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An Underwater Twist On Pumpkin Carving with @CLEAquarium

If you think carving a prize-winning pumpkin is difficult, try doing it underwater. Greater Cleveland Aquarium Dive Safety Coordinator Halle M. explains what makes carving underwater such a challenge and why it’s still so much fun. (Special thanks to Professional Diving Resources, who hosted the competition at White Star Quarry!)

If you think carving a prize-winning pumpkin is difficult, try doing it underwater.  The underwater pumpkin carving event you see here was held in Ohio at a local quarry called White Star Quarry. It’s a place where local divers often go for training and to freshen up their recreational SCUBA skills. It has a platform, which makes it really convenient for doing pumpkin carving underwater.

So, how does underwater carving work? Our divers are allowed to scoop out their pumpkins and open their tops before they enter the water. Once they’ve entered the water though, if they or their pumpkins surface they have to get out. Divers have a maximum of 2 hours to complete their carving. When everyone is finished, the jack-o-lanterns are displayed, judged and winners are selected.  

In this video, we’re on an underwater platform at a depth of 15 feet. We’re sitting/kneeling/lying on that platform to carve. We don’t want to sit or kneel on the bottom of the quarry because it would stir up the silt and make it difficult to see anything.  

Carving underwater is a challenge. Just imagine you’re one of us. You’re diving. You have your wetsuit, your mask, all of your equipment, weights and a SCUBA cylinder. You also have a pumpkin that’s constantly trying to float away from you and you’re using a big dive knife to try to to cut small details into a gourd. It definitely takes a lot of patience and attention to detail to do a good job.

I’ve been doing this for the last 5 or 6 years and I’ve learned a few things. My first tip is to bring a lot of extra weights and lot of warm wetsuit layers because it gets quite cold when you’re sitting still underwater. (This year was particularly cold. The air was 35 degrees when we arrived, but luckily the water was much warmer . . . 65 degrees.) It’s also really important to go in with a plan, to not stay to long and to pay close attention to what you’re doing. That all makes underwater carving with all its challenges a bit easier.

There were around 30 pumpkin carvers at the Quarry and 15 of those were associated with the Greater Cleveland Aquarium in some way. We brought along a few new participants to competing this year. Jamil and Damon had never done anything like this before but I think they enjoyed the challenge. Some of the pumpkins that our team created included traditional jack-o-lanterns, a walrus, a battery charge sign, a turtle, a ship and some goofy faces. The winner of the entire event had carved a SCUBA diver carved into their pumpkin, which clearly is an audience pleaser with this group. Two people who came from the Aquarium group placed 2nd and 3rd with their pumpkins. Crystal carved a ship being attacked by a squid and Taylor carved tortoise or a turtle. They were really awesome pumpkin designs and they worked very hard to bring them designs to life.

Events like this really do help to create camaraderie and to bring new divers into the fold. It’s a lot of good, old-fashioned fun and way to engage with diving and your friends that’s a little atypical. Here at the Aquarium we have divers in the water every day. A number of them got their start at White Star Quarry. If you’re interested learning to dive, check out Professional Diving Resources. Maybe next year you can carve pumpkins with us!

Author: Halle M.

5 Things I Learned about the Sea Lamprey

It’s October and we thought we’d learn a little about a blood-sucking invasive species you can find in the Great Lakes . . . sea lampreys! Here are 5 facts about this distinctive-looking animal. #cleaquarium #natureiscurious

Some people say it looks like an eel, others think it looks like the stuff of nightmares. In truth, this cartilaginous, jawless fish with smooth, scaleless skin is a parasite, meaning that it gets its nourishment from another host organism.

As you can clearly see, a sea lamprey has a suction cup mouth ringed with sharp teeth. It will latch on to a fish and use its rough, file-like tongue to rasp away at scales and skin in order to feed on the host’s blood and bodily fluids.  Not many—maybe 1 in 7—of the fish that a sea lamprey attaches to and feeds on will survive the ordeal, and it’s estimated that a single lamprey will kill more than 40 or more pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Sea lampreys are native to the northern and western Atlantic Ocean, but thanks to manmade locks and shipping canals, they found their way into the Great Lakes in the 1800s where, because they prey on whitefish, lake trout and salmon, they’ve disrupted the freshwater ecosystem.

Not all lampreys are invasive to the Great Lakes. There are actually a number of native lampreys including the silver, the American brook and the Northern brook, but the sea lamprey is a significantly bigger predator.  

A sea lamprey has a very well-developed sense of smell and uses odors to navigate and communicate. That’s why researchers have tried using both pheromones and the scent of decaying sea lampreys to help with trapping efforts.

So, while you (understandably) might have no desire to see a sea lamprey up-close, you can learn about Ohio’s native and invasive species on your next visit to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Nature. It’s a curious thing.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery

Author: Samantha F.

Meet Your New Favorite Animals, the Surinam Toads @CLEAquarium

Aquarist Maggie H. feeds the Surinam toads (who shovel the meals in their mouths most adorably) and explains why she’s such a big fan of these unusual animals.

Hey guys! My name is Maggie and I’m an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Today I’m going to tell you a little bit about Surinam toads . Surinam toads are native to northern South America where they spend most of their time lying in wait in the bottoms of rivers, streams and ponds disguised as leaves. They are very still most of the day, blending in exceptionally well with their surroundings.

Even though their name implies they are toads, they’re actually frogs. They get that name due to their exceptionally bumpy and textured skin.

In the wild, these animals would eat a varied diet of small fish, crustaceans and worms. Here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium they get a similar diet of earthworms, squid tentacles and fillets of freshwater fish. Their eyes are quite small, so to help them find food they have small, star-shaped sensory organs on each digit of their forelegs. Their strong, muscular back legs are used for swimming.

In addition to their odd appearance, reproduction for this species is also very unique. The toads locate each other using a loud, metallic-sounding clicking noise. Once a male and female find each other,  amplexus, or a spawning ritual, will begin. The toads will do a series of movements in the water column that culminates with the female laying anywhere from 60 to 100 eggs which the male then fertilizes and presses into a thick pad of skin on her back. There they will develop for several months before her babies swim out fully formed and able to provide for themselves.

The toads and I are looking forward to seeing you at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium soon.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Tropical Forest Gallery

Author: Maggie H.

Get to Know the Longnose Gar @CLEAquarium

The Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery highlights animals native to this region and it’s where you’ll find several longnose gar. Watch aquarist Laura B. feed them whole, small trout while she tells you more about these distinctive fish. #natureiscurious

Hi! I’m Laura and I’m an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and today I’m feeding some of our native species in the gamefish exhibit. In fact, right now I’m going to feed the longnose gar .

Longnose gar get their name from their elongated jaws, which have needle-like snouts. They have rows of cone-shaped teeth on the top and bottom of those jaws that help them trap small fish, insects and crustaceans. Today they’ll be eating whole, small trout.

The longnose gar have a very wide distribution. They’re found all throughout the Midwest and Eastern United States. They’re found in areas with vegetation and downed trees. They have gills, but they’re also able to breathe air which makes them able to adapt to low oxygen environments. They’ve been found in brackish water in coastal areas.

Gar are pretty special because they don’t have typical scales like normal fish. They have what are known as ganoid scales, which have serrated edges and don’t overlap like an average fish you might see. Full-grown adult gar are what are known as apex predators. That means that there are very few species that will prey on them. The only two predators really are alligators and humans. They will live to be about 15 to 25 years old. Typically they’ll be 2- to 3-feet long but they have been known to grow up to be 6 feet long and 55 pounds.

Personally, I think the gar are very interesting. Their fossils go back 100 million years, which is absolutely fascinating. I think they’re underrated. They’re very pretty. They have those dark patches that kind of help them blend in with their surroundings and that long body shape, which is pretty unique of all the species found in this region.

Where to Find @CLEAquarium: Ohio Lakes & Rivers Gallery

Author: Laura B.

5 Things I Learned about Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crabs get their name from a rounded carapace, or exoskeleton, that’s u-shaped like a horse’s shoe. They have jointed legs, a hard shell, an exoskeleton and a segmented body, but they don’t have antennae or a jaw. These arthropods are more closely related to spiders or scorpions than they are to what we think of as true crabs, and they are really fascinating (and important) creatures. Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. Tracing the ancestry of these invertebrates would result in a massive family tree. Horseshoe crabs have been around for hundreds of millions of years, even longer than the dinosaurs!
  2. It might not be fine dining, but it gets the job done. A horseshoe crab’s diet consists of sea worms, mollusks and crustaceans. Because horseshoe crabs don’t have jaws or teeth, they’ll break up food between their legs before pushing it into their mouths. Like birds, a gizzard further grinds that food down. Any undigested bone or shell particles are regurgitated.
  3. Their spiky telsons are nothing to fear. They look like barbs or stingers, but those tails are actually pretty fragile. Horseshoe crabs use them to dig, to steer and to right themselves after swimming upside down or being flipped by a wave.
  4. Horseshoe crabs are slow growers. And because that hard exoskeleton doesn’t grow with them, they regularly develop new, slightly larger shells and shed their old ones. It’s a process called molting.  They’ll do this 16 to 17 times before they reach full adult size.
  5. They’re very important animals. Not only do horseshoe crabs play a big role in their ecosystems—providing a source of food for migratory seabirds, sea turtles, alligators and even sharks—but they are also important to human health. Because their blue, copper-based blood quickly clumps up in the presence of bacterial toxins, it can be used to test for contamination in things like injectable drugs, surgical implants and medical equipment.

While there are synthetic alternatives in development, today pharmaceutical companies developing COVID-19 vaccines are using horseshoe crab blood to test for potential bacterial contamination. Pretty amazing, right? Don’t miss these little lifesavers in the Coastal Boardwalk Gallery the next time you visit the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

Author: Samantha F.

What Do You Know About the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark?

Not all sharks look like the ones you see in the movies. Aquarist Mallory H. tells you all about the brownbanded bamboo shark at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Next time you visit, look for this #shark in the Coastal Gallery!

#clefinfest #cleaquarium #natureiscurious #sharkweek

Hi! I’m Mallory and today I’m going to be talking about our brownbanded bamboo shark. The brownbanded bamboo shark is found in the Indo-West Pacific between Japan and northern Australia.

They’re also known as cat sharks due to cat-like whiskers which are called nasal barbels. They are a sensory organ that helps them find food.

Brownbanded bamboo sharks grow to be about three feet long so our male is fully grown. They have light brown bodies with some darker banding which is how they get their name.

Brownbanded bamboo sharks will swim along the bottom and suck any food up that they find. Typically they are nocturnal hunters.

They typically hunt in tide pools so if the tide goes out they can actually survive outside of the water for up to 12 hours. Our brownbanded bamboo shark eats frozen shrimp, scallops and fish.

In the wild they may be in groups to help protect each other in open environments. They like to hang out in crevices on coral reefs and they try to blend in.

They are listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List due to habitat deterioration, pollution and hunting for human consumption and trade.

My favorite thing about the brownbanded bamboo shark is watching him eat when he will kind of prop himself up on his pec fins.

He’ll suck up the food and prop himself up on peck fins and I just think that’s very cute behavior that they do.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Coastal Boardwalk Gallery

Author: Mallory H.

Food Prep @CLEAquarium: Shark Pole Feed

Sr. Aquarist Brenton M. shows you what and how we feed the sharks. (Stick with it and you can see another Shark Gallery resident snag a treat.)

Hi everyone! My name is Brent Maille. I’m the Senior Aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Today we’re gonna talk a little bit about our shark feed. So we typically pole feed our sharks.

A lot of people can ask what we feed our sharks and what it kind of looks like and what the preparation for that is. Today we’re going to be feeding our sharks. We have actually prethawed some mackerel here and typically for every shark feed we’ll feed between 18 and 20 pounds of fish. We rotate through a variety of fish, so some days we’ll use mackerel, herring, mullet, bonito and sometimes we’ll get in specialty food items like skate and different types of seasonal foods.

We try to recreate what they would be eating in the ocean as best as we can here at the Aquarium. In addition to that we can also do vitamin supplementation with our food here. The vitamins are small, little capsules we actually can then put inside of the fish before it’s fed out. Sometimes just like your pets at home or maybe even the kids, they don’t want to take the medicine, so we can sneak it in their favorite fish items and they eat it quite a bit better that way.

After our fish here is all thawed out we’re ready to feed it. We will then take it out to our feeding platform in the exhibit. Two aquarists we’ll go out there, we’ll feed the sharks on the end of a big, long pole and typically even though we call it a shark feed, we’re not forcing the animals to eat.

We’ll offer it to them and our sharks have kind of picked up on the behaviors that when the pole is in the water and there’s fish on the end of it, that’s the time to come over and eat. That way they can kind of differentiate this food is intended for you. We typically don’t have any issues with them picking up on that idea and that way they’re not chasing after their tank mates and trying to think that they’re food.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Shark Gallery

Author: Brenton M.

Watch Mallory Feed the Silver Screen Exhibit @CLEAquarium

See Mallory feed the “Silver Screen” jacks as the Greater Cleveland Aquarium aquarist shares information on schooling fish.

Hi! I’m Mallory. I’m one of the essential staff here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium taking care of our animals and today I’m going to be showing you how we feed our Silver Screen exhibit.

So we have three different species of jacks in here. The lookdowns are the ones that you’re seeing the most of. They are kind of the flat-faced ones. We have our golden trevallies which are the yellow ones with the black stripes on them. And they’ll lose that yellow color as they get bigger and they can actually grow to be up to 4 feet, so they’re going to get quite a bit bigger. And then our third species of jack is our palometas which are the ones with the black fins. There’s only a couple of them in there and they’re pretty close to full-grown, so they’re going to stay about that size.

And all of those species of jacks can be found in the Atlantic Ocean. And then we do have our brownbanded bamboo shark that’s in here. They’re also sometimes called catsharks and that’s because they can have a whisker-like appendage in the front of their face so it helps them kind of feel things out.

Today we’re going to be feeding about three pounds of capelin. They get a variety of different fish. Today is capelin. Sometimes they’ll get herring and squid and all sorts of other saltwater fish.

This exhibit, our Silver Screen exhibit is kind of meant to show how schooling fish work. So schooling fish are going to be in big, large groups and that’s because there’s safety in numbers. If a predator were to come by it’s going to be a lot harder for that predator to pick off the fish versus just chasing down a fish that might be on its own.

One of the ways that schooling fish can do this is because they have something called a lateral line. That lateral line is directly connected to their nervous system and it’s a line that goes down the side of their body and it’s going to be very sensitive to any movement or pressure changes in the water. So as soon as the food hits the water or if there’s a predator nearby, the very first fish that’s going to sense that is going to move and then all of them are going to sense at the exact same time.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Coastal Boardwalk Gallery

Author: Mallory H.

See Us Feed Lionfish and more @CLEAquarium

Aquarist Laura B. dishes on the appetites of lionfish, a dog-faced puffer and yellow blotch rabbitfish. #natureiscurious

Hi everybody! I’m Laura. I’m an aquarist here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. I’m one of the essential animal care staff and today we’re going to be feeding the lionfish exhibit.

So the lionfish that you’re seeing here are indiscriminate feeders so what that means is that they will eat anything that they can fit in their mouths. That makes them especially large of a problem because they are invasive and they do take over natural habitats by destroying everything that they come across because they will just eat it.

The pufferfish that you’re seeing here… he’s got those big front teeth that he can use to crush shells, so I’ll be feeding him a muscle. It is too big for the lionfish to eat. They’ll try but he’ll go down there to the the bottom and get it.

So the rabbitfish that you’re seeing here…he is an omnivore. He will eat plants and meat as well. So here we’ll be eating an herb gel today. It’s a type of mixture that we make with plants and proteins that we just mix up. It’s one of his favorites. It’s good for him to get a mixture of both so it gives him that well-balanced diet. He will also be getting a leaf of lettuce that he can kind of graze through. In the wild he would be grazing algae off of the structures that he comes across or off the reefs.

Where to find @CLEAquarium: Industry & Habitat Gallery

Author: Laura B.