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5 Things I Learned About Shovelnose Sturgeon

When I joined the Greater Cleveland Aquarium team, I realized I hadn’t even skimmed the surface when it came to understanding aquatic life. Now I am diving into learning about a different animal each week.

This time my lesson focuses on the shovelnose sturgeon, an animal that embodies that phrase “age before beauty.” According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, sturgeons pre-date many fish species—“appearing in the fossil record approximately 200 million years ago.” Here’s what I have learned about the prehistoric creature:


If you’d like to see a shovelnose up close, visit us anytime at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium—where curiosity is only natural.

World Oceans Day

Imagine living in a beautiful, underwater world where there’s nothing but the rays of the sun and your fellow aquatic friends surrounding you. Then the next thing you know, you’re surrounded by a sea of… what’s that? Pollution. Trash floating everywhere. There’s nothing more alarming to marine life than being caught in a fishing net or consuming litter that is extremely harmful to the animal’s life.


To get a glimpse of how harmful pollution can be for the animals, here are some alarming statistics. Plastic takes about 400 years to degrade in the water. Remember that favorite can of soda you love drinking? Well that takes about 200 years to degrade in the ocean. In the meantime, the pollution just hangs around, harming any animal in its way. According to Plastic Oceans, “1 in 3 species of all marine mammals have been found entangled in marine litter.” As tourists and even local people, we have to be more mindful of our actions and what we can do to protect our oceans.

cans in the ocean

Another dangerous effect of trash floating and sinking in the ocean are the chemicals that the pollution can emit. Fish and other animals will consume these chemicals, potentially killing them and even causing negative side effects to humans. How you ask? The fish consume the marine litter. We catch the fish and then we eat the fish. Now we have the same chemicals in our body that make us sick. The thing is, the animals don’t know what they’re about to be tangled in or consume. We know exactly what we’re putting into the ocean, but also may not realize the effects it has on our aquatic friends. So what can you do to help revive our oceans and save our underwater world?

marine litter

We as humans and ocean lovers need to be more conscious of pollution in the ocean and on the beaches. By picking up all of your trash, you’re reducing the chance of the waves snatching it during high tide and being carried into the ocean. If you see trash laying on the beach or in the ocean, don’t be afraid to grab it and throw it away or recycle it. Even the most simple act of picking up one water bottle can lead to a whole movement of reduced pollution and one more sea creature living a longer life. No matter who or how old you are, you can make a difference in protecting marine life making our oceans a cleaner and safer place.





5 Things I Learned About Lionfish

When I joined the Aquarium marketing team, I realized exactly how much I didn’t know about sea creatures. That’s why I plan to dive into learning aquatic life by spending time in the exhibits and talking to our aquarists. Lesson 1? Lionfish. Here are five things I’ve discovered about this beautifully banded fish with a voracious appetite.

In the last week, researchers have released a recording of lionfish that sounds a little like a drumbeat. Want to hear it? Click here.

And of course, if you want to see the lionfish in the video from 360-degree views, visit us anytime at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium in the First Energy Powerhouse on the West Bank of the Flats.

Celebrating World Turtle Day

IMG_4497African Sideneck Turtle

The African Sideneck Turtle is a freshwater turtle, originally discovered in Eastern and Southern Africa, with a lifespan of 25+ years. These turtles are most active during the day and in the wild they spend most of their time in the mud of shallow lakes and rivers. African Sidenecks mainly consume invertebrates such as: insects (crickets), mealworms, and worms. They got their name due to the fact that they cannot fully withdraw their head into their shell. Instead, the head is turned to the side and folded under the upper edge of the shell.

podocnemis-unifilis-a122_p3_0Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle

Similar to the African Sideneck, the Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle cannot fully withdraw its head into its shell. These turtles are native to the Amazon River basin and can be found in the amazon and Orinoco river systems in Venezuela, eastern Colombia, eastern Ecuador, northeastern Peru, the Guianas, Brazil, and northern Bolivia. They are omnivorous and feed on both vegetation and small animals. And they love to spend time basking along the riverbanks and in the calm waters of big rivers and streams. The oldest known Yellow-Spotted Amazon River Turtle living in human care reached 23 years of age, but they can live up to 70 years!


IMG_9058Ohio Spotted Turtle

The Ohio Spotted Turtle is a small (less than six inches) black turtle with distinctive yellow spots on the top of the shell, or carapace. The Spotted Turtle populations have declined greatly throughout Ohio due to people altering wetlands and thereby destroying its natural habitat. These turtles have a preference for the shallow, sluggish waters of ditches, small streams, marshes, bogs, and pond edges – especially where vegetation is abundant. They feed on plant and animal matter taken underwater. If this turtle is disturbed it may quickly dive for safety, or it may leisurely walk into the water and swim to the bottom where it may remain motionless, burrow into the muck, or crawl beneath some sheltering object such as a submerged log.


The Spotted Turtle Project

Member organizations of the Lake Erie Allegheny Partnership for Biodiversity (LEAP) are dedicated to the protection and restoration of biological diversity in our region. LEAP members have formed the Save and Protect Ohio Turtle Diversity (SPOTD) committee. The goals of this committee are to:

  • Increase survivorship of turtle hatchlings
  • Repatriate populations of this Ohio Threatened species in protected habitats within Northeast Ohio
  • Increase recruitment of these animals into the adult populations
  • Educate the public and involve local academics through research

There are many threats today that have a great impact on Spotted Turtle populations, such as:

  • Wetland Loss/Degradation
  • Habitat Fragmentation
  • Illegal Harvest/Pet Trade
  • Roadway Mortality
  • Climate Change
  • Human-caused increases in Meso-Predator Populations (i.e. Raccoon)
  • Delayed Sexual Maturity
  • Low Reproductive Potential
  • Pollution

During the months of March-May, if you see this yellow spotted, black turtle anywhere in Northeast Ohio as you are hiking through trails and natural areas, let the SPOTD committee know by emailing

For more information on this project visit Leap’s website.

O-fish-ally The Best Moms


The female lays about six to eight eggs in a very secluded group of trees. Usually, it can find a very safe hollow within the roots, visible only by careful observation. These eggs are undeveloped, and are only about half a nailsbreadth in width. There are usually many more female eggs than male eggs, about a two to one ratio.

As soon as the eggs are hatched, the male leaves and the females are left to take care of the newborns. This process sounds difficult, but because of the rapid rate at which they mature, only about a month to reach full size, the mother is actually not unduly challenged. They must be very carefully as to not aggravate a female by not checking to make sure the tissue between their anal fins is still intact. This is almost never a problem, but if it does happen the female will answer by fiercely by blowing water in the face of the male.

Giant Pacific Octopus

Giant Pacific Octopus has one successful brood in her lifetime. After mating, a female will lay up to 74,000 eggs or more in a deep den or cave and live there for seven months watching over them. During this time, dedicated mothers won’t venture out for food, and shortly after the young hatch, the mother will die.

Banggai Cardinal fish

The female spawns a mass of up to 75 large eggs (a very small number for a marine fish). These are quickly swallowed by the male, and brooded in a special pouch inside the mouth. A unique feature of these cardinal fish is their manner of mouth brooding reproduction. Typically cardinalfish incubate their eggs orally until they hatch, at which point the fry swim away and enter the water column. Females aggressively defend its territory by immediately chasing any intruders that approach the brooding male.


Young stingray pups hatch from eggs inside the female and are released from her body alive. Its reproduction period is June through October. Cownose rays typically produce one pup per pregnancy, though there have been reports of six concurrent embryos in a female.

World Water Day

Last week the Greater Cleveland Aquarium hosted Drink Local Drink Tap’s educational event, World Water Day for the fourth year. Since 2010, Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc. (DLDT) has led educational, youth focused events on the United Nation’s International World Water Day (WWD) every March 22nd.

Last Wednesday, DLDT brought 300 Wavemaker Program students to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium for a day of exploration, water education and awards thanks to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

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Students from Lake County Catholic, Citizens Leadership, Lakewood Catholic Academy and more explored the aquarium and visited interactive learning stations provided by Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District, Great Lake Erie Boat Float, and Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.

IMG_3446  IMG_3530

The day’s presentations, posters and activities focused on the importance of local water resources and the accessibility of safe drinking water around the world. One of the activities involved students decorating water jugs to carry around all day as a constant, visual reminder of the day’s theme.

IMG_3481  IMG_3532

If you want to learn more about the work of Drink Local Drink Tap, World Water Day, or how to be more involved visit

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.”

Conserving Lake Erie and Our Great Lakes

For many of us who live in Northeast Ohio, Lake Erie is a place where we can visit and have fun. The scenic beaches, great fishing, boating and other recreational opportunities are all reasons people are living by such a great waterway.  Lake Erie and its counterparts; Huron, Michigan, Superior, and Ontario are important for many more reasons than being fun to visit. Formed 10,000 years ago as the glaciers retreated forming large depressions that filled with water, the great lakes took on their familiar formation that they are found today. These lakes provide critical habitat for thousands of native species, supply vast amounts of drinking water to millions of people and served as important connection route to the Atlantic Ocean via the Saint Lawrence River.

The Great Lakes impressively span over 94,000 square miles and hold about 6 quadrillion gallons of water!  That accounts for 20% of the world’s fresh water reserves and 90% of the U.S.’s drinking water supply1. The people of the United States aren’t the only ones who depend on the Great Lakes fresh water; Canada does too with about 35 million people from both countries living within the Great Lakes Basin. When combined, all five lakes make up 10,000 miles of shoreline2. This shoreline is made up of forested areas, urban centers, and wetlands.

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Great Lakes

There are many benefits to the Great Lakes for both people and wildlife. As a whole, the lakes bring in about $4.5 billion just with the sport fishing industry3.  Many fishermen enjoy catching walleye, lake trout, perch and other sport fish.  Recent studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) found that the revenue brought in from all economic activities such as boating, fishing, hunting and wildlife watching in the Great Lake States amounted to $50 billion5! The lakes and surrounding basin is home to 3,500 species of plants and animals, including more than 170 species of fish4. They also provide critical breeding and migrating areas for colonial and migratory birds.

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Now, lets recap the importance of our Great Lakes: large revenues for local economies brought in through the wildlife and recreation uses, home to thousands of natural species of plants and animals, thousands of miles of beautiful shorelines used both for natural and developmental purposes, and most importantly serve as 90% of the U.S. citizens drinking water.  With so many important factors built into the Great Lakes we must too consider the threats.

Many of us living within Northeast Ohio can joke about the time in 1969 that the Cuyahoga River caught fire because it was polluted from decades of dumping industrial waste, but this shouldn’t be a laughing matter. Today, while Ohio has cleaned up Lake Erie, there are still active threats to our waterways including; invasive species, pollution, and wetland destruction.

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Invasive species have already changed the ecology of our lakes.  Zebra mussels and the sea lamprey are now comfortably adapted to the lakes.  Zebra mussels can be found sticking to any hard surface-being docks, rocks and even boats.  They are such efficient filter feeders that while they do contribute to clearer water, they also make it harder for small fish to catch a meal.  The Sea lamprey has successfully out competed the native lake trout as the top predator in 4 out of 5 of the Great Lakes.  Only Lake Superior has a natural breeding population that can still out compete the sea lamprey.  The other four lakes have to be annually restocked with lake trout to keep their numbers viable2.  One invasive fish that has yet to make its way to the Great Lakes is the Asian Carp, a prolific feeder with no natural predators.  It will out compete many of the large carnivorous fish within our lakes if it is able to cross from the Mississippi waterway.

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Sea Lampray

Chemical contaminants are another important threat that cannot be ignored. Pollutants such as DDT and PCBs, while not as much as a threat as they were in the 70’s and 80’s are still contributors to much of the contaminants found in the lakes, built up as a result of over use of insecticides on our farms and improper disposal of coolant fluids.  Chemicals such as mercury can build up in fish as a result of the emissions from coal burning plants. Excessive use of nutrients and fertilizers on big farms leach into ground water and end up in the lakes causing harmful algal blooms that can make people sick1.

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Satellite photo of 2011 toxic algae bloom (shown in green)

Wetlands are important wildlife refuges that are becoming threatened from human and invasive animal impacts. Important wetland ecology is being disrupted through increased development from both home building and industrial use.  Even the introduction of our new invasive species can harm important food web ecology.  It may sound like the stuff of nightmares, but there is hope, and it comes from people like you!

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Many foundations including the National Science Foundation, NOAA, the Sierra Club and many other Non-Profit organizations are here to help us keep our Great Lakes in good condition.  There are also important policies in place such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that help police big businesses from dumping pollutants and protecting our waterways.  The biggest difference though, can come from you!  Did you know that there are things you can do to make Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes great?  Even by supporting policies that create renewable energy or by using energy efficient products, you can help keep our water clean and wildlife safe6. Also, remember that you can be helpful just by conserving water: take shorter showers, don’t excessively water your lawn, and turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. It may all sound like small contributions, but if everyone chips in, we will keep our Great Lakes in great condition for future generations.

Miscellaneous ways you can help our lakes7:

To Reduce Invasive Species:

*If you are an angler or a boater, power wash your boat and trailer before putting it into another body of water, or let it dry for at least five days.

*Drain your bait wells, bait buckets, and other equipment on land, not into the water.

*Never release live fish or aquatic plants into the wild, such as aquarium fish or species such as the Asian carp.

*Do not leave the bank or shore of any water with any live fish or live fish eggs, including leftover minnows.

To reduce polluted runoff:

*Use rain barrels to collect water.

*Don’t put yard waste in the roads.

*Reduce use of pesticides and fertilizers.

*Use non-toxic cleaning products in your home.

*Do not burn trash.

*Dispose of medications at proper facilities.




3 Aquatic nuisance species in the New York State Canal and Hudson River systems and the Great Lakes Basin: an economic and environmental assessment.” Environ Manage. 2005 May;35(5):692-702.


5 NOAA’s Great Lakes Region



My First Time Diving

I never would have expected that the first time I donned my gear and stepped into the water that my life would be forever altered.

As a zoology major I took a special interest in Marine Science. While looking at potential jobs, I realized that getting my scuba diving certification would be a necessity. So, after classroom and pool instruction, one early May Saturday morning I woke up before the crack of dawn and made my way to Gilboa Quarry.

Being my first dive and not knowing what to expect had me both excited and nervous. The water was a brisk 45 degrees so I was instructed to wear gloves and a hood, which I had never practiced before. The feeling was restrictive which only made my nerves worse. Although I was scared, I was exhilarated knowing I was finally going to dive, so I took a deep breath and jumped in.

Being in the water was amazing. I felt like I was entering an entirely different world. Visibility of at least 40 feet made my experience with seeing the rainbow trout, perch, catfish and paddlefish more than I expected.

When I reached the underwater platform, we began to practice the skills we learned in class. When I was instructed to take off my mask and put it back on, I started to freak out. I had a million thoughts running through my head. Will this be different from what I practiced with a hood on? Will I be able to breathe? Will I be stuck with a water-filled mask? Luckily we were not far from the surface so I went up and calmed myself down.

Once I collected myself, the instructor walked me through everything and I realized that I would be completely fine. After practicing a few more skills in the water, we followed my instructor for a “fun dive”. This consisted of stare downs with perch, swimming through tire obstacles, feeding zebra mussels to blue gills, pretending to jump on a trampoline, playing rock paper scissors, and lots and lots of smiling. Actually, I kept flooding my mask with water because every time I smiled, water cracked through the bottom of my mask! However, I didn’t care; I cleared it as practiced and focused on the underwater world in front of me. It felt like the quarry went on forever, finding new treasures and organisms every inch we went. We explored the inside of sunken airplanes, cars, boats, helicopters and buses. Some of these are things I’ve never even experienced on land!

The most memorable part of this dive was when our instructor took us over the big sunken school bus. He stopped us before we swam and gave us some weird hand signals that we thought meant, “follow me”. We were wrong… we followed him over and rested at the top. In an instant, we are surrounded by at least 100 fish; big, small, brown, yellow, hungry, starving. Us students were laughing into our regulators; flailing our arms in a tornado of fish until eventually we swam away panting. After we got out of the water, turns out those hand signals meant, “swim on the side of the bus, and don’t go over it.” Apparently that bus is a place instructors go with food to feed the fish, so they always swarm there (thanks for the warning instructor am I right?) After what felt like an exhilarating few hours, we surfaced only to find twenty-three minutes had passed. Time slows when you’re underwater, and thankfully so.

I had the time of my life. My eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing, my brain couldn’t believe I was breathing and my heart couldn’t believe I’ve missed this feeling for twenty two years of my life. Though its embarrassing to say, I climbed out of the water only to run to my mom and tell her, “I can’t wait to get back in!!!” with a gigantic smile on my face.

That first dive, six months ago, has lead me to my current position as an Exhibit Diver here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and I happily wake up at 6am everyday anxious to get in the water.

To see what I explored on my first dive, click here!