Takeover Tuesday: Animal Experience Specialist

Welcome to Takeover Tuesday! My name is Kristen Guevara and I have the pleasure of volunteering for the Husbandry department through the WAVE Foundation, as well as work for the Newport Aquarium as an Animal Experience Specialist. I started volunteering when I received a Husbandry Internship in the Fall of 2016 under the mentorship of Jen Hazeres, a Senior Biologist.

Kristen Guevara
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look above the ribboned sea dragons tank. I’m getting ready to start my day cleaning each seahorse tank with our scrub pad called a “Doodle Bug.”

Hoping to find a career in the field of animal husbandry, I have been able to continue gaining volunteer experience with Laurel, the primary seahorse biologist. Through Laurel’s guidance, I have learned how much time and effort it takes to care for all of the Seahorses in our Seahorse Gallery.

Each tank is deep-cleaned once a day, using the Doodle Bug to scrub the walls of each tank, as well as cleaning up any leftover food or other particles in the tank.

In addition to scrubbing the walls, we have to clean out each tank and filtration system. This is done by hydro vacuuming the gravel (shown here) or by syphoning out any leftover food or animal waste.

hydrovaccuming

Behind-the-scenes above the ribboned sea dragons tank, syphoning the tank.

Seahorses can be a little more susceptible to skin disorders because they lack the scales that fish have, but rather have bony-plated armor. Therefore, it is important to keep the seahorse tanks as clean as possible. To prevent any sort of cross contamination it is important that each tank have its own Doodle Bug, and syphon. Washing hands in between tanks is a MUST as well.

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A behind-the-scenes look at one of our spiny seahorses, also called thorny seahorse.

Seahorses will use their prehensile tail to hold on to seaweed and rocks in their environment, patiently waiting for their prey to swim by. They are ambush predators so once food comes within reach they will quickly suck them up using their pipe-like snout.

This is a video of our freshwater pipefish eating one of their favorite foods, brine shrimp! Pipefish are related to seahorses and they both fall under the Sygnathidae family. Seahorses spend the entire day foraging for food because they lack a stomach! They can quickly digest food and since they have no place to store it, continually search for food during the day. To accommodate their appetite, the seahorses are fed 2-3 times a day!

Denver. loggerhead seaturtle

This is the acclimation tank behind-the-scenes. We bring Denver, the loggerhead sea turtle, back here to find him. This tank is the same water system as our Surrounded by Sharks tank.

My personal favorite to feed is Denver, the loggerhead sea turtle. He eats separate from our sharks and shark rays because he would steal all of their food if he could! Here he is getting one of his favorite fish, Spanish mackerel.

Bindi, blue tongue skink

Here I am with Bindi, a Blue Tongue Skink. She is one of our ambassador animals that we bring out for guests to meet and learn about.

Blue tongue skinks are native to Australia, and just like their name suggests, they have a bright blue tongue. This is always a highlight to my day because not only do I get to interact with the animals, but I get to share my passion for these unique animals with the guests at the aquarium.

We have daily animal encounters right outside our new Stingray Hideaway exhibit.

Bindi, Blue Tongue Skink

Animal Encounter with Bindi, the Blue Tongue Skink.

You can meet one of our outreach animals, learn some interesting facts about them, and possibly even touch one of our animal ambassadors. Bindi is just one of our many animal ambassadors that you could meet! Times of animal encounters may change, check the Newport Aquarium website for more information on animal encounters.

Last, but definitely not least, are the penguins! Our penguins are repeatedly voted as one of our guests’ favorite animals.

Guest interaction

I like interacting with guest and answering questions they have. Here I am at Penguin Palooza, talking to guests who just watched a penguin feed.

Here I am after a Penguin Feed speaking with a few guests that had some great questions about penguins. You can see our Penguin Feed daily, check the Newport Aquarium website for times, as they may change. I am fortunate to be part of our dedicated team to ensure our guests get the most out of their visit and maybe I’ll see you on your next visit to the Aquarium!

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Alligator Awareness Day

Today is Alligator Awareness Day. Alligators are mainly spotted in the southeastern parts of the United States, including Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, but you can spot seven American Alligators right here at Newport Aquarium! American alligators are the first animals to ever be put on the endangered species list, but were later removed thanks to education and conservation of the species.

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White Alligators:

Our white alligators are the most unique because not many of them are found in the wild or even in zoos or aquariums. Snowball (14 years old) and Snowflake (12 years old) are two of fewer than 100 known white alligators in the world.

These unique creatures look the way they do because they are albino, specifically a type called amelanistic. Biologist, Erin Muldoon said this means the alligators have “a loss of the pigment, melanin. This gives them their white skin and red eyes.” This condition also gives them the inability to blend in with their surroundings, or protect themselves from the sun.

Just as certain genes are passed down from a parent to a child, Snowball and Snowflake would most likely pass down Albinism if these two were to have babies.

Baby Gators:

Newport Aquarium currently has four baby alligators. Carl, Willard, Edmund, and Murphy are ambassador animals for their species. They are part of our Animal Outreach Program. They were all born in August 2015 at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.

baby alligator

Guests get a one-on-one interaction with a baby alligator during a Backstage Animal Experience.

In order to keep people interested and informed about these gators, guests at Newport Aquarium are able to get up close and personal with them. “Allowing guests to touch and interact with these animals helps to spark a connection that can inspire them to help preserve these animals and their wild habitat,” said Muldoon.

The WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium takes the baby alligators to schools, libraries, daycare centers and senior centers. To learn more about having the WAVE on Wheels Educational Outreach Program visit you, click here.

Our baby gators will eventually return to St. Augustine once they reach a certain length and size, and then we will welcome a new batch of baby gators!

Mighty Mike:

Our well known gator Mighty Mike made his debut return with us in 2013, and has been catching the eyes of many ever since.

Mighty Mike

Guests can get eye-to-eye with Mighty Mike in Gator Alley.

Guests can get eye-to-eye with Mighty Mike in Gator Alley. Mike is around 15 feet long and is estimated to weigh around 700-800 lbs.

You must be thinking…How do you feed such a BIG gator? “He is target trained, which means that he must come to a target to get his food. One of his current favorites right now is chicken,” Muldoon said.

Feeding Mighty Mike

Herpetologists, Erin Muldoon and Ryan Dumas have target trained Mighty Mike.

Alligator Facts:
There are only two species of true alligators in the world, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the endangered Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis).

Compared to crocodiles, alligators have a rounder and wider “U” shaped snout. Also, when the alligator’s jaw is closed, the fourth bottom tooth cannot be seen.

Most alligators prefer to live in fresh water.

Stop by and discover the wonder of all of the animals at Newport Aquarium – the land-dwelling species, and aquatic animals, and we’re sure you’ll make memories worth repeating.

To learn more about the Backstage Animal Experience at Newport Aquarium, click here.

 

 

Takeover Tuesday: Raising a loggerhead sea turtle

Takeover Tuesday features a “day in the life” of biologists at Newport Aquarium. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Hello there, my name is Jen. I am a Senior Biologist here at Newport Aquarium. Thank you for joining me for this #TakeoverTuesday.

I started out at Newport Aquarium 13 years ago as a diver in the tunnel tanks and as a dive show presenter! Most of our divers are volunteers through the WAVE Foundation.

Jen Hazerres, dive suit

I’m getting into our acclimation tank ahead of a special dive training. I started out at Newport Aquarium as a volunteer diver with WAVE Foundation. To learn more about the Volunteer Dive Program, visit wavefoundation.org

Divers receive special training on how to safely interact with the fascinating aquatic animals who call this place home. After 4 years of diving I joined the staff as a part time presenter/biologist where I worked all around the aquarium. I eventually took on a full time position as a senior biologist where I now work with the animals in the shore gallery, shark tank and anywhere else I am needed.

As a biologist I have the pleasure of working with our loggerhead sea turtles here at Newport Aquarium.

Feeding Denver

Denver, our adult loggerhead sea turtle is about 24 years old and weighs about 205 pounds! His favorite foods include fish, squid and salmon which he eats regularly, about 3-5 days a week.

Denver lives in our 385,000 gallon “Surrounded by Sharks” exhibit. Visitors have the chance to get a glimpse of Denver close up as he swims around. Due to medical reasons, Denver will continue to serve as an ambassador animal for his kind, helping to educate visitors about sea turtles, while giving them the opportunity for such a unique interactive experience.

Frank our younger loggerhead sea turtle is here as a part of the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project.

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Dr. Hill helps take shell measurements during Frank’s checkup. Frank now weighs 1298 grams (2.8 pounds). Right after this checkup, he received the green light to move into a bigger tank.

Frank arrived in October of 2016 and weighed only 96 grams (0.2 pounds)! My job is to make sure Frank grows up healthy and strong as he trains for his release back into the ocean in a few months.

Frank just entered the bigger tank in the Shore Gallery. Turtle Tuesday is the perfect day to celebrate his new home. When Frank is big enough he will be released back into the ocean near the Gulf Stream! Stay tuned for our blog posts when we take Frank back out to the ocean, like we did with Shack last year.

While we’re making an impact with sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation, we’re also making a global impact with our Shark Ray Breeding Program and research here at Newport Aquarium. Our dedicated team of biologists has recently published a chapter on Shark Ray Husbandry.

We attribute part of our success in breeding due to their diet. Our four shark rays, Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike eat only the finest of seafood – it’s restaurant quality!

shark ray

We brought one of our shark rays, Scooter, into the acclimation tank.

The shark rays receive lobsters three days out of the week and bony fish two days of the week. Feeding the shark rays lobster is not common practice among many aquariums. Our high quality diets heavily contribute to the health and happiness of our animals.

Thank you for joining me today for #TakeoverTuesday. I hope I helped to spark an interest in these incredible animals, and how important it is to take care of their environment.

 

Takeover Tuesday: The Guest Experience

Takeover Tuesday features a “day in the life” of biologists, and exhibits staff at Newport Aquarium. Be sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Hello, my name is Greg Moore, I’m a Guest Experience Supervisor here at Newport Aquarium, and I’m taking over your Tuesday!

Greg with baby gator

Baby alligator, Willard, is one of the ambassador animals at Newport Aquarium. Guests have an opportunity to meet an ambassador animal, during a daily Animal Outreach in the Stingray Hideaway lobby.

As a Guest Experience Supervisor, my focus is making sure guests have the most memorable experience, and create memories worth repeating! At the Tide Pool, guests can touch amazing creatures including sea stars, horseshoe crabs and anemones.

At Newport Aquarium, guests can Sea, Touch, and Explore… Together!

Tidepool (2)

Throughout the day, our team is stationed throughout the aquarium, to welcome guests, answer questions, and teach you about the amazing animals you’ll meet.

Shark Ray Bay Theater (2)

Denver the loggerhead sea turtle joined our morning meeting. He welcomes guests to Shark Ray Bay Theater, and often likes to hang out in that window.

I love leading the team.  It can be a stressful job, but so rewarding.  All the jobs my team does, I also will do at any given day.  In the morning, we’ll have a team clean all the acrylic throughout the aquarium, to get rid of any smudges or salt residue.  Cleaning the penguin window is the best, because they’re so active in the morning and sometimes follow the pole.

Cleaning window Penguin Palooza (2)

Some of the King penguins go for a morning swim in Penguin Palooza.

Interacting with guests, especially kids, is one of my favorite things.  To see a child’s excitement as they get to walk four feet above the shark tank, touch a shark for the first time, or even learn something new about these beautiful animals and what we can do to keep them around for future generations, is the highlight of my day!

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A diver poses while in the Amazon tank.

When I was a kid, my all-time beloved animals were the penguins. So naturally, my favorite part of working at Newport Aquarium is working with the African Penguins.

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When guests visit Newport Aquarium, they can purchase a Penguin Encounter and get up close and personal with these adorable birds. 

When a guest is surprised by how they feel, about their crazy characteristics, how their population is declining, makes me proud to be a part of that. African penguins are an endangered species. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums launched the Invest in The Nest campaign to help save these endangered penguins in the wild.

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So, when you come to the aquarium, I may be helping you touch a shark, teaching you about our sea turtle, or showing you some penguins. Hope to see you soon!

Plan your visit to Newport Aquarium: Things To Do, Visitor Tips, Additional Experiences, Penguin Encounters, Aquarium Activities, Shows and Feeds.

#Takeover Tuesday

World Lizard Day 2016

This Sunday, August 14th, we celebrate World Lizard Day! With more than 6,000 species around the world, why wouldn’t we take the time to recognize this diverse and fun-loving reptile? Here are some fun facts about some of the different lizards guests will see when visiting Newport Aquarium.

To learn more, we talked to Newport Aquarium biologist and herpetologist, Ryan Dumas. “Lizards are important because they occupy many different niches throughout the environment,” Dumas said.

Yellow Tree Monitor

Yellow Tree Monitor

The Yellow Tree Monitor is the rarest of species of tree monitors. It wasn’t discovered until 2005 – on a small island in Indonesia. Visit two of these monitors in Canyon Falls at Newport Aquarium.

The Yellow Tree Monitor can only be found in the tropical rain forests on the small island of Misol in Indonesia. They can grow to become three feet long from head to tail and they mostly eat invertebrates. Did you know these monitors were discovered as recent as 11 years ago?

Chinese Crocodile Lizard

The Chinese Crocodile Lizard is also called “the lizard of great sleepiness” as it often remains motionless for hours.

Chinese Crocodile Lizard

Chinese Crocodile lizards can live for at least 20 years. They are a Species Survival Plan (SSP) Animal, which means their population is managed under professional care, by biologists and herpetologists to ensure the species isn’t threatened. They are semi-aquatic creatures that enjoy cool and wet habitats. The interesting thing about these lizards is that they are ovoviviparous, which means they give live birth instead of laying eggs.

Chuckwalla

Chuckwalla

Chuckwallas like hanging out on top of rocks – it’s the perfect place to bask in the sun.

Some lizards are closer to home than you think. For example, the Chuckwalla can be found in the southwestern part of the United States. They can be highly susceptible as food for other animals but their bodies allow them to expand in smaller places to stay out of reach from predators. They also like hanging out on rock crops as it serves as the perfect place to bask in the sun.

Eastern Collared Lizard

Eastern Collared Lizard

The Eastern Collared Lizard is one of the lizard species that can run on their hind legs.

Eastern Collared Lizards also reside in the southwestern part of the United States. What makes these little ones unique is that the coatings on the males are brighter than the females. The brighter the male, the more attracted he is to the female.

Panther Chameleon
Panther Chameleons come from Madagascar. Males are more vibrantly colored than females which are tan or peach-colored.

Panther Chameleon

Chameleons are zygodactylous: on each foot, the five toes are fused into a group of two and a group of three, giving the foot a tongs-like appearance.

Panther Chameleon

Newport Aquarium biologist and herpetologist, Ryan Dumas majored in Biology at Northern Kentucky University. He began as a summer aide in 2005 and has worked at the National Aquarium, as well as the Bronx Zoo.

They are zygodactylous: on each foot, the five toes are fused into a group of two and a group of three, giving the foot a tongs-like appearance. Chameleons have unique eyes – they can rotate and focus on two different objects at the same time! Panther chameleons have very large tongues, often longer than their entire body! They extend their tongue very fast to catch prey. Males are more vibrantly colored than females which are tan or peach-colored. They also lay 20 to 30 eggs between two to three times per year. This species of chameleon has a very short life span that only lasts between three to four years.

Argentine Black and White Tegu

Black and White Tegu

Oreo the Argentine Black and White Tegu is one of Newport Aquarium’s Ambassador Animals.

 

The Argentine Black and White Tegu is the largest species of tegu. It has a six-inch forked tongue that it uses to smell its surroundings. Black and white tegus have unique coloring. When they’re born, they have a bright green head and darker body. As they mature, that green gradually fades to tones of black and white. They can grow to be 45 inches long and their diets consist of invertebrates and vertebrates. Tegus are not tree dwellers. They spend most of their life on ground, but they are excellent swimmers.

 

 

Solomon Island Skink

Solomon Island Skink

The Solomon Island Skink or “Monkey Tail Skink” is one of the few lizard species that has a prehensile tail.

The Solomon Island Skink or “Monkey Tail Skink” is one of the few lizard species that has a prehensile tail, which means it can grasp or wrap around something. Although they primarily eat vegetation, they are easily agitated animals and are considered “circulars” which means one male will lead in a group of females. One of a few ways you can distinguish the gender is by the shapes of their heads and bodies – females have narrow heads and pear-shaped bodies.

These are just a few of the many lizards you can see here at Newport Aquarium. Visit www.newportaquarium.com to plan your next trip and see the latest promotions.

Happy World Lizard Day from Newport Aquarium.

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Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium leads efforts in saving African penguins

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

African penguins

African penguins are an endangered species. It is projected that this species can become extinct in the next 10-15 years

One of my favorite animals at  Newport Aquarium is our African Penguins.  People love to see our penguins and since 2007 when we first brought African Penguins to the Aquarium nearly a million people have seen these birds, whether it has been “on the road” at special events and television interviews or the behind-the-scenes experience in our Penguin Encounter.  The penguins are great ambassadors and very popular.

However, African Penguins are an endangered species. We have watched a steady decline of the African Penguins since the late 1950’s when there were around 300,000 individuals in South Africa. In 2001, there were over 100,000 individuals and recently it has been estimated that there are less than 50,000 penguins left in their range country.  In October, 2010, the USFWS listed African Penguins as an Endangered Species. This species is only 2½% of what it was 80 years ago. It is projected that this species can be extinct in the next 10-15 years. We cannot allow this to happen.

Saving African Penguins
This spring, I was appointed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to be the Program Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project.  For short, we’ll call it the “PIT tag Project”. Through a partnership of African agencies and AZA Zoo and Aquarium partners, the goal has been set to individually identify African penguin chicks and adults at selected colonies each year. Penguins set to be released from rehabilitation centers will also be tagged. Our goal is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years. Essentially that will be around 5,000 birds tagged and identified in South Africa and Namibia.

The goal of the PIT tagging project is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years.

The goal of the PIT tagging project is to tag at least 10% of the world’s population of African Penguins over the next 3 years.

Once the African penguins are tagged, researchers will be able to identify individual birds with hand-held readers. Technology also allows us to track birds by using ground/strip readers which are installed near the breeding colonies which will provide continuous data collection. All this information will give AZA and the field biologists the data to develop the most effective programs to manage the colonies and other areas of African penguin conservation.

There are 50 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums which house African penguins and many more house other penguin species. This creates a great opportunity for many AZA Members (keepers and veterinarians) who have experience handling and caring for these animals. With this valuable experience our AZA community is able to help with tagging penguins by sponsoring qualified individuals to travel to South Africa to participate in tagging programs.

The ‘tagging season’ for African Penguins in the colonies is from April through August.  This is the time that the penguins are molting and or nesting. With the ‘window of opportunity’ closing for this year, our project partners, the Maryland Zoo and Sea World San Diego, each had a staff member able to go to South Africa and participate in the first AZA SAFE PIT Tagging Team.

The rest of the year (September – March), the tagging is done in the rescue and rehabilitation centers when orphaned or injured penguins are brought into the facilities.  Once back to health, the birds are PIT tagged and released.

Our 2016 Inaugural AZA SAFE African Penguin PIT Tagging Team was selected from our Collaborating Partners.  On July 20th, Mike McClure from the Maryland Zoo and Kylene Plemons from Sea World San Diego set out to Cape Town, South Africa and 12 days with African Penguins. In South Africa, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team will visit a couple of penguin rescue and rehabilitation facilities as well as collecting data in 3 penguin colonies; the Robben Island colony, the Boulder’s Beach colony and the Stony Point colony.

African penguin

Every penguin receiving a ‘PIT” tag, will also be measured, weighed, blood drawn and feathers collected for DNA.

The first stop is in Table View, a community outside of Cape Town, which is the home of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).  SANCCOB rescues, rehabilitates and releases hundreds of penguins and other seabirds each year. At SANCCOB, the AZA African Penguin Tagging Team received valuable instructions on how to approach and handle a wild penguin safely. The team was also trained on data collection on every penguin handled. Every penguin receiving a ‘PIT” tag, will also be measured, weighed, blood drawn and feathers collected for DNA. At SANCCOB, the Team meets Dr. Katrin Ludynia, field biologist for SANCCOB and the University of Cape Town. Dr. Ludynia will be their liaison for the trip since she is the primary researcher on the AZA African Penguin Tagging Project.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Penguins on Robben Island.

Newport Aquarium and AZA SAFE Partners