National Zoo Keeper Week 2018

This week is National Zoo Keeper Week. Even though we don’t have “Zoo Keepers,” our Biologists give exemplary care to the animals that live here at Newport Aquarium. Follow us throughout this week to see what our biologists do every day! #NZKW

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Mission: To recognize and promote dedicated zoo and aquarium professionals year round, culminating in an annual celebration during the third week in July – National Zoo Keeper Week.

Newport Aquarium has twelve biologists that care for all of the fish, reptiles, amphibians, and penguins that have their home here. Care for these animals is more than just simply feeding and giving the animals some attention. They also have a lot of cleaning, food preparation, and maintenance work to do! #NZKW

Training is an important part of the care of many of our animals here at Newport Aquarium. Animals like Mighty Mike and our Sharkrays are target trained. This means that they know to come to a target pole to get their food. This helps the biologists safely work with these animals and ensures that every one of them gets the food they need.

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Kelly and Erin target feed Mighty Mike, our 14-foot long, 800-pound alligator.

Our biologists give animals enrichment. Enrichment can be anything from a new object in their space, changing around their furniture, a new scent, sounds of their wild cousins, or a new food item. Our biologists use enrichment all of the time to stimulate our animal’s minds, keep them active, and help our animals engage in natural behaviors.

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Kristen celebrated Dr. Seuss Day by reading to the penguins.

There are many types of animals at the aquarium, which leads to many types of biologists who care for them. We have biologists who prefer work with the big sharks and those that work with the tiny dwarf seahorses. We have biologists who prefer to work with penguins and those that would rather work with frogs. But whatever our biologists do, they always work as a team to make sure the animals get the best care possible!

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Tamara is one of our resident penguin biologists. Her main job is taking care of our African Penguins. Tamara also works with our outreach reptiles.  Tamara says, “My favorite part of my job is learning the different personalities of all of the animals I work with!”

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Scott feeds Shark Central in the morning. The sharks like to eat squid.

Scott is a jack of all trades. He is an aquarist, a plumber, and one of the local news station’s favorite interviewees. Scott did our first Takeover Tuesday blog post. One of his favorite tanks to work with is our shark touch tank, Shark Central. “I love working with Shark Central because it has sharks from all over the world.”

IMG_3652 (2)Erin works with our reptile and amphibian collection. We featured Erin in A Day in the Life of a Herpetologist. While she is in charge of the care of our alligators and venomous reptiles, there is a special place in her heart for the frogs of Frog Bog. “Frogs are incredible animals. The way they change from their fish lifestyle as a tadpole to becoming a frog has always fascinated me!” #NZKW

Kristen Paddlefish (2)

Kristen is one of our new biologists. She was first featured in our Animal Experience Specialist Takeover Tuesday. Because of this, she helps take care of a little bit of everything. “I love that I get to take care of many different kinds of animals. It helps to make every day interesting!”

Rob cleaning coral (2)Rob takes care of our live coral tanks. He also helps out in our Seahorse Gallery with the Ribbon Dragons and Dwarf Seahorses. “I love corals because they are colorful, challenging, and confusing to many people. They are a reminder to everyone that the health of our oceans is very important.”
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Ty has a passion for the invertebrates at Newport Aquarium. He leads team in the care for Simon the Octopus and the Jellyfish. “My favorite part of working with jellyfish is the culturing and propagation.” Learn more about Ty in his Takeover Tuesday: World of the Octopus Edition.

Health care is always on the mind of a good biologist. Daily observation of the animals helps to spot a problem before it starts. And if the need arises, our biologists work closely with our Vet Team to address any issue.

Our biologists realize that there is more to their work than simply taking care of the animals right in front of them. Conservation is a vital consideration at any aquarium. We at Newport Aquarium play our part as well. Our biologists have taken part in such projects as freshwater mussel studies here in Kentucky and sea turtle headstart programs in North Carolina.

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Kelly target trains the caiman lizard.

Kelly helps our reptiles live a happy, healthy life. She knows that training helps the animals get better care and helps to stimulate their minds. She is currently working to train many of our reptiles, including Nester, our caiman lizard. “I feel proud of Nester when he targets correctly. It is very satisfying.”

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Jen is with one of our shark rays in the acclimation pool.

Jen is an aquarist who works with all of our tunnel systems. This includes her favorite tank, Surrounded by Sharks. She says her favorite part of her job is “definitely the incredible animals she gets to work with!”

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Michelle hand feeds the stingrays in our stingray touch pool.

Michelle spends much of her day caring for our stingrays in Stingray Hideaway, and was featured in a special Takeover Tuesday all about Stingray Hideaway. Because stingrays are so intelligent and curious, she also makes sure they get the enrichment they need to live a stimulating and happy life. “Each stingray interacts with the enrichment in a different way. I love to watch the way each one expresses her own quirks when I give a new enrichment item.”

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Introducing Victoria to her “snow spa” behind the scenes. It helped her stay cool during her molting process.

Dan is our senior penguin biologist. He spends most of his day cleaning and caring for our cold weather penguins in Penguin Palooza. He’s taking care of Victoria the penguin. He says his favorite part of his job is penguin breeding. “It is challenging to breed them. I get one shot a year and if it doesn’t work, I have to try and figure out why.” Dan also wrote a Takeover Tuesday for World Penguin Day.

Feeding Starfish PictureMargaret is an aquarist who works with a variety of saltwater fish. She was featured in a special Tide Pool edition of Takeover Tuesday. She gives her time and talent to the animals that live in our Shore Gallery. “I am currently target training the Snowflake Eels and Trumpet Fish. It is cool to watch them learn and engage with me.”

IMG_1730 (2)Laurel works closely with our quarantine animals and those that live at our offsite animal health facility. She and the vet team are the first people that our animals encounter before they make their way to the exhibits here at Newport Aquarium. “The best part of this job is bringing animals to people who may never get to see them otherwise. It makes an impact on these people and helps them become more aware of the world and conservation needs.”

Thank you for following along and learning more about our talented team of animal care takers. Next time you see one of them,. #ThankAKeeper

 

 

 

Mighty Farewell: Famous Alligator Saying Goodbye to Newport Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ky. — After five years, wowing millions of people at Newport Aquarium, Mighty Mike, the largest American Alligator outside of Florida, is preparing to head back to the Sunshine State this summer.GoodbyeMightyMike_640x300

At 14 feet long and 800 pounds, Mighty Mike’s size makes it clear that he is truly a living dinosaur. Alligators have been around for 250 million years and seeing Mighty Mike up close reveals how these powerful creatures have survived so long. With his enormous teeth and muscular tail, this is one creature you may not want to come across in the wild, which makes it all the more important for the public to get to meet animal ambassadors like Mighty Mike.DSC_7713

Wowing guests with his amazing size, Mighty Mike has built connections with guests that will stay with them forever. “Getting the public to understand and appreciate these animals has been a critical factor in helping the American alligator achieve sustainable populations after being listed as endangered for decades,” said Eric Rose, Executive Director at Newport Aquarium. “We’re grateful to the Crocodilian Conservation Center and to our world-class animal care team for keeping Mike happy and healthy all these years, and to all the guests who’ve come to see him.”

Mighty Mike is going back home to the Crocodilian Conservation Center in Florida, where he will continue to share an important conservation message as an ambassador for wetlands habitat and preservation. He will create opportunities for others to care more about watersheds and ecosystems around them.Gator2

The last chance to see this living dinosaur at Newport Aquarium is September 9. Fans will have the chance to leave well wishes for Mighty Mike on a banner that will be on display in Gator Alley for the rest of the summer.

One Kid FREE – Extended By Popular Demand
For a very limited time, Newport Aquarium is offering one free child admission with each full price adult. The offer is valid Sundays through Fridays after 4 p.m. and is available exclusively online at NewportAquarium.com

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 Extended Summer Hours
Just for summer, Newport Aquarium is extending its hours and will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily between May 27 and September 2.

Two Summers of Fun with an Annual Pass
For a limited time only, guests will get two extra months free when they purchase an Annual Pass.  That’s 14 months of fun and discovery for the price of 12 months, plus exclusive Passholder events, bring a friend free days and additional savings throughout the year. This offer ends July 22, 2018.

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

Newport Aquarium Animal Caretakers Rally Behind Paralyzed Penguin

In honor of World Penguin Day, we’re sharing an amazing story that’s incredibly close to our hearts. It’s a story about one of our feathered friends who is on the road to recovery from a medical defect to her spinal cord. A year ago, Victoria the penguin couldn’t walk. Now, thanks to the care, attention and love of Newport Aquarium’s dedicated biologists, she’s making great progress.

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Victoria and Clifford in the penguin loft – November, 2016.

Victoria the Macaroni penguin came to Newport Aquarium in 2010, with her mate, Clifford. “She’s a real sweetheart – a super friendly bird,” said Dan Clady, Senior Biologist. Before her injury, guests could often find the pair spending time together in the loft area in the Penguin Palooza habitat.

Vet Visit
Senior biologist, Dan Clady, first noticed something was wrong with Victoria in February 2017, when she was seen laying around in Penguin Palooza, and not walking. Clady was baffled; he had been working with penguins since 1999 and had never seen anything like it. Initially, Clady thought Victoria had somehow broken her back when he found her in Penguin Palooza.

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Penguin Palooza is home to nearly 50 penguins.

But the bird’s condition was a mystery as “There was no possible way that she fell, causing a traumatic event that way,” said Jolene Hanna, Animal Health & Quarantine Manager, and Veterinary Technician.

Close to 50 penguins live in Penguin Palooza, including King penguins, Macaroni, Southern Rockhopper, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. Clady and Hanna turned to Newport Aquarium’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. Peter Hill, who took X-rays, which showed no broken bones. “She could not bring herself into an upright position,” said Hanna. “We could not find through the radiograph why this bird was not able to stand.” Dr. Hill started Victoria on a round of medicine, including anti-inflammatories, pain reducers and steroids as part of her treatment.

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Dr. Joseph Bruner (left), Jolene Hanna, and Dr. Peter Hill review Victoria’s X-ray at Greater Cincinnati Veterinary Specialists. The X-ray showed no broken bones.

“Because blood clotting was a possibility, we had to rule that out. So we put her on a series of drugs to try to figure out what we could rule out in terms of what could be the problem,” Hanna said.

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Victoria could not stand on her own.

After about a month, nothing changed. That’s when they decided to take Victoria in for a CT scan, which revealed a hole in her spinal cord. “It’s a defect and it was in the center of the spinal cord right at her pelvic girdle,” said Hanna, “it impacted her nerves.”

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A CT scan revealed a pin-sized hole in Victoria’s spinal cord.

Dr. Hill says he’s happy they were able to identify the lesion. “Often times these things go undiagnosed due to lack of equipment, and not testing for it.”

Swimming in Circles
Clady says the best physical therapy for Victoria was to get her back in the water, and Dr. Hill agrees. Another big step towards recovery has been to make sure she’s spending time with her fellow penguins.

“These are colonial birds, they don’t like being alone,” Clady said. Victoria gets physical therapy every day, and you can find her swimming in Penguin Palooza from 8:30-2:30 daily for her water therapy. Victoria is easily identified thanks to a red tag on both of her wings. She’s the one swimming in circles in the exhibit, as she makes progress on her left foot.  She now has full control of her right foot.

 “It’s a testament to the staff that we pursued this, and stuck with the physical therapy, and saw this treatment through, to where we are today,” said Dr. Hill.

Molting
Victoria couldn’t spend all her time in Penguin Palooza, especially when she started molting. All birds molt – they lose their feathers. Penguins have a unique molting process.

Victoria on Ice

Penguins have a unique molting process. They shed all of their feathers at once.

“When they molt, they get hot, like physically hot,” said Clady. That’s a natural condition normal in their native cold environment. Victoria went through her molt in early March, which is different than most birds because while other birds only shed a few feathers at a time, penguins shed all of their feathers at once.  During Victoria’s molting season, Clady moved her into the “cold room” behind the scenes, for a different form of therapy.

Snow Spa
Victoria started receiving a “snow spa” treatment. She spent her days lying in fresh snow that Dan shoveled daily just for her, until she finished molting. Dan described the process of molting as uncomfortable for Victoria, comparing it to a baby teething.

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Introducing Victoria to her “snow spa” behind the scenes. It helped her stay cool during her molting process.

Penguins have a core temperature of 101 degrees and can easily overheat. The “snow spa” that Dan set up for her helped her stay cool and comfortable while she was going through molting. Molting is a normal process but with her working on recovery from her spinal condition, the animal care team was happy to do anything they could to make her more comfortable.

“She sat in that snow, and started digging around. She enjoyed being able to cool off in there,” Clady said. “It alleviated the pressure on her chest too.”

Making Progress
A year later, Victoria has full control of her right foot, she’s still working on her left foot.

She’s now able to prop herself up, and Dan helps her stabilize herself. “She keeps taking a step in the right direction, and she’s constantly getting better.” said Clady.

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Victoria floats around on top the water, while Senior Biologist, Dan Clady, sprays the rockwork in Penguin Palooza.

Victoria is improving over time, and Dr. Hill says spinal cord lesions take a lot of time to improve. It’s thanks to the attentiveness of her dedicated animal care team that Victoria has made the progress she has so far.

“The upside is she is able to swim, and that’s ideal for her mental attitude and physical therapy. She’s maintained a sense of mental balance. Without that, I think she would’ve deteriorated. Without a stimulus, physical therapy and the enrichment of being around birds, she would’ve likely deteriorated quickly – from not only a mental state, but also muscle atrophy,” said Dr. Hill.

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Victoria takes a dip underwater. She’s easily identifiable by her red wing bands.

The animal care team continues to work with Victoria as she heals and improves. You might think Victoria’s the one getting all the benefit from this care. But it’s clear in talking with each of the Newport Aquarium animal experts, from Dan to Jolene to Dr. Hill and many others, they are each nurtured by their special relationship with Victoria.

Meet the “Mother of Volunteers”

It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and we’re shining the spotlight on the “Mother of Volunteers,” the woman who single-handedly created our Volunteer & Intern Services program from the ground up for WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium. The woman with a vision is no other than Jenny Greber, Community Engagement Manager, and head of the Volunteer & Intern Services program.

Jenny Greber

“I started the volunteer and intern services program from scratch, which has been a wonderful opportunity.”

“I started at the aquarium in July of 1999, and the grand opening was May 15, 1999, so I came in less than two months later and after three weeks I had my first volunteer on the exhibit floor.”

“I actually created my job.  I was living in Seattle at the time and my mom sent me this newspaper clipping in the mail that said an aquarium was being opened (in Newport). I called and explained to them that I had volunteered and worked for the Seattle Aquarium and I told them I would like to come and help out there.”

Initially they told her that they were not going to have volunteers. They told her to call back later after they had officially opened, and call back she did.

“I called back every month for three months,” said Greber. “On the last call I gave them a list of reasons why they really should include volunteers in their aquarium.”  They were so impressed by her determination that they asked her to fax over her resume. From there, Greber would have a phone interview with the aquarium, they faxed her an offer, she accepted and the rest as they say is history.

Jenny Greber has been at the aquarium for almost 19 years. Her anniversary is this July.

“I started the volunteer and intern services program from scratch, which has been a wonderful opportunity.”

Jenny has been here every step of the way and has seen the WAVE Foundation and Newport Aquarium grow along the way. Believe it or not, at the time, not everyone was on board with the idea of having volunteers.

“There’s always road blocks with change, whether it’s good or bad, its human nature. People resist change, regardless of what it is. Coming in after the aquarium opened was challenging, people were worried that these volunteers were going to take their jobs, and they weren’t,” says Greber.

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“Volunteers are icing on the cake, they aren’t the cake, they are the icing, and they are here to help, they are here to share our mission, they’re here to engage our guests and add that extra sugar on top value that we want to keep giving on a consistent basis.”     

“My favorite part about my job is that I have the opportunity to allow the community to take part and be a part of this family. The community enhances that family dynamic. To have others experience that is awesome and that’s my favorite part.”

Of course with being the Community Engagement Manager for almost 20 years, there are many parts of Jenny’s job that she adores.

“One of the things I get really excited about is where people land after they get done having their journey here, this is just a stepping stone for a lot of the younger people in our community. It’s so wonderful to know the hundreds of people that we put into the industry that are now at AZA accredited institutions,” she said.

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WAVE Foundation was awarded the Inspiring Service Volunteer Engagement Award at the SVP Fast Pitch Awards.

“To see the teenagers who are now PhDs, to see some of the summer naturalists who are now veterinarians, to see some of the volunteers and interns who are now working here as employees, no matter what department they’re in.”

Jenny’s experience, “building  a program from scratch to having over 300 active volunteers,” is unparalleled, according to Dan Dunlap, the Conservation Education Curator at WAVE Foundation.

“Her knowledge of the volunteer industry and her connections in the community are irreplaceable,” said Dunlap.

WAVE Foundation’s Volunteer Department recently won a prestigious award at Social Venture Partners’ fifth annual Fast Pitch competition. WAVE was recognized with the Inspiring Service Volunteer Engagement Award.

“I love my job, this is my dream job, and I’m really excited to be able to see where we started, see where we are and to have an idea of where we’re going to go.”

Jenny Greber has changed the lives of thousands of volunteers and interns, and helped hundreds secure job opportunities within AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums.

Want to volunteer? Come and join our family at WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium and check out our volunteer and intern services opportunities on WAVE Foundation’s website or give the Community Engagement Office a call at 859-815-1424 for any questions you might have! This is a family you will be proud to be a part of!

 

Raising Baby Jellyfish: Behind the Scenes In the Jellyfish Nursery

The anticipation is building around Newport Aquarium’s newest exhibit, The Ring of Fire, set to open March 9, 2018. The exhibit features the Giant Pacific Octopus, Japanese Spider Crabs and Moon Jellyfish. We recently sat down with Mark Dvornak, General Curator at Newport Aquarium, whose team of biologists has been hard at work preparing for the landing of our Moon Jellyfish.

“We are always trying to give our guests the opportunity to see animals from a new perspective, one that promotes conservation,” said Dvornak. “We want our guests to come away with a greater appreciation and understanding of all the animals on exhibit.”

Mark Dvornak

“We are always trying to give our guests the opportunity to see animals from a new perspective, one that promotes conservation,” said Mark Dvornak, General Curator at Newport Aquarium.

Dvornak described a two-pronged approach to developing the new exhibit. Teams of designers, engineers and biologists have been busy constructing the new gallery. At the same time, the biologists are also preparing a Moon Jellyfish nursery, which will be available for viewing on our exclusive behind-the-scenes tour.

“One of the challenges of acquiring jellyfish species for an exhibit is the constant change in numbers. Some years it is can be very difficult to source them,” said Dvornak. “So, in order to remove that unknown risk factor, we wanted to follow a sustainable approach by raising our own jellyfish.”

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We caught up with one of the main biologists in charge of the Moon Jellyfish nursery. Ty Jobson, our Moon Jelly “guru,” helped build the nursery, which consists of specialized tanks called kreisels for the jellyfish.

What is a kreisel?

“A kreisel is a tank specifically designed to hold jellyfish. Jellyfish move with the ocean currents, so the purpose of this design is to simulate that drifting, natural behavior that jellyfish have,” said Jobson.

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The nursery consists of a multistage set-up, featuring the Moon Jellyfish in their five stages of growth: planula, polyp, strobila, ephyra and medusa. Guests will have the chance to explore the Moon Jelly life cycle from larva to adult jellyfish on our exclusive behind-the-scenes tour.

“With the kreisel design, you’re trying to alleviate any edges that the jellyfish might get stuck in and also create that curve that helps water flow in a circular motion so that the jellyfish can drift.”

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Jellyfish “guru,” Ty Jobson, pauses to admire the moon jellyfish. He says they’re “almost alien, like tiny flying saucers.”

“Guests are going to have a rare opportunity to see our Moon Jellyfish through all of their life stages,” said Jobson.  “The amount of space required to display the different life stages is big, that’s why the behind the scenes tour is a great opportunity.”

Guests can see our Moon Jellyfish along with our Giant Pacific Octopus and Japanese Spider Crabs and a variety of other animals from the Ring of Fire on March 9, 2018! Stay tuned for a special edition Takeover Tuesday with Ty Jobson. To learn more, visit us at NewportAquarium.com or call 800-406-3474.

Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of Ring of Fire

The team at Newport Aquarium is counting down the days to the launch of the newest exhibit – Ring of Fire, opening soon in March 2018. The exhibit provides guests a chance to experience the animals and amazing stories of the Ring of Fire, one of the most seismically active areas in the world and home to some fascinating animals including the Giant Pacific Octopus, Moon Jellyfish and more.

We recently sat down with Jeff Gibula, Zoological Operations & Exhibit Design Manager at Newport Aquarium, who is busy coordinating the construction of the habitat for the Giant Pacific Octopus.

Did you know? Instead of bringing in construction crews, biologists at the aquarium are the ones influencing the design and constructing the new exhibit, the benefits of which are far reaching.

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“Crafting exhibits is a fantastic artistic outlet for the team,” said Gibula. “Our team is very talented and jam packed with various skill sets, we share this knowledge with each other and teach new skills to develop and expand their tool belts.”

One of the most special aspects of the new exhibit is guests will feel like they are in the habitat of the Giant Pacific Octopus with the rock work spilling out from the exhibit and while exploring the rocky Octopus Den. So far, biologists have spent over 170 hours packing cement for the space surrounding the GPO.

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“Our guests frequently ask to see an octopus on display so we’re pleased to be adding this special animal,” said Gibula. “Octopi are nocturnal, however, and sort of shy, so featuring them in a big exhibit can be difficult. That is why the rock work and very special lighting become so important.”

The design consists of several walls of volcanic, basalt-like rock and fossils, giving guests the look and feel of actually being underwater inside an Octopus’s den. In addition, the viewing windows and push-and-play components have all been placed at a child-suitable height, increasing guest interaction.

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Gibula looks at the rock work in the Octo Den.

“Our mission is to bring families closer together,” said Gibula. “We make mom and dad the hero by providing information close-by, so they can guide their children through this fun, entertaining and educational experience.”

Stay tuned to learn more about the construction, features and animals of the new Ring of Fire exhibit coming soon! To learn more, visit us at NewportAquarium.com or call 800-406-3474.

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End of an Era – Ric Urban’s Return to the South

All of us at Newport Aquarium want to wish Ric Urban a fond farewell! After spending the past 14 years with us here at Newport Aquarium, sharing the wonders of wildlife and saving wild spaces, Ric is about to embark on his next chapter – and he’s returning to the south!

Ric Urban

Ric has left a legacy a thousand times over, giving people a greater appreciation for wildlife and wild places. – Eric Rose, Executive Director at Newport Aquarium 

Ric has more than 35 years of experience working in AZA-accredited institutions. He joined us at Newport Aquarium in 2004 as Curator of Birds and Mammals. During that time, he increased the aquarium’s penguin collection from two species to six by hand-raising several birds. He also helped bring American alligator, Mighty Mike, and albino alligators, Snowball and Snowflake, to the facility. While Ric’s role and title may have changed over the past 14 years, his dedication to conservation never disappeared.

 

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He has been responsible for developing partnerships that promote in-house and off-site conservation programs involving animals and ecosystems, as well as promoting the aquarium’s conservation efforts. Ric is active in the community as a member of Banklick Watershed Council, Sanitation District No. 1, the annual Ohio River Sweep, Reforest Northern Kentucky, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association Lock-up.

From transforming the Tri-State’s water shed and landscape, to protecting local species, Ric Urban has inspired the conservationist in all of us.

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“I always tell people that while I am living and breathing I don’t want these African penguins to be extinct, we’re not going to let that happen.” – Ric Urban

Our community is a better place because Ric lived here and spent nearly every waking moment of those 14 years inspiring others to care for the planet and its animals the way that he does. He showed us we can make a difference, that small conservation efforts add up to big ones, and that our environment is worth caring about. We’re going to miss him- and if you’ve ever met him you know there are too many reasons why to list.

My favorite conversations that Ric had with so many people went something like this.

Person: Oh, I’ve never seen a __________ (insert any animal) in-person before.

Ric: Yes, it is quite beautiful isn’t it?

Person: Definitely. Can I touch it? Will it bite?

Ric: Well, everything with teeth will bite if it feels threatened…but generally not.

                                                                                                                                –Chad Showalter

There are so many stories that I could tell about Ric Urban. He was not only the man who first hired me at the Newport Aquarium in 2011, but he quickly became my mentor. Later down the road he became my travel partner, conservation adviser and friend. I have seen first-hand the impacts he has had on summer-camp kids, volunteers of all ages, his own daughter and me.

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Ric and Alle traveled to Peru in 2012 to help protect endangered seabirds, including penguins.

One of my favorite stories was traveling with him to Peru for the Humboldt Penguin Guano Harvest in 2012. He had just undergone shoulder surgery, but still thought it would be a great idea to army crawl into a guano-filled penguin nest with one of our hosts. Why not!

If you get the chance, be sure to ask him about the “bear in the bathroom” story. It is one of my favorites! Ric truly is one-of-a-kind and will be missed greatly, but I know he will make a positive impact in Gulfport. Cheers! – Alle Barber

Ric is described by his colleagues as talented and good-natured, helping him to become quite the television and public personality. You might have seen him on Living Dayton with Nagini our red-tailed boa, or on WLWT talking to Randi Rico about Bindi the Blue-Tongued Skink and Oreo our Argentine Black & White Tegu, or sharing important conservation messages about African penguins while visiting every local and regional television station, as well as a Cincinnati Reds baseball game with Paula the African penguin, an important ambassador for her species. Ric often tells people, “When you get a chance to be close to nature and touch the animals, you begin to feel a personal connection with that animal. It’s a connection with nature, a connection with conservation.”

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Ric has made it his life’s mission to protect African penguins, an endangered species threatened by increasing competition from commercial fisheries for food and harmful crude oil spills. Ric is the Project Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Project. He also holds a seat on the AZA African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), Penguin Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), and is a member of the AZA’s Animal Welfare Committee. “I always tell people that while I am living and breathing I don’t want these African penguins to be extinct, we’re not going to let that happen,” said Ric.

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Thursday afternoon, Newport Aquarium cast members came together to share a final farewell. Reflecting upon these last 14 years, the positive relationships he has made and the legacy he will leave behind, Ric left us with these final words, “don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened.”

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Ric’s new adventure will be at the Mississippi Aquarium as their Director of Husbandry & Conservation.

See ya later, Ric!

Saving Sea Turtles One Straw at a Time

Meet two young conservationists on a mission to make a difference and save our oceans! Gracie and Connor are saving sea turtles one straw at a time. They kicked off a campaign, and thanks to WAVE Foundation, they’re selling raffle tickets and metal straws to encourage people to reduce their use of single use plastics like plastic straws.

Gracie and Connor

Marine biologist Dr. Wallace J Nichols initiated the Blue Marbles Project and set out to pass a blue marble through every person’s hand on earth, with a simple message of gratitude along with it Since that time blue marbles have been shared around the world with millions of people in celebration of our beautiful, fragile, planet, carrying the simple and clear message that #WaterIsLife.

12-year-old Gracie and 9-year-old Connor were both inspired by their parents who work at Newport Aquarium and WAVE Foundation. They both have attended Camp WAVE and have practically “grown up” with WAVE Foundation’s education program at summer camp.

Read part of a letter Gracie and Connor wrote, to bring awareness and create a call to action:

My name is Gracie Greber. I have grown up around marine animals my whole life. I have always loved and appreciated that they are here   for a reason. I have also realized that a lot of trash goes into our ocean, and our water ways; the environment that they live in. Now a lot of the trash the animals think is food so they eat it, or it gets into their body somehow and hurts them. Last year my mom and I came across this video on Facebook, it was a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. I always knew that plastic bags affected them, but not a straw. Every time I went out to eat after that I thought about the video, and how I could help prevent this from happening to sea turtles and other animals too. I had this idea that what if I got people to raise money for the sea turtles and donate to a foundation of some sort.

straw2

Now every kid probably thinks selling their best toys or setting up a lemonade stand will raise enough money to help this. But I had a different idea. I thought that if I could sell a raffle ticket for a basket with sea turtle related things in it to raise money for this project. I was thinking that if every raffle ticket I sell the person who bought it would get a reusable metal straw and a cleaner brush to go with it.

Gracie and Connor letter

 

I am also being joined by Connor in this mission to save our oceans.  We will be located at the Crop for Conservation  Jan. 26, 27, 28. The drawing for the raffle on Sunday Jan. 28. 

Thank you helping me reach our goal in this project.

Sincerely,

Gracie and Connor

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Takeover Tuesday: Scuba Santa Edition

Ho, ho, ho, the holidays are finally here! I’m so excited to be back at Newport Aquarium for the 15th year in a row. There’s no better place to spread Christmas cheer than with my favorite aquatic animals. I’m excited to take you behind the scenes with the dive team for this special #TakeoverTuesday.

Safety Check

Dive Safety Officer, LC, helps me with everything before I get into the water. She makes sure my hat is secured tightly, that my full face mask is comfortable, and that my hair and beard are not tangled into my equipment… my beard is so long that it often gets caught in my face mask!

There is a lot of work that goes into being Scuba Santa. My milk & cookie filled stomach tends to make me float, so when I am diving at Newport Aquarium, I have to have about 100 extra pounds of weights to hold me down! These weights go in my belt as well as on other equipment I take in the water with me, like my compressed tank of air which can last up to two hours!

Safety check with LC

LC was definitely given the gift of patience, my elves and I tend to ask a lot of questions.

This is part of my dive team: my fellow safety elf and Dive Safety officer, LC. LC makes sure I have the fins and wetsuit that I need in the correct size – eating as many cookies as I do, XL is always my go-to size for my wetsuit.

I want to make sure I do everything I can to protect the animals that live in it, as well as myself at all times. Remember, you can help protect the ocean and its animals too, by using less plastic and recycling! #Conservation is important.

Magic Bubble wishes

Elves delivered Magic Bubble Wishes. I love hearing what each good little boy and girl wants me to bring them Christmas morning!

After I have my scuba gear on, I like to read Magic Bubble Wishes that guests left at my mailbox in Penguin Palooza. Some people wish for penguins, some wish for alligators, and some just wish for everyone to love one another. I get to help people with their wishes while fulfilling one of my own by swimming with such amazing creatures here at Newport Aquarium!

It gets pretty warm really quickly with a mask on and all of the extra weight, so after getting dive-ready I get into the acclimation tank where I can cool off and get used to the water temperature before diving.

Acclimation

When we are in the water I take down my special book that tells me who’s on the naughty and nice list so I can let the animals know, as well as all of you!

You may wonder though, why my elves carry large candy canes! This is to ensure that we keep ourselves at a distance from the animals who may not see us if they are sleeping. If the sharks are sleeping, they won’t sense that we are in the water and they could accidentally bump into us. The candy canes allow for the elves to let them know that we are sharing the same space, and it gives us a bigger personal bubble while under water. As always, safety is key!

Underwater

My safety elves are so helpful; they make sure that sleeping sharks don’t bump into me while I’m talking to aquarium guests.

Scuba Santa meet and greet

The absolute best part of my job is getting to hear all the wishes you hold so dear. Make sure you stop by the Shark Ray Bay Theater to tell me what you’d like for Christmas!

Although I am from the North Pole, staying in water for long periods of time can make you cold, and even I have to stay warm! So every now and then I will swim to the top of the water and get out for about five minutes to warm up in a special diver hot tub behind the scenes. While I’m in the hot tub I catch up with members of the Dive Team, eat cookies, and drink hot cocoa!

Cocoa by the hot tub

Diving can get cold, so I take a few hot cocoa breaks throughout the day. I like to spend some time in the diver hot tub warming up, and catching up with members of the Dive Team.

I have to hurry though because I don’t have long before I get back into the water to fulfill more wishes! Being Scuba Santa makes me so happy and all of you make it possible by coming to visit me! I’ll be at Newport Aquarium until December 31st — but remember, I take Christmas Day off.  Thank you for joining me for this Takeover Tuesday Ho Ho Ho!

Takeover Tuesday: Meet Dive Safety Officer LC

Hello Everyone! My name is Diver LC and I am a Dive Safety Officer at Newport Aquarium. What does it mean to be a Dive Safety Officer? Follow along with me on this #TakeoverTuesday, and I’ll show you!

diver lc

Here I am behind the scenes, getting into the acclimation pool.

I have been working at Newport Aquarium for 13 years and in that time, I have had many different roles; Exhibits Supervisor, Promotions Coordinator, Overnight Coordinator, and Penguin House- just to name a few.

All of the experiences in these different jobs that I had prior help me as a Dive Safety Officer, which I started two years ago!

I received my Dive Master Certification through Scuba Unlimited, which has also helped to give me the skills needed for such a diverse job!

In the picture below, Diver Ed and I get into the Blue Ash YMCA pool right before the new volunteer diver assessment.

LC and Diver Ed

Dive Safety Officers train divers, both staff and volunteers, on how to dive in the exhibits in the aquarium and what to do in the event of an emergency. We have over 100 volunteer divers and a lot of my day is spent working with them. They are the most amazing group of people I have ever met and make the job so much more fun and meaningful!

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Here I am behind the scenes in our acclimation pool with two staff members during our Diver Emergency Training. This is training all divers must go through to be a diver.

 

During this time of year, I also have a very important role – making sure Scuba Santa is safe. We help Scuba Santa suit up behind the scenes before he enters the Surrounded by Sharks tank. We make sure his air tank is turned on before he goes in, his full face mask is secure, and his harnesses are tightened. Insider scoop- he loves his milk and cookies while warming up in a hot tub between shows and he is a SUPER nice guy!

scuba santa

Helping Scuba Santa gear up before he enters our Surrounded by Sharks tank.

Another highlight is when I get to dive in the Shark Tank to give a dive show presentation. This time of year, dive shows are on hold while Scuba Santa is in the Shark Tank. Scuba Santa is accompanied by dive safety elves. The elves are usually some of our volunteers divers. On this occasion, I went in with Scuba Santa.

LC with Scuba Santa

Scuba Santa gets safety elves when he goes in the water. That’s me with the giant candy cane!

Dive Shows are one of my favorite things to do because I get to talk to you, the guests, from my favorite tank! I get to educate guests on what is in the tank and also what can be done for ocean conservation!

Some of the absolute highlights of my career have been doing guest dives for people that I really look up to – Dr. Lucy Hawkes, a physiological ecologist who studies migration in vertebrates (including sea turtles) and marine biologist, Dr. Wallace Nicholls, author of “Blue Mind,” and creator of the Blue Marble Project.

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It was an honor to get the privilege to lead them on a dive in the Shark Tank and share what I love doing with them and also the chance to talk one on one with these amazing people that are making positive changes in the World!

Diver LC and her son (2)

Bonding moment with my son in Stingray Hideaway. He visited while he was at Camp WAVE over the summer.

Some of my favorite moments are when I get to impress my 8 year old son, Connor, who wants to be a “Scuba Diving Paleontologist and in the military like Dad”. Last summer, while he was attending Camp Wave, he got to watch me diving in the shark tank and Stingray Hideaway.

When Dr. Nichols visited Camp WAVE campers this summer, he gave me this #BlueMarble.Blue Marble It’s part of his Blue Marbles Project, reminding everyone to take care of our blue planet. His goal is to pass a blue marble through every (yes, every) person’s hand on earth, with a simple message of gratitude. Ocean conservation is very important to me. If you think Kentucky is too far away from an ocean to make a difference, think again! Conservation is all around us! It can be as simple as picking up the trash you see so that it doesn’t go into the river and then travel to the ocean, turning off lights when you leave the room, or turning off the water as you brush your teeth. Thank you for joining me on this #TakeoverTuesday. As Dr. Nichols would say, you’ve got the whole world in your hands. –DiverLC