Archive for ‘aquaria’

August 17, 2011

Awaiting the Spawn

Lunar cycles have a profound effect on the timing of events, often ones involving reproduction, in wildlife.

In the winter times in the Caribbean we have Grouper Moons, and in the late summer, we hold our breaths waiting for the coral to spawn a few days following a full moon.  We had such a full moon on August 13th, and researchers all across the Caribbean are camped out waiting, taking measured breaths on SCUBA tanks hoping to prolong their bottom time, to see the release of eggs and gametes from the coral heads.

So far, not a single watched site from Florida, to Mexico, to the farthest fringe of the Western Atlantic islands, has documented any spawning event.  SECORE, a group of researchers including professional aquarists from Waikiki Aquarium in Hawaii, are one such group watching a patch of reef in Curacao, hoping to secure samples of coral larvae for later work in laboratory conditions involving rearing the little ones.  Another group from the University of Pennsylvania is also hoping to take home larvae, and even dedicated some of their updates recently to the on-site tank builds involved.

Maybe tonight will be the night!  We’ll have more here on the updates from the lab groups as the news continues to come in.  Cross your fingers!

June 21, 2011

Video Break: Indy's Dolphin Calf

I won’t lie, we’ve got a few more negative stories up on the block for this week so if you – like me – haven’t even yet recovered from reading about sharks being hacked apart then I think you’ll enjoy this break from reality and into cuteness brought to you by the folks at the Indianapolis Zoo, who have a brand new bottlenose dolphin calf.   The keepers got fantastic video including shots of the calf nursing underwater (see 0:54 – 0:58)!  Enjoy!

June 13, 2011

IRL Dolphin Study Back Underway

Since 2003 researchers from the Georgia Aquarium, Florida Atlantic University, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, and NOAA’s National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental and Biomolecular Research, have annually traveled out to two estuaries in the southeastern United States with one mission: to assess the health and status of local bottlenose dolphins.   This year one of Deep Sea News‘ contributors is actually joining in the fray (and tipped me off to the project!)

The aptly named Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) Project is built upon the idea that dolphins, as apex predators, can serve as a model species for the impacts being felt in their environment.  Even more, the researchers hope that their accumulated data can develop predictive models to evaluate current and future conservation programs and policies.

And let’s face it, dolphins are the very embodiment of the phrase “charismatic megafauna”.  If we can’t motivate funding, policy change, and the public by citing research on dolphins, we probably can’t do it with stats and findings on any other species in the estuaries they inhabit.  (Ahem, no one gets up in arms and excited about problems with oyster toadfish except for geeks like me!)

So, just where is the HERA projected focused?  The Indian River Lagoon!  (Also Charleston, SC as another estuarine environment.)

Why the IRL? Well, I could type for hours about the importance of this estuary but let’s face it, if you’re reading WaterNotes, you’ve been fully appraised of its virtues.  What you may not know is that the IRL’s bottlenose dolphins have rather high reported rates of mortality events within the past decade associated with a number of diseases.  The IRL’s population of bottlenose are also thought to be somewhat residential and to travel within home ranges, in fact three communities have been reported previously, one for Mosquito Lagoon (or the Banana River) and two more splitting the larger North and South Indian River.

What is also split between regions are the striking differences in water quality, particularly in relating to contamination with wastes, mercury, organochlorine pesticides, PBDEs and PFCs.  This makes the IRL population a great resource for comparisons and analysis of one community to another with potentially less static from fluctuating variables in environmental conditions and genetic background.

Of the diseases reported, some have no known cause (or etiology), but a few of the most studied include those resulting in skin lesions and disorders like lobomycosis as well as ongoing research into morbillivirus and emerging diseases such as orogenital papillomatosis.   Lobomycosis is a fungal disease and is thought to only occur in dolphins and humans, and there is at least one incidence on the books of the disease being transferred from a dolphin to a person.  This makes the HERA research all the more interesting and potentially valuable to the people living near the IRL!

(As a side note: Fungal infections of the skin are not uncommon among people who regularly work and fish within the margins of the IRL.  Potential overshare: I’ve had several occurrences of infections when I sat too long in wet gear or scratched myself while in the water.)

Something else dolphins and humans share? Antibiotic resistant organisms cultured from their bodies including E. coli from IRL dolphins and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from three dolphins in the Charleston population.   Yes, that MRSA!  This finding back in 2009 led researchers to ponder whether the dolphins had picked up these transferred organisms from humans (say from contaminated effluent) or if antibiotics reaching their environments were acting upon otherwise typical strains of S. aureus and E. coli and spawning resistant strains through selection.

The HERA Project will also focus on photoidentification, genetic relationships, and immune system function in addition to following lobomycosis, orogenital papillomatosis, antibiotic resistance patterns, and evaluate exposure to mercury and pesticides.   Let’s all cross our fingers and wish the research team a great week of fieldwork!

June 7, 2011

Solenostomus Awesomeness

A few weeks back, Monterey Bay Aquarium announced that a pair of its weedy sea dragons were expecting.  This created quite the stir in the zoo and aquarium world, as successful mating attempts (let alone successful hatching of the eggs) is quite a feat in captive members of the species.  As with all true snygnathids including the seahorses, pipefishes, and sea dragons, the males fertilize the eggs after the female produces them and then attaches them to  a specialized region on his body (in seahorses an actual pouch!) for incubation.

Back in 2008, the Georgia Aquarium announced a similar pregnancy, noting it was just the third successful egg-carrying event in the United States.  I’m not sure where that puts Monterey Bay’s pair now in 2011, but let’s hope their male continues to carry the eggs and that they hatch in time for Father’s Day!

Not to be outdone, the Steinhart Aquarium announced something even more amazing: they’ve got ornate ghost pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) fry!!!!

In the realm of fishkeeping, ghost pipefishes are high up the evolutionary ladder for their specific and specialized needs.  They’re fairly delicate with respect to water quality and – like most of the snygnathidae – are picky when it comes to food sources and sensitive to gaps in nutrition.  But there’s a catch here, while they’re related to the syngnathidae very closely (just look at that trigger like mouth!), they’re not true syngnathids.

In fact for the ghosts, the females carry the eggs, just under their supersized pelvic fins.  You can see this male/female distinguishing trait quite readily in the (incredible!) videos Steinhart has made available.  You can just see her fanning the eggs here:

We don’t know a whole lot about breeding and incubation in the species, so anything Steinhart learns could be an enormous contribution to the field.  I’m crossing my fingers they get a good enough survival rate from the wee ones (they’re just 6-7mm now!) that a few can be raised to adulthood.  This is potentially a godsend for other public aquariums, as captive-born fish tend to have stouter constitutions, and can even sometimes be trained off of their wild-caught parents demanding needs for live foods in favor of frozen delicacies.

One last confession:  I totally think ghost pipefish fry are cuter than a lot of human babies.

June 4, 2011

Shedd's Newest Little Bundle

Shedd Aquarium in Chicago welcomed a tiny Pacific white-sided dolphin calf to its pools just in time for World Ocean’s Day next week! (Aquarium and zoo types call this species “Lags” as a short form of their genus name.)  The little tyke is actually quite large – about thirty pounds and three feet in length – compared to his mother.  I worked around marine mammals and cetaceans for several years in a spot that routinely had pregnant and laboring females and always missed the births.  They go pretty quick once you see those little tail flukes present themselves!  Shedd did a lovely job capturing the event on film for everyone to see.

Speaking of World Ocean’s Day, will you be anywhere near Washington, DC on June 7th?  The Smithsonian will be hosting a splash event at high noon exactly so hightail it there if you’re curious to learn more!

May 28, 2011

Okinawa: Pure Perfection

Shh.. I’m spellbound by the combined forces of one of my favorite bands, whale sharks, manta rays, and other beauties in this jewel of a display. If the writers of What Dreams May Come were right and we all get our own personal heavens, this is what mine looks like.