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.

WAVE Award

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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

Shark Central Reopens after State of the Art Transformation

Shark Central, the 4,500-gallon immersive touch tank, that has captivated guests since 2006, just reopened to the public after a state of the art transformation over the summer. In August of 2017, the exhibit temporarily closed for an upgrade. This meant sending the nearly two-dozen sharks that call Shark Central home to the offsite animal health facility until the completion of the project.

What makes Shark Central  unique is the opportunity to see and touch sharks from around the world. Some of the sharks in Shark Central are from the West Coast, like the leopard sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, and California horn sharks. Others are native to South Africa, such as the striped catsharks (also called pyjama catshark), and the leopard catshark. There is even a shark that can only be found in Australia – the Port Jackson horn shark.

Shark Central

Guests can touch six different species in the Shark Central touch tank.

The biggest upgrade to Shark Central is behind the scenes, but vitally important – a new state of the art life support system. This new system was the major hype with all of the biologists working on it. Aquatic Biologist Scott Brehob shares his enthusiasm about the new design and more efficient system.

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Aquatic Biologist Scott Brehob eagerly shows off the new energy efficient life support system behind the scenes.

“I’m incredibly excited to have a brand new and more efficient life support system that gives these sharks great water,” Brehob said. Brehob takes care of the sharks in Shark Central. He has seen the evolution of the exhibit since it first opened in 2004, and shared his passion for taking care of the sharks in his Takeover Tuesday post.

The system is a technological upgrade; it’s less bulk and more bang, just like the ever evolving cell phones we use. We won’t get into the entire scientific nitty gritty; but the new pumps are VFD (variable flow drive) and they include their own computer systems. This allows for the biologists to manually type in what they need from the pump that feeds the tank and the bio towers. If they need more flow to the tank and less pull from it, they can simply type that in. Also with the upgrade, if one of the pumps goes down, the other one can do the work for it, ensuring optimal safety and efficiency.

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Other changes include resurfacing the tank walls, a new paint coat on the exhibit, new decking, and a new concrete ledge. When asked about his favorite part of the project, Assistant Curator Dan Hagley stated he “enjoyed the plumbing aspect and getting to use new things I’ve never played with before that will make it a lot easier for the biologists to maintain the tank.”

Teamwork played a big role in completing this project, and it would not have been possible without the help of the volunteers and interns who assisted our animal husbandry team, and engineers. Volunteers helped drain the tank and cleared out all of the gravel and river rocks so a crew could then come in and resurface the tank walls.

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A ton of work went into this transformation, some of which we could easily overlook like cleaning the new gravel before filling it in the tank! The new filtration systems could easily do that work over time; however, the gravel is very dusty and makes the tank cloudy if it isn’t cleaned beforehand. To save time and get the exhibit looking as nice as possible, several staff members and volunteers took on the task of cleaning the new gravel before shoveling it into the exhibit.

After filling the tank with freshly washed gravel, our biologists filled the tank with water. They made sure the temperature is 60 degrees – these sharks are accustomed to that cold temperature in their native environments,  Brrrr! Biologists also made sure the water has accurate flow rates, balance, and chemical levels before bringing the animals back in. The animals are brought back within a number of moves to ensure that all is well in the environment.Shark Central

“I love being able to educate people about these fascinating animals from around the world. Many people don’t even have the opportunity to see sharks up close, but our guests get to interact with them,” said General Curator, Mark Dvornak.

Dvornak shared his passion about the transformation and how the new water system will give the sharks the optimal healthy environment that a unique touch tank needs. His last big project was the new Stingray Hideaway. It is a larger scale touch tank project that is also open for visitors to experience along with our better than ever Shark Central!

Be sure to stop by and visit Shark Central to see the energy-efficient improvements on your next visit. There are sharks from all over the world awaiting your arrival right here, at Newport Aquarium.

 

Join the #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge

By: Ric Urban, Senior Biologist

NEWPORT, Ky. — Mermaids are ambassadors for our marine environments and freshwater ecosystems. As they make their way to Newport Aquarium from around the world this week, it is the perfect time to kick-off our #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge. These mythical creatures will be swimming with their freshwater fish friends in the Amazon Tunnel through October 15. They’ll delight guests and share their conservation stories in daily meet-and-greets.

Mermaid Calliope

Mermaid Calliope took a break along the banks of Ohio River. The Ohio River is one of the largest watersheds in our region.

The #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge is one of the ways we bring awareness to the plastics we use every day and how we can work to reduce our dependency of plastics. The mermaids need us! Our oceans need us! Our rivers need us! Mermaids don’t like swimming with plastics.

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Seahorses don’t like swimming with plastic straws, and neither do mermaids.

Newport Aquarium is part of the Aquarium Conservation Partners (ACP) which is a first-of-its-kind collaboration created to increase the collective impact of aquariums on ocean and freshwater conservation. The ACP was founded by Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Aquarium, and Shedd Aquarium. These three major aquariums were joined by Newport Aquarium and 14 other aquariums throughout North America to make a change. Newport Aquarium and its ACP partners are committed to eliminating all plastic straws and single-use bags, and significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by 2020. We first told you about the In Our Hands campaign here on the blog, back in the summer.

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In Our Hands is a consumer campaign of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), a coalition of 19 U.S. aquariums taking action together to advance ocean and freshwater conservation.

When you visit Newport Aquarium to see the mermaids, you can share your stories with them in Shark Ray Bay Theater and tell them how you are ‘kicking the plastic’ habit. You can also see them swimming in the Amazon Tunnel, take a selfie with your refillable water bottle and the mermaid!

I have had some time to talk to the mermaids and hear their stories of where they live and the impact of plastic pollution on their underwater environments. Mermaid Coral is the protector of the coral reefs.

Newport Aquarium Mermaids

Mermaid Coral is the protector of the coral reefs.

While talking with her, I discovered the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs around the world are dying. The oceans are fun places to swim. Mermaid Coral and her mermaid sisters are entertained by us humans as we jump and play in the sun on the beach. A big problem for the merfolk is we use sunscreens that wash off in the water and harm the coral reefs. Mermaid Coral would like us to start using biodegradable sunscreens that will still protect us but not harm the reefs and the fishes that swim in the oceans.

Mermaid Calliope

Mermaid Calliope is from the Caribbean and does not like plastics. You can’t swim with her if you use plastics.

Mermaid Calliope is from the Caribbean and does not like plastics. You can’t swim with her if you use plastics. She loves metal re-usable straws. They get nice and cold and make her sweet tea “yummy.” Plastic straws are in the Top 10 of plastic debris found on the beaches and in the oceans. Many seabirds and mammals have ingested plastic straws that have harmed them.

Ninety percent of all the trash floating in the oceans is made of plastics. The #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge is our way as leaders and part of the ACP initiatives to reduce sources of plastic pollution in the ocean and freshwater ecosystems.  Our “plastic pollution” problem is not just an ocean problem or a freshwater problem.  Plastic Pollution starts as a land problem!

Join us in the #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge and tag us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to show how you are reducing your dependency on plastics. Everyone that shares with us will be registered for a raffle to win a “Plastic Free” Newport Aquarium package and a tour of the Newport Aquarium by yours truly.

Let’s take the #SaveTheMermaidsChallenge Together!

Takeover Tuesday: Behind the Scenes with Seahorses

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

Hi, I’m Sidney and I’m a Biologist at Newport Aquarium. One of my main focuses here is culturing live foods for animals like seahorse babies (called fry).

Live food

It’s important to culture live foods because they are generally much smaller in size than any of our frozen foods; so when we breed animals where their offspring are tiny, we ensure that we have food to feed them when they are born.

In the picture above, you can see me measuring the density of microalgae called Nannochloropsis. When it is dense enough, I can harvest it to feed to other microscopic live foods to make them more nutritious for the animals eating them.

black stripe pipefish

African freshwater pipefish

These are African freshwater pipefish. They are in the same exhibit as the opossum pipefish. Look closely for these, though. They are normally hiding under rocks or deep in the plants! The males have pouches just like male seahorses do to hold eggs. Sometimes, these pouches swell and turn a pretty blueish color.

Out of all the animals under my care, my personal favorite is the dwarf gulf pipefish I have lovingly named Hank.

Hank

Hank, featured in the center of this photo, is a dwarf gulf pipefish.

I found Hank in a live food delivery as bycatch when he was barely an inch long and cared for him until he was big enough to go on exhibit. Hank can be found in the dwarf seahorse exhibit, usually blending in with the tall grass around the shell.

Mysis

It’s breakfast time for the dwarf seahorses! What’s on the menu? Mysis!

Right now I am feeding the dwarf seahorse exhibit. This is mysis shrimp in my container, a small shrimp that comes frozen. We thaw it out and then feed it to our exhibits with measuring spoons so that we give the animals the perfect amount of food each time.

Every month or so, I dive into the freshwater pipefish exhibit to scrub algae. This exhibit has live plants in it, so after I scrub, I prune everything and divide a few of the java ferns and sword plants to transplant to different parts of the tank.

 

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Because of the columns in the center of this exhibit, diving to scrub can be challenging. I often end up in acrobatic positions just to reach some of the corners!

IMG_9349

Male pipefish, just like all male seahorses, carry the eggs. Thanks, dad!

These yellow pipefish are called opossum pipefish. They are one of two pipefish species in this exhibit and tend to stay in the middle of the water column. They eat mysis and brine shrimp and sometimes you can see some of the males carrying eggs on their undersides.

Once a week I dive in the paddlefish tank to give it a good scrubbing. It is pretty big – 6,500 gallons – so it usually takes me at least an hour.

above paddlefish

Getting ready to go into the paddlefish tank.

There are roughly 50 paddlefish in the tank with me but they tend to stay out of my way while I work. I appear blue in this photo due to the lighting over the tank. This color light is just for exhibit aesthetics and doesn’t serve a purpose for the paddlefish.

Thank you for joining me for today’s Takeover Tuesday!