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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.

Backyard Wildlife

Springtime, for many people, intuitively brings an awareness of renewal and life. The trees flower, the insects emerge, and of course baby wildlife is a wondrous sight. What can equal the rapture upon observing a baby deer take its first steps or a little bird learning to fly? People may come across baby animals in their backyards while clearing brush from last fall, when they begin to mow their lawns, or trimming trees and bushes. Sometimes, accidents happen and can leave wildlife injured or orphaned. Often, these people then want to then care for the animals and raise them. Although the intention is well-placed, most people do not have the information or resources to accomplish this properly and for the optimal health of the animals. This is where wildlife rehabilitators come in.

wildlife-rehabilitation-hawkA wildlife rehabilitator is a person who has acquired the knowledge and permits, and understands the commitment involved in caring for an orphaned or injured animal. In Ohio, it is actually illegal to rear wildlife without a permit. This is for the protection of not only the wildlife, but also the people who wish to help. Wildlife can carry bacteria and viruses that are harmful to people; these types of illnesses are called zoonotic diseases. The wildlife rehabilitator would have gone through training to be able to identify the symptoms of such diseases and can take measures to protect oneself and provide the proper care for the animal.

1520362404_8d93ec1490_zFurther, baby animals require highly specific diets vital to their growth and development. Cow’s milk from the store is not even a close substitute for most of the wildlife a person would come across. Just imagine the tiny bones of a squirrel and the functionality they provide that animal when dashing through the trees. The ingredients in cow milk are simply not suited for helping form those little skeletons. Likewise, feeding worms to a baby bird whose diet should consist of mostly seed is not only detrimental to its growth, but often fatal. An animal that is fed the wrong diet will quite frankly starve to death because it is not getting the nutrients required for its species. Wildlife rehabilitators have the permits, education, and experience to provide the proper care for an animal that needs help.

 

Conversely, many times a baby animal is found, it is not in need of human assistance. Many times the animal is healthy, but the parents are away finding food or deterring predators. No person educated or otherwise can provide the equivalent care that a mother can. It is always best to try to reunite with the parents before attempting to bring that animal into a captive environment. If the animal is injured or the parents are known to be dead, that of course would invite human help. When capturing an animal in need of assistance, personal safety should always be the priority. Animal will bite, no matter how cute they appear. Once the animal is captured, it should be placed in a dark, quiet place until it can be transported to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator, which should happen as soon as possible. The animal should not receive any food or water! Depending on the animal and what circumstances led to the need for assistance, this can be dangerous. An animal whose body temperature has dropped below normal, for example, can die if given food or water to try to digest in addition to trying to bring its temperature back up. This simply places too much stress on the body and it will shut down. The animal must be taken to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible to legally receive the proper diet and medical care.

Why would the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, which has fish, care about local wildlife, you may ask. The Greater Cleveland Aquarium, as a conservation organization, takes an interest in this topic because it is a conservation and stewardship issue. GCA has some animals in its care that were rescues and required a permanent home. We strive to provide the best care for the animals for which we are responsible, and wish to see the same for any species. Remember to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator if you come across an animal in need. Please do not attempt to raise the animal on your own. It is difficult, not to mention illegal, to do so.

Pups With a Purpose

Here’s How Fur and Fins Come Together at the Aquarium

Canine Companions for Independence provides highly trained assistance dogs to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. Yesterday the Northern Ohio Chapter visited the Greater Cleveland Aquarium with 8 dogs in training.

The organization, founded in 1975 and based in California, breeds, raises and trains dogs that, according to its website, are matched with adults, children or veterans with a disabilities, or professionals assisting clients with special needs. As you can see in these photos, must pups are a Labrador/Golden Retriever crossbreed.

During their visit, volunteers started by working on basic commands. After 24 months of training, these dogs will be able to respond to 30-40 commands ranging from “sit” to “vertical” (used eventually to turn wall light switches on or off).

The volunteer group, consisting of 10-15 active members in Northeast Ohio, meets twice a month and expose the future service dogs to being in active, populated spaces. The canines in training try out different modes of transportation and explore attractions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the Great Lakes Science Center.

“Any place you can think of, they go,” Staicey Scholtz, Volunteer Chapter President. “The [West Side] Market is a great chance for training not only because of the crowd, but because of the smell. In service these dogs will visit various market settings and the odors can be a lot for them.”

The process doesn’t end after their training in Cleveland. Service dogs receive another 6-8 months of professional training, where more specific commands are taught geared toward the need of those on the 1-3-year waitlist. After a 2-week team training where those in need of a service dog meet their partner, a graduation ceremony marks the official “handing over of the leash.”

Canine Companions for Independence is the longest and oldest service dog organization, placing approximately 400 dogs a year, free of charge.

“It’s so great to know you’re making such a difference for someone,” added Scholtz. “That’s the goal and it’s the best part of the whole process.”

Endangered Species

What exactly does endangered mean? You often hear species described as “endangered” but what does that imply? When an animal is deemed “endangered”, it means that species is likely to become extinct if changes in the conservation strategy are not altered. The term endangered is one of many classifications on the Red List created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of thousands of biological species and is used to assess their extinction risk.

 

 Extinct to Least Concern

This figure shows the relationships of the different classifications of the IUCN Red List *EX-Extinct, EW-Extinct in the wild, CR- Critically endangered, EN- Endangered, VU-Vulnerable, NT- Not Threatened, LC-Least Concern

 According to the 2015 Red List, 3,801 animals are listed as endangered. Species at higher risk are classified as critically endangered which is only one step below extinct in the wild. There are 2,542 animals in this critically endangered category. 5,639 animals are classified as vulnerable; this means that these species will likely become endangered unless the circumstances threatening their survival improve.

As you walk through the Greater Cleveland Aquarium you can spot some of these threatened species. In the Ohio Lakes and Rivers Gallery, you will find our spotted turtle (endangered) and shovelnose sturgeon (vulnerable). As you make your way through our ocean exhibit your eyes will be drawn up towards some of our largest residents, our sand tiger and sandbar sharks, both of which are classified as  vulnerable.

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There’s also another very important species in the exhibit: the critically endangered goliath grouper.

girl with fish

You’ll likely find this fish in the very front of the exhibit, often tucked between a few of our nurse sharks. This impressive fish can grow to be 8 feet in length and weigh up to 800 lbs. Naturally residing in shallow, tropical waters along the Atlantic coast this fish was often sought after by fishermen. Their fearless nature made them especially easy prey for spear fishermen.    Unfortunately, due to their large size, slow growth and reproductive rate these fish are very susceptible to overfishing. This has led to severe population declines, classifying them as critically endangered.

Goliath groupers are now protected from harvest: if you catch one it must be released immediately. These sanctions set in place are beginning to positively impact the grouper populations. There are many other ways you can help threatened species like the goliath grouper:

  • Recycle! A lot of trash ends up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans. This is very bad for the organisms that call these places home. By keeping trash out of these areas, species will have a better environment to thrive in! (The GCA hosts beach cleanups throughout the year!)
  • Fish responsibly and support responsible fishing methods! Millions of tons of marine species are caught each year as bycatch. Sometimes this bycatch significantly outweighs the intentional catch. This poses a serious threat to many marine species including dolphins, whales, sharks, and turtles.
  • Actively support legislation to prevent overfishing. Many species are now threatened due to overfishing and irresponsible fishing methods. Help support regulations to protect marine species!

Find and Watch Dory, But Don’t Buy Her

With the recent release of Finding Dory, marine life organizations want to remind families of being a proper pet ownership for fish.

In the movie Finding Dory, the main character is a Blue Tang. At the moment, Blue Tangs cannot be bred in captivity. What some marine life organizations fear is that Blue Tangs will be pulled out from the wild and attempted to be sold in pet stores. When that happens, collectors will double their efforts to obtain more blue tangs, and that will inevitably lead to their coral reefs habitats in the Coral Triangle being harmed. While blue tangs are sold as 1- to 2-inch animals, they reach 12 inches as adults and have difficult care requirements, making them unsuitable for most home aquarists.

Similarly, this happened with Clownfish with the release of Finding Nemo. After the release, sales skyrocketed for Clownfish. These fish are different from Blue Tangs in that they can be good for a beginner pet fish owner and can be bred in captivity. According to Variety, “By 2012, the orange and white stripped fish were the fifth-most imported species in the United States. In the process, wild populations of Clownfish in countries such as the Philippines were decimated.”

The positive from movies such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory is the spike in interest from all different age ranges about marine life.  The opportunity for education now presents itself about fish, aquarium keeping and other topics to discuss in the classroom and at home.

Disney developed educational materials for those who may look for more information regarding pet fish ownership, including recommendations that “Blue tangs, like Dory, do not make good pets so instead choose appropriate aquacultured fish.”

Water Quality at the Aquarium

Taking care of the animals at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium means taking care of their homes. Sometimes that means cleaning the décor, and sometimes it means taking care of the water itself…this is where water quality testing comes in. I do most of the water quality testing here at the aquarium.  There are many interesting pieces of equipment (with fancy names) that go into testing, including a spectrophotometer, pH probe, refractometer, and titration kit.

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Spectrophotometer                                                                       

We test for a number of things at different times. Nitrogen is one of the most frequent tests. The nitrogen cycle includes ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Bacteria convert the toxic ammonia from fish wastes to less toxic nitrite, and then to the much less toxic nitrate. We test all of these regularly, adding reagents that will react to the nitrogen, and using the spectrophotometer, a machine that reads the color change and converts it to a measure of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate.

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Blank ammonia test, sample ammonia test, sample nitrite test

Two more very important tests are pH and salinity. Evaporation can change the salinity of the water as the salt gets left behind in the smaller volume of water. When adding water back, it is important to know how much fresh and how much salt water to add to keep the salinity in the narrow range that is best for the animals. These are tested with the pH probe and refractometer directly.

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pH probe                                                refractometer

Alkalinity is related to pH. It is a measure of the buffering capacity of the water; its ability to maintain a steady pH in the face of other changes. We measure this with a titration kit.

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Alkalinity titration

Some animals have special needs, and their water gets additional tests. For example, elasmobranchs such as sharks and rays require iodine, so their water is tested for it. Corals and hard shelled invertebrates like snails require lots of calcium and magnesium to make their shells. These are tested ensure the water always has enough for them. These two tests also use titration methods.

A lot goes in to making sure our animals are healthy and happy. What many people don’t realize is that chemistry plays a large role here at the aquarium in addition to the manual labor and biology that takes place in every day operations. I am lucky enough to participate in these roles for work every day.

Divers, Sharks, and Selfies

I’m a Diver. In fact, I am a really lucky diver who gets to dive every day at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. My job here is Dive Safety Coordinator which means; I do a lot of diving with sharks and train divers how to safely interact with them. The one question I always get asked is, “Aren’t you afraid of sharks?”.

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My answer is, and always has been “NO”, and then people think I am crazy, but let me tell you why I’m not!

As aquarium divers we are extremely conscientious of our proximity to animals in our exhibits. While we are not afraid of the sharks, we do have a healthy respect for them. We take special precautions to maintain safe distances so that we can avoid spooking the sharks or bumping into them. We also need to be careful to keep our hands and arms into our bodies so that we do not accidentally touch a shark. A shark could inflict serious physical injury to a diver if they got smacked by the sharks tail, there powerful bodies can really pack a punch.

We move very slowly and steadily and dive buddies work in teams and act as shark spotters for one another. We also have a special tool called a shark stick. We use this tool as a visual aid, kind of like a stop sign, reminding the sharks to stay a little farther away from the divers. We utilize other methods to reinforce certain desirable behaviors, for example, we feed the sharks with a pole in one area of the exhibit at a consistently set time. This way the sharks do not associate divers with food. By doing these simple things, we the divers, are able to function in the environment with our large sharks without negative interactions. Our sharks are accustomed to seeing divers in the water everyday they are indifferent to our presence. In their eyes we are large awkward fish who produce a lot of annoying bubbles and not a food source.

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Sharks are misunderstood creatures and as a diver who has seen them in the wild I find them absolutely astounding and utterly fascinating to watch. With the current status of our world’s oceans in such disarray it has become increasingly rare to encounter a wild shark. They are not at all the man killers they are made out to be, sharks have garnered one of the worst reputations in the animal kingdom. Most sharks are at best uninterested in humans we are not a food they seek out. Generally, when I have seen a shark while diving they immediately swim away. We humans are their only predators and biggest threat. The numerous ways in which people are decimating the shark population are astounding; every day more than 273,973 sharks are killed by humans.

I don’t know how many times I can say that sharks are not typically dangerous to humans the occasions when sharks have bit people it’s generally mistaken identity.  Check out the relative risk of shark attacks compared to other everyday activities. They now say that the average person is more likely to be killed taking a selfie than by a shark which really puts into perspective the rarity of shark attacks.

Blue Swimsuit self portrait

So, the next time you worry about swimming or diving in the ocean because of shark attacks think about how many selfies you have taken and remember which one kills more people a year.