2016 National Zoo Keeper Week

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

This is one of my favorite times of the year, National Zoo Keeper Week. Since 2007, when Congress declared the 3rd week in July as NZKW, we get to celebrate the dedication of the thousands of men and women that dedicate themselves daily to professional animal care in our nation’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife centers. During my 35 years in the industry, I have seen many changes in our profession. Keepers are the ‘front line educators’ for our guests. People want to know more about the animals under our care, and they want to hear it from the person who takes care of the animals. We are out in the elements 365 days a year. We are out in the freezing snow and ice, we are out in the blazing heat; but we are always out there providing the highest standards of care to the animals that are in our institutions.

As a long-time zoo and aquarium professional, I want everyone to know and appreciate my colleagues in conservation. Our mission is to ‘save wild animals and save wild spaces.’ More keepers today are species population managers. Within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), there are over 600 managed species of animals around the world. Many of these programs are managed by keepers. They travel to the range countries where these animals live, they work with local governments on protecting this species as well as the other flora and fauna that lives in that ecosystem. Keepers do amazing things.

A keeper’s day is more than just feeding and cleaning. Keepers may be involved in environmental enrichment, exhibit design and landscaping, administering medical treatments, or training. They are ‘jacks of all trades.’ Keepers are dieticians, carpenters, designers, horticulturists, public speakers and educators. NZKW

Zoo Keeper is such a generic term sometimes… we are called aquarists, biologists, aviculturists, herpetologist, animal technician or animal care specialist. Whatever you call us… please recognize us as passionate and dedicated to our profession.

At the Newport Aquarium, we are proud of the contributions our biologists make for the preservation of species. They work on committees for the management of the North American populations of animals, they work for the preservation of our local waterways and wetlands, they develop guidelines for care of captive wildlife, and they work for the conservation of habitat and ecosystems for wildlife where they live.

Biologists from Newport Aquarium partnered with Thomas More College, ORSANCO and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to help save endangered freshwater mussels in Kentucky.  Pictured: Jen, Ryan, and Ty.

Biologists from Newport Aquarium partnered with Thomas More College, ORSANCO and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to help save endangered freshwater mussels in Kentucky. Pictured: Jen, Ryan, and Ty.

Newport Aquarium is an accredited member of the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums), which means we meet exceptional standards in animal care, wildlife conservation and public education. Newport Aquarium is one of only 233 accredited institutions in North America, where there are over 3,000 professional animal keepers providing invaluable roles as leaders in animal conservation and the frontline educators.

Spend some time this week visiting and let the keepers know they’re doing a great job!

Celebrate Shark Week at Newport Aquarium

Newport Aquarium is the Shark Capital of the Midwest and with more shark habitats to SEA, TOUCH and EXPLORE than ever before, it’s the best place to celebrate Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

Visit June 26 through July 3 to see nearly 60 sharks up-close, including sand tigers, sand bars, black tips, hammerhead, nurse shark, shark rays and more!

Newport Aquarium currently features more than a dozen species of sharks from oceans around the world.

Shark Bridge

Newport_Aquarium_Shark_Bridge_HR_--¼2015_Steve_Ziegelmeyer-0799Experience sharks like never before by crossing the world’s first Shark Bridge.

Shark Bridge is included with general admission. For thrill-seekers who dare to cross, The V-shaped rope bridge is 75-feet-long and is suspended over the open water of the 385,000 gallon Surrounded by Sharks exhibit. As guests walk across, they’re just inches above more than two dozen sharks and shark rays.

Touch the Sharks

rsz_touching4Do you know what a shark’s skin feels like? Have you ever touched a shark fin as it glides across the water? See for yourself at Shark Central. You can touch dozens of sharks in the Shark Central Exhibit.

Learn the proper two-finger touch technique to make personal contact with these amazing animals.

Shark Talks/Dive Shows

Step into Shark Ray Bay Theater for your first and biggest view of our Shark Rays, sharks and the divers who care for them. Hear divers talk about the sharks and animals all around them and find out what you can do to protect a shark’s natural environment.

Divers even answer your questions!

Shark Ray Feed

SharkRay_Group[1]See rare Shark Rays – Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike – being fed and trained by biologists in the Surround by Sharks Exhibit.

Shark Tank Feed

Are sharks ferocious eaters? Watch and decide for yourself as biologists feed the sharks in the 385,000 gallon Surrounded by Sharks tank.

View the sharks from the Surrounded by Sharks tunnels, or get a biologists’ point-of-view from the Shark Top viewing area.

Shark Tank Overlook

Get a fascinating topside view of the Shark Rays and their friends as you look down into the Surrounded by Sharks tank from one of the country’s largest open air tank displays.

Shark Ray Pups Make Debut at Newport Aquarium

The rare shark rays born earlier this year made their official public debut today in the Coral Reef. This is the first time the public has gotten the chance to see them. The 60,000 gallon Coral Reef habitat is similar to their native surroundings in the Indo-Pacific.

Shark ray pups explore the Coral Reef. The 60,000 gallon Coral Reef habitat is similar to their native surroundings in the Indo-Pacific.

Shark ray pups explore the Coral Reef. The 60,000 gallon Coral Reef habitat is similar to their native surroundings in the Indo-Pacific.

Newport Aquarium is proud of the work of the team of biologists taking care of the pups since they were born in January.


Part of the Animal Care Team: Mark Dvornak, Scott Brehob, Jen Hazeres, and Jolene Hanna – standing in front of the top of the Coral Reef tank after moving the shark ray pups into the tank.

“The whole Husbandry Team is a massive support,” said Jolene Hanna, Newport Aquarium Animal Health Specialist. “Everyone has their own sub-set of talents and life experiences to share.”

The pups have reached several milestones since birth. The pups range in weight from 10 to 13 pounds and they’re around 2.5 feet long. At birth, the pups’ weight ranged from 2 to 2.4 pounds and 18 to 22 inches long.

“They’re intelligent animals, they start to recognize who is with them all the time,” said Jen Hazeres, Senior Biologist. “There is so much more to learn from them.”

Newport Aquarium shark ray pup

Shark ray pup swimming with Dory – exploring the surroundings in the Coral Reef.

Hazeres and Hanna are part of the Animal Care Team that closely monitors the pups and attends to every need. This has been a long journey for the biologists and they continue to learn from the pups and each other every day.
“They’re intelligent animals – they’re very aware of you and their surroundings,” said Hanna.

Shark rays are an amazing species with unique characteristics. The Coral Reef habitat gives Newport Aquarium guests an opportunity to get eye to eye with the shark ray pups.

Newport Aquarium shark ray pup

Get eye-to-eye with the shark ray pups as they swim overhead in the Coral Reef tunnel.

“We’re still learning about this species – so little is known about them in the wild. By having them here, under professional care, we’re learning their growth rate and so much more,” said biologist Scott Brehob.

With the debut of shark ray pups in the Coral Reef, Newport Aquarium is happy to kickoff the Summer Family Hours Special.


2 Kids Get In Free!
Families can make a splash this summer with Newport Aquarium’s Summer Family Hours Special – for tickets purchased online only. Now through September 2nd, up to two kids get in for free after 4 p.m. with each adult paying full price Sunday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Purchase tickets at www.newportaquarium.com.

Six Amazing Facts About Shark Rays

Newport Aquarium prepares to make history as the rare shark ray pups born earlier this year make their public debut later this week, on Friday, June 24, 2016. Newport Aquarium made history in 2005 when Sweet Pea arrived, becoming the first shark ray on exhibit in the Western Hemisphere. Shark rays are native to the western Indo-Pacific, and are found on sandy and mud bottoms near coral reefs. Newport Aquarium started the first Shark Ray Breeding program in 2007, with the introduction of Spike, which made Newport Aquarium home to the most shark rays on exhibit in the Western hemisphere. In addition to the shark ray pups, there are four adult shark rays. Two females: Sweet Pea and Sunshine, and two males: Scooter and Spike.

Newport Aquarium Shark Rays

Four shark rays are on exhibit at Newport Aquarium: Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike.

SweetPea, Shark Ray

Adult shark rays like Sweet Pea have lighter coloration.

Not sharks or rays
Shark rays are neither sharks nor rays. Their scientific name is Rhina ancylostoma. Their common name is Bowmouth Guitarfish – their broad arc-shaped head is similar to a bow, and their body tapers into a more streamlined shape, much like that of sharks.



Human-like Eyes
Shark rays have dual fins and human-like eyes.

Adult shark ray

Shark rays have human-like eyes.

When they’re born, shark rays have very dark coloration. Their color changes with age. Young shark rays have brown bodies, pale ring-shaped spots covering their pectoral fins, and black bars (almost like stripes) between their eyes. Adults have charcoal or pale gray bodies with small white spots.



They Blend In
Shark rays use their spots for camouflage. Our biologists have observed: shark rays have the ability to adapt their coloration to their environment. When they’re swimming

Newport Aquarium shark ray pup

Juvenile shark rays, like this pup, have darker coloration.

over a lighter sand/gravel, they tend to be lighter colored. When they’re in darker areas and swimming over a darker bottom, they tend to be darker, and their spots are darker.

Teeth Grinders
Shark rays eat shellfish including lobster and shrimp, which live on the ocean floor. Their heavily-ridged teeth are like coffee grinders that crush prey with hard shells.

Prehistoric Protection
They look almost prehistoric. Shark rays are born with a dorsal “thorn ridge” – unusual spiked ridges over their eyes, nape, and pectoral fins, which they use for protection.

No Schoolin’ Around
Shark rays don’t “school” like fish. They’re a solitary species. They prefer to swim on their own, and choose their own separate areas.

Shark Ray Pups Born at Newport Aquarium Will Make Public Debut on June 24, 2016

In Honor Of World Ocean’s Day, Aquarium Makes Historic Announcement

Today, in honor of World Oceans Day, Newport Aquarium announced that the rare shark rays born earlier this year are ready to make their public debut. This will be the first time the five month old shark ray pups have been on exhibit.  The public is invited to see them in the aquarium’s 55,000 gallon Coral Reef tunnel exhibit beginning Friday, June 24.

Since being born on January 5, the shark ray pups have received care from Newport Aquarium biologists, who have closely monitored them and attended to every need.

See shark ray pups being weighed, measured and fed in this video

“It’s getting more and more difficult for shark rays to survive in their natural environment,” said Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium. “Without the work Newport Aquarium is doing, long-term survival of this species wouldn’t be possible.”

Programs like Newport Aquarium’s Shark Ray Breeding Program are important, because the world’s shark ray population is depleting at a faster rate than it is being replaced. This is due to habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing and the use of their fins for products like fin soup.

Aquarium biologists will determine the exact number of pups that will go into the Coral Reef tunnel exhibit as June 24 draws nearer.

Shark Ray Breeding Program Background
In October 2015, Newport Aquarium announced both its female shark rays, Sweet Pea and Sunshine were pregnant– the second and third documented cases of shark ray breeding under professional animal care in the world. Sweet Pea became the first documented shark ray to become pregnant in 2013. In January 2016, Sweet Pea gave birth to 9 shark ray pups. Five survived, which is not uncommon with similar species, like sharks.  Sunshine’s pregnancy did not come to full term.

World Oceans Day
Every year, World Oceans Day provides a unique opportunity to honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans. Learn more about World Oceans Day here.

$5 Kid Saver Special
Families can make a splash this summer with Newport Aquarium’s Kid Saver Special. Now through June 30th, 2016, up to two kids get in for $5 each with every adult paying full price, Sunday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. for tickets purchased online.

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Join River Sweep 2016 – June 18th, 2016

Once a year, nearly 3,000 miles of the Ohio River are patrolled by volunteers for the Annual Ohio River Sweep event.  Each year thousands of volunteers gather near their local tributary or the banks of the Ohio River and pick up the trash that has accumulated during the high water levels of winter. Ohio River  bank

From the headwaters of the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, PA, to Cairo, IL, volunteers in 2015 covered 86 counties in 6 states along the Ohio River; Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

The Annual Ohio River Sweep began in 1989 and since then volunteers have contributed to the management of the health of the river by removing tons of trash and debris along the shores of 7 tributaries and the Ohio River. The WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium started getting involved in this annual cleanup in 2000. Riversweep ORSANCO

Join Newport Aquarium and the WAVE Foundation at the Newport Aquarium on June 18th. Team up with the many volunteers in this community effort to cleanup the banks of the Ohio River in front of Newport Aquarium. For more information on being part of this year’s cleanup, visit OhioRiverSweep.org.  and creating a great place for our families to enjoy the river.

Newport Aquarium Kicks Off the Summer with Kid Saver Special

Newport Aquarium kicked off Memorial Day weekend with a special offer on tickets for children. The Kid Saver Special will run from May 29 through June 30. Up to two children (ages 2-12) get in for $5 each with every adult paying full price, Sunday through Friday between 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.newport aquarium special offer

Extended Summer Hours
Guests will have more time to Discover the Wonder of the aquatic world. Newport Aquarium extends its operating hours from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. starting Saturday, May 28 through September 3.

There is always something new to explore at Newport Aquarium and 2016 welcomed the most interactive seahorse exhibit in the country.

  • Seahorses: Unbridled Fun, a new, interactive exhibit where guests can discover 10 species of seahorses, sea dragons, trumpetfish, shrimpfish and pipefish.

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  • Newport Aquarium dares guests to cross Shark Bridge, a 75-foot-long rope bridge suspended just inches above more than two dozen sharks and shark rays.

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  • Visit one of the most diverse collections of penguins in the country – including five species of cold-weather penguins in Penguin Palooza.


    Penguin Palooza is one of the most diverse collection of cold-weather penguins in the country.

For more information, visit NewportAquarium.com or call 800-406-FISH (3474).


Newport Aquarium, named one of the top U.S. aquariums in 2016 by Leisure Group Travel, and voted the No. 1 aquarium in the country by USA Today’s 10Best.com in 2012, has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since 1999. Named a top U.S. aquarium by US City Traveler and Destinations Travel Magazine in 2014, and also by Travel Channel in 2013, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and is located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.


Endangered Species Day: Rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle Enters New Tank

This Endangered Species Day, Newport Aquarium celebrates a success story as the rescued loggerhead sea turtle hatchling, Shack, is introduced to a new, more spacious home within Newport Aquarium. Shack was just moved into the bigger saltwater tank outside Shark Ray Bay Theater, in the Shore Gallery. He entered the tank to the excitement and applause of a group of young children, and swam down to the front of the tank, giving the children an up close view as he explored his new home.

Shack now has more room to dive and grow as he awaits his next journey to return back to the ocean, off the coast of North Carolina. He was rescued last October, as a hatchling on the beach in Shackleford Shoal, N.C. He weighed 73 grams – about the size of an egg from your refrigerator—and could fit in the palm of your hand. He now weighs about 2.5 pounds.

Biologist, Jen Hazeres, with Shack, shortly after he was rescued.

Biologist, Jen Hazeres, with Shack, shortly after he was rescued. Shack weighed 73 grams.

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling

Newport Aquarium biologist, Jen Hazeres, with loggerhead sea turtle, Shack, before he enters his new, bigger tank. Shack now weighs 2.5 pounds.

“Moving Shack into the bigger tank is part of his development and enrichment,” said Jen Hazeres, biologist at Newport Aquarium. Hazeres was part of the team of biologists that rescued Shack, and brought him back to be fostered at Newport Aquarium. “He’ll be able to dive deeper. We want to get him used to a more natural environment before he’s released back out into the wild in October.”

Saving The Species
Scientists say only one out of 1,000 hatchlings has a chance of making it to adulthood. All sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Loggerhead sea turtles are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

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Biologists at Newport Aquarium work closely with the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls Shores to rehabilitate a young loggerhead sea turtle each year. Newport Aquarium biologists travel to North Carolina each fall to release the previous year’s hatchling and pick up a new sea turtle that needs our help. The WAVE Foundation’s Aquatic Conservation Fund supports the satellite tagging of our turtles before their release.

Why Tracking Is Important
Satellite tracking is extremely important in determining sea turtle migratory patterns, feeding and nesting data. We hope to learn a lot from their travels. You can go online and see where the rescued sea turtles go at www.wavefoundation.org.

Loggerhead sea turtle nest

Only one out of 1,000 hatchling turtles will grow up to be adults. Some sea turtles can lay more than 100 eggs each time they nest. However, a lot of things can stop a sea turtle from laying her eggs. They’re accidentally captured in fisheries. They’re also hunted in many coastal communities, especially in Central America.

How To Help

  1. Help by keeping the beaches clean when you go on vacation. Pack up your beach chairs, towels, trash and other items at night so the sea turtles have an easy path to their nest.
  2. Turn off your porch lights at the vacation home during the nesting season. The artificial lighting confuses the female sea turtles from nesting. Instead, turtles will choose a less-than-optimal nesting spot, which affects the chances of producing a successful nest. Also, near-shore lighting can cause sea turtle hatchlings to become disoriented when they are born.
  3. Reduce the need to use plastic bags. They end up in our oceans and look like floating jellyfish to sea turtles. Use reusable bags for your grocery items.

WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium, Thomas More College welcome third speaker in marine biology lecture series

WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium and Thomas More College welcome third speaker in the Marine Biology & Conservation Lecture Series. The lecture series is part of Thomas More College’s partnership with Newport Aquarium and the WAVE Foundation, which formally began in August 2014 when the school launched its new marine biology degree program, the first of its kind in the state of Kentucky.


Dr. Lucy Hawkes, physiological ecologist, is the final featured speaker in the Marine Biology & Conservation Lecture Series May 18th 6 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Dr. Lucy Hawkes is a physiological ecologist whose work focuses on the costs and drivers of migration in vertebrates using emergent technology. Her lecture theme is “Thirty-Four Years of Tracking Sea Turtles: What We Now Know and How We Can Use it in Conservation.”

We asked her a few questions about her background, what you can do to help sea turtles, and what to expect in the upcoming lecture series.

What is your background? How did you first become interested in sea turtles?

I graduated from the University of Plymouth, UK, in 2001 with a degree in Marine Biology and I wanted to get out and do something useful with my degree. I looked widely for volunteering and fieldwork experiences and applied to a seahorse conservation project as well as a sea turtle conservation project in Cyprus (in the eastern Mediterranean) with a UK based organization but didn’t get either position. I didn’t give up though as I had wanted to be a “proper” marine biologist since about the age of 10. I also wasn’t specifically seeking a career working with sea turtles, but I had written one of my final year reports on them during my degree and thought they were really cool because they were so tropical, so enigmatic and SO old! It was just so exotic to someone in a rainy lab in England! I kept looking and then came across an internship at the Bald Head Island Conservancy, North Carolina, monitoring sea turtles nesting on the beaches of Cape Fear. I headed to North Carolina in May 2001 and that’s where it all began.

What is the single most important thing someone can do in the Midwest to help protect sea turtles?

We know for almost all populations of sea turtles that the single biggest threat to them is being caught accidentally in fishing nets at sea. This can be in all sorts of fishing operations – long lining for tuna, trawling for shrimp and scallops, and gill netting for fish. And it’s not just turtles that get caught in fishing nets, dolphins, seals and all sorts of “non-target” fish (fish the fishermen aren’t trying to catch) get caught and injured or killed too. So, I think that everyone should make a pledge to eat a lot less fish. Keep fish for only special occasions, for example. It’s a controversial debate but it is very clear that almost all fish stocks across the planet are overexploited and we all need to eat less fish, and by doing so, we can also reduce the numbers of turtles being killed! Personally, I don’t eat any seafood at all, and I LOVE cod and shrimp, so it’s a big sacrifice for me!

What will you talk about at the WAVE Foundation Lecture series on May 18th?

I was really lucky to be the first person to track several populations of sea turtles that we otherwise didn’t know anything about. We would wave goodbye to the nesting turtles of North Carolina, for example, and not really have much of a clue where they would be, come the winter. Actually, tracking turtles started much earlier than that, with great innovators in the 1980s, and since that time we have made lots more discoveries to the point that sea turtles are now probably the best understood of all of the marine vertebrates. I’ll tell the story of how we managed this amazing feat, with some entertaining stories on the way and some lessons for the future!

Tickets for the lecture series are $20 for the public, or $15 for Newport Aquarium Annual Passholders and students. Registration for this event is available at wavefoundation.org/education/lecture-series.

Newport Aquarium’s Shark Bridge Celebrates One Year!

Newport Aquarium celebrates the one-year milestone of the world’s first Shark Bridge on April 30th. The V-shaped rope bridge is 75-feet-long and is suspended over the open water of the 385,000 gallon Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.

Newport Aquarium Shark Bridge

The world’s first Shark Bridge is 75-feet-long and is suspended over the open water of the 385,000 gallon Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.

It took about 788 hours of labor to make, build and install the Shark Bridge. More than 4 miles (approximately 21,750 feet) of rope was used to construct the Shark Bridge. It’s made of 1.5 tons of steel, and is strong enough to hold the weight of up to 20,000 pounds, which is equal to an entire semi-truck, 25 Mighty Mikes (our 14 foot, 800 pound American Alligator) or more than 600 King Penguins!

Newport Aquarium Shark Bridge

More than 4 miles of rope was used to construct the Shark Bridge. It’s made of 1.5 tons of steel, and is strong enough to hold up to 20,000 pounds.

Surround by Sharks is home to six species of sharks including our Sand Tiger Sharks, Sand Bar Shark, Zebra Shark, Black Tip Reef Sharks, Nurse Shark, and Scalloped Hammerhead. It also houses our four exotic Shark Rays Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine, and Spike.

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You never know what you’re going to see when crossing Shark Bridge. Denver, the mischievous loggerhead sea turtle, might come to the surface to take a breath just below your feet. You can even watch as our biologists target feed our Shark Rays!

Newport Aquarium Shark Bridge

Shark Bridge is an interactive family walk through experience.

Don’t fear! If Shark Bridge isn’t for you, you are welcome to walk along the edge of the tank and you can still view all of the amazing animals swimming inside.

Crossing Shark Bridge is included with Newport Aquarium admission. Since opening last year, it has been estimated that guests have crossed Shark Bridge more than ONE MILLION times! Do YOU dare to cross?

Shark Bridge is an interactive family walk through experience. Walkers will experience slight side-to-side motion and some uneven footing. All guests must use the entrance due to the one-way direction of travel. All guests must walk themselves. No guest may be carried. Shark Bridge is an able-bodied experience. For the safety of all guests running, jumping, rough play, climbing, food and drinks, hard or soft casts or braces of any kind are strictly prohibited on Shark Bridge. Closed-toe shoes are recommended and shoes must be worn at all times. Children younger than 5 years old must be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or chaperone. Newport Aquarium is not responsible for lost or dropped items. Guests are encouraged to secure all items before entering Shark Bridge. Items that fall may not be able to be retrieved.