing her sea turtle research in Barbuda this July. Stay tuned for weekly updates and amazing photos!!!

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Let the countdown begin! In less than a week, I’ll be traveling down with my research team to the island of Barbuda to continue our study of sea turtle nesting behavior. Some of you may think, “Is she spelling that wrong? Does she mean Barbados, Bermuda, or even the Bahamas?!” I swear Barbuda is a real place, located in the Lesser Antilles and a sister island to Antigua. The island is home to many unique marine and terrestrial creatures.

I have been traveling down to Barbuda with my research team each year since 2010. The team consist of Dr. Wendy McFarlane (Manhattanville College), Dr. Nancy Todd (Manhattanville College), our research assistant Melissa LaCroce and of course me.  We have been involved in numerous research projects, but spend the majority of our time focusing on sea turtle nesting behavior. Three species of sea turtles nest on the island (leatherbacks, hawksbills, and greens). All three species are considered endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. A large problem is human interference with nesting females and hatchlings. Turtle nests are often poached for eggs for human consumption. In Barbuda, it is illegal to collect sea turtle eggs, but it is legal to hunt adult sea turtles for food.

Over the past five years, we have been able to mark over 500 sea turtle nests throughout the beaches of Barbuda. With this information we are able to show how important the island is as a nesting site. In addition, we are looking at the physical characteristics (slope, grain size, temperature and pH) and vegetation coverage of each beach. All these characteristics play a key role in how each species chooses a beach for nesting. We have found that beach selection is species specific. This means that each species of sea turtle seeks their nesting grounds based on their ideal beach requirements.

I am lucky enough to be traveling back down to Barbuda this July for two weeks. We will be continuing our research by gathering additional data on the nesting sea turtles. We also will be working one on one with the local park rangers and helping them with monitoring their island.

So what should make the cut while I’m packing? Clearly, I will need to bring the essentials: headlamp, underwater camera, mask and snorkel, and plenty of sunscreen! Though it is hard to part with my pet bearded dragons, Ruca and Roo, I think they should probably sit this trip out. Stay tuned for I will be posting on our Instagram (@maritimeaquarium) and Snapchat (@maritimeaqua) accounts throughout my trip to keep you updated on some of our findings while in the field.

 

Meet the Researcher
Maxine Montello started working at the Maritime Aquarium in 2008. She is currently the primary Aquarist for all our reptile and amphibian exhibits. Before starting in the Aquarist department, she worked in Education on the research vessel.  Maxine has a Masters in Wildlife Ecology and Environmental Science from Pace University and her thesis focused on site selection of nesting sea turtles on the island of Barbuda. In addition, Maxine is an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Manhattanville College. Maxine will be continuing her sea turtle research in Barbuda this July. Stay tuned for weekly updates and amazing photos!!!

 

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In collaboration with Bank of America, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is planning a special day to generate support for The Maritime Aquarium and many other important non-profit organizations throughout the region.

It’s called Fairfield County’s Giving Day, an online, 24-hour day of giving on Thurs., March 10. The goal is to raise more than $1 million for nearly 400 nonprofit groups.

They’ve made it easy for you to make a contribution and direct it to The Maritime Aquarium. On Thursday, just click here or on the “Giving Day” logo at right.

What’s even better: Giving Day also is a competition in which more than $85,000 in prize money will be awarded to participating organization. There will be prize awards in such categories as:  the two organizations that raise the most money;  the two organizations with the most individual donors;  the organizations that raise the most money in certain time slots;  and more.

By designating The Maritime Aquarium to receive your Fairfield County’s Giving Day donation, you’ll be helping to feed our seals, maintain the perfect aquatic environment for our sea turtles, and buy needed materials for the environmental-education programming that’s important to so many school students in the tri-state area.

Spread the word among your friends, family and colleagues because every donation is important in the Giving Day contest, no matter the amount.

Here’s the link for more information: www.fcgives.org.

 

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Orange the harbor seal has made her pick for Super Bowl 50 and it is the Carolina Panthers.

Orange the harbor seal makes her pick – Carolina – for Super Bowl 50.

The 33-year-old seal knows how to hold her nose against the hand of her Aquarium trainers, and also against a “target pole,” the exhibit window and other objects.

On Thurs., Feb. 4, the Aquarium seal exhibit was lined with images of the Carolina Panthers’ and Denver Broncos’ helmets.  When instructed to go to the exhibit window, Orange swam to – and held her nose against – a Panthers’ helmet, indicating her pick.

If it’s any consolation for Denver fans, the Aquarium’s seals have proven to be pathetic pinniped pigskin prognosticators:  they’re 0 for 4 in previous attempts to pick the Super Bowl winner. However, it must be noted that Polly picked Seattle last year, and she would have been right if not for the Seahawks’ boneheaded decision to throw a pass at the goal line as time was expiring.

It’s all in fun, of course. The Aquarium’s animal-husbandry rules prohibit the seals from actually doing any wagering.

Last year, Samsung also had fun with our seals’ supposed soothsaying, featuring Orange in an online ad for its new Galaxy S6 phone: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nztoD9Nea-A

 

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Held on Sun., Jan. 31, The 2016 Chocolate Expo drew the largest single-day attendance in The Maritime Aquarium’s 28-year history.   We welcomed 7,937 guests to the fourth-annual Expo, which featured some 40 regional chocolatiers and other specialty-food retailers offering samples and sales of their products throughout the Aquarium galleries.

(The previous single-day Aquarium attendance record was 6,857 achieved on Chocolate Expo 2014.)

First County Bank was presenting sponsor of Chocolate Expo at The Maritime Aquarium.

Here are some photos from the big delicious day:

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The Chocolate Expo returns for its fourth year at the Maritime Aquarium this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. They’re taking over the Aquarium for the day, so here’s everything you need to know.

The Maritime Aquarium is located at 10 North Water St., Norwalk, CT, 06854. You may enter the expo from the main entrance or the IMAX entrance.

Price

Discounted!
Non-members $15/adults $10/children ages 3-12
Members $13/adults $8/children ages 3-12
There is no senior or youth pricing this day.

Skip the line! Purchase advance e-tickets here.

All tickets are non-refundable.

We’re sorry, but Aquarium members do not receive free admission for this special event. Member guest discounts do not apply.

Directions

Driving

For directions from I-95, The Merritt Parkway, and surrounding CT and NY areas, please refer to our website.

Or, get directions to The Maritime Aquarium from your location.

Public transportation

If you plan on arriving by Norwalk Transit, Metro-North Railroad, or by boat, please refer to the details on our website.

* Some GPS devices and computer map programs point to the IMAX® Theater entrance to our facility. The parking garage and Main Entrance are one block north near the intersection of Ann and North Water streets.

Parking

The municipal Maritime Garage is located directly across from the Aquarium on North Water Street located between Ann and Marshall streets. The garage is maintained by the Norwalk Parking authority. Click here for rates. For more information on the Maritime Garage and the three other lots in South Norwalk visit the Norwalk Parking Authority’s website. A new smart phone app “Parker” shows real-time parking space availability.

Additional parking is available at Veteran’s Park. It is about a five- to ten-minute walk from the Aquarium. Parking attendants at the Maritime Garage will direct guests to the overflow lot once the main lot is full.

Celebrity Chefs and Cooking Demo Schedule

In our IMAX® Theater. (Limited first-come, first-served, seating.)

Tony Albanese, pastry designer and former assistant to Buddy Valastro of “Cake Boss.”
Barret Beyer of Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen”
Scottish Francis of “MasterChef”
Larry Rosenberg, recipe-book author and owner of Bacon Bites.

11:00 am to 11:30 am – Tony Albanese
12:00 pm to 12:30 pm – Barret Beyer
1:00 pm to 1:30 pm – Scottish Francis
2:00 pm to 2:30 pm – Tony Albanese
3:00 to 3:30 pm – Scottish Francis
4:00 to 4:30 pm – Larry Rosenberg
5:00 to 5:30 pm – Barret Beyer

Additional programming in our third-floor classroom

12:30 pm to 1:00 pm – Debbie Prinz: Choco-Talk
1:30 pm to 2:00 pm – Felicia Ramos: Kids Craft Activity
2:30 pm to 3:00 pm – Debbie Prinz: Choco-Talk
3:30 pm to 4:00 pm – Felicia Ramos: Kids Craft Activity
4:30 pm to 5:00 pm – Debbie Prinz – Choco-Talk

On the day of The Chocolate Expo refer to our Today’s Events page on your smart phone for the full schedule.

Vendors

44 vendors will set up throughout the Aquarium’s galleries. View the full list here.

FAQ

What are your hours?

We’re extending our hours for Chocolate Expo. We’ll be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

What is the best time to attend?

People love chocolate so we expect crowds all day, but we anticipate our heaviest attendance will be between noon and 4 p.m. If you prefer a less bustling experience, stop by between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., or between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Can I buy tickets online?

Yes, skip the line! Purchase advance tickets here, print them out and bring your web ticket with you. Go directly to the usher who will scan your ticket when you arrive.

Do you allow strollers?

Yes. However because we expect higher than average attendance, you may be more comfortable with a backpack style child carrier or smaller stroller. We expect our busiest time to be between noon and 4 p.m., so please plan accordingly.

Is the IMAX® theater showing movies during Chocolate Expo?

No. Celebrity chefs will perform their demos in the theater. All movies on Jan. 31 have been cancelled.

Will “Jiggle a Jelly” touch adventure be open during Chocolate Expo?

No. “Jiggle a Jelly” will be open Sat., Jan. 30, weekends, holidays and school vacation weeks after the expo. All other exhibits will be open.

What’s with the free samples?

Think more like a tasting instead of Halloween. Most vendors will offer small taste samples of their products. In many cases you get to talk to the folks who make the products you are trying. Then you can purchase take-home quantities of what you like.

Is it only chocolate?

Heavens no! Interspersed with fine chocolatiers and some fun products like chocolate infused Brussels sprouts and chocolate covered bacon are tasty treats like cotton candy made from maple sugar, Caribbean rum cakes, a guy with 40 varieties of seed and nut butters, edible cookie dough, exotic olives and pickles. There are non-food items too, some chocolate, some not, like chocolate soap. Check the vendor list.

Do you offer products for special diets?

Yes, vendors include those with vegan, organic, all-natural, no-sugar-added, gluten-free and kosher foods.

What about allergies?

Many vendors offer products that contain common food allergens such as wheat, soy, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, etc., or are manufactured in facilities with these products. If you have food allergies, we suggest that you consult with your healthcare provider before attending Chocolate Expo.

Check back in with us for more updates and peeks behind the scenes! 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, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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On Jan. 21, we announced the winners of our 14th annual “Festival of Lighthouses Contest,” which ran from Nov. 21-Jan. 18 and featured 22 large creative amazing homemade lighthouses.

2015-16 lighthouse winnerThis year’s 1st-place winner (through guest voting) is Robert Keene of Darien and his “Surviving the Storm” lighthouse. For receiving the most visitor votes – out of more than 11,500 votes cast – Robert took home the $1,500 first-place prize.

Here are the other prize winners:

• second place ($750) – “Tiki Island Lighthouse” by Brett Almstead of Ridgefield.
• third place ($375) – “Fairy Lighthouse” by Bob Hemond of Trumbull.
• fourth place ($300) – “Fieldstone Tower” by Pedro Davila of White Plains, N.Y.
• fifth place ($225) – “North Pole Lighthouse” by Jo Stecker of Norwalk.
• sixth place ($150) – “Droste Point: The Lighthouse Within” by Nancy Todd of West Haven.

An additional $500 prize was awarded to Hemond, who won the “Facebook Favorite” vote conducted online Dec. 28-Jan. 18.

A sincere thank you to all 22 entrants.  Look for information later this summer about how to enter our 2016-17 lighthouse contest.

 

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The Maritime Aquarium recently received two videos from Connecticut residents who claim to have encountered the legendary (and supposed) forest shark.  We’re studying the videos’ authenticity.

 

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Because so many boaters seem to be encountering the humpback whales currently in the western end of Long Island Sound … and because boaters of Long Island Sound aren’t accustomed to sharing the water with 30-foot creatures that come to the surface to breathe and to occasionally leap out of the water … the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has issued a reminder about keeping a safe distance.

Guidelines from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advise to stay at least 300 feet away from large whales.  That’s for the whales’ safety and yours.

Here’s a nice graphic from NOAA that explains:

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