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.

Kelly and Erin feeding Mike (2)

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!

Tamara penguin house (2)

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.”
Ty jelly tank (2)

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.

Kelly feeding caiman (2)

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.”

Jen

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.”

Dan, Jolene, and Victoria1

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

 

 

 

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.

Penguin loft - Victoria and Clifford

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.

Penguin Palooza

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.

Victoria Xray

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.

Victoria exam

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.”

Victoria CT scan

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.

Dan, Jolene, and Victoria1

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.

Victoria

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.

Victoria

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.

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.

Celebrating Hogwarts Back to School in Newport Aquarium’s “Potion” Lab

September 1, 2017 marks nearly two decades from the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where a grown-up Harry Potter sees his own children off to Hogwarts.

In honor of little witches and wizards heading back to Hogwarts today, Newport Aquarium Water Quality Specialist, Cameo VonStrohe shares some “potions” she creates to analyze the water chemistry at the Newport Aquarium.


“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses.”

— Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Just as potions are important in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, chemistry, science, and water quality are important here at Newport Aquarium. Now, from our own Harry Potter fan, and “Water Wizard,” here’s a look at how everyday chemistry works in the potions water lab.

Hello. I am Cameo VonStrohe, the Water Quality Specialist for the Newport Aquarium. Thanks for joining me today. I thought I’d share some potions – that’s reagents for you muggles.test tubes

But first, let’s talk about the nitrogen cycle and why testing is important.

Ammonia produced by the fish in their waste, uneaten food, and decaying plant matter all contribute to ammonia levels which is quite toxic to fish (think cruciatus curse or worse).

However, there are necessary, beneficial bacteria living in the tanks that convert the ammonia (NH3) to a less toxic form of nitrogen, nitrite (NO2), and then to an even less toxic form, nitrate (NO3).  With proper filtration/life support systems and maintenance by our biologists and engineers, the bacteria is kept in check.  To ensure all these components are working properly and the fishes’ environment is healthy, I run a gamut of tests.  NH3, NO2, and NO3 are three of my top five tests performed a minimum of once a week on every tank in the aquarium and including our Offsite Animal Health Facility.

Time for Potions:

One ingredient in the ammonia test set-up is alkaline citrate, which I’m currently running low on.  So first, you need to don PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) including robes lab coat, goggles, and gloves.  Safety first!  Review your recipe and prep your lab bench with the supplies.

Potions Day

“Potions Day” is my favorite day in the lab!

The dry chemicals are weighed out on a scale and distilled water is measured in a volumetric flask – precision matters.

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Add a magnetic stir bar to the “glass cauldron” and place the beaker on a stirrer plate.  Mix to dissolve and like magic, the solution turns from milky white to clear.  Now the reagent is ready and it’s time to tidy up the laboratory.

ALWAYS keep your lab space clean and organized and you will have a very content Professor Snape.

Preparing the samples for testing:

sample bottles

To the right of the sample bottles are smaller containers called “cuvettes,” with the pink tinted coloring. These are for the nitrite testing.

The red test tube rack holds samples for the ammonia test.  Both of these will be tested on a spectrophotometer located in the fume hood.

spectrophotometer

The spectrophotometer (on the left) is a scientific instrument that measures the absorbance of light at specific wavelengths.

For each test, light (Lumos!) is passed through the sample where the amount of light absorbed/how much is transmitted is measured.  The machine puts a value to that measure and this is the data that I review.

Reviewing data

Reviewing test data for a new, improved nitrate test option.

For the Hermione types out there, you probably are curious as to the other two tests in the Top 5…These are salinity (tested with a refractometer) and pH (tested on a benchtop meter). Both are also highly important parameters to maintain for fish health and we can discuss those next time.

Thanks for letting me have a little fun with this post and joining me in the lab.  I wish you all a great school year!

#Hufflepuff

 

 

 

Lionfish Derby 2017: Conservation and Education!

A group of volunteers from WAVE Foundation and Newport Aquarium just returned from a conservation trip to Sarasota, Florida. Newport Aquarium Dive Safety Officer, Diver LC  shows us the importance of the Lionfish Derby.

What is a lionfish derby? This is an event that was put together by REEF and hosted at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. During this one day event on July 8th, volunteers from WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium and staff from Newport Aquarium set out to remove as many lionfish from the ocean as possible.

Rich_Carey lionfish at little dutch boy.img_assist_custom-399x251

Lionfish are a venomous fish whose native home is in the Indo-Pacific. Photo Courtesy: REEF

I bet some of you are wondering why 18 people from an aquarium would want to travel 972 miles to remove a beautiful fish from the ocean! Lionfish are a venomous fish whose native home is in the Indo-Pacific. In the 1980’s, it is believed that some people with lionfish as pets released them into the Atlantic. Now, this invasive species population has exploded and they are taking over the habitat and food that the native species need to survive. Their habitat range is huge! Lionfish can live as shallow as the shoreline and as deep as over 1,000 feet and can live in water temperatures from 50 to 90 degrees! Not only that, but each lionfish can produce 2 MILLION EGGS IN A YEAR! They are sexually mature at 1 year and can live for around 30 years – that’s possibly 60 MILLION EGGS from one single female lionfish in a lifetime!

Scientists believe we will never stop the lionfish invasion; the best that we will ever be able to do is control the problem. That’s what we set out to do – to help control the problem! (It doesn’t hurt that they just so happen to be tasty too… more on that later).

Lionfish Derby group photo

Here is most of the WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium/Newport Aquarium crew at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium after the Captain’s meeting the night before the Lionfish Derby!

At the Captain’s Meeting, we were educated on lionfish biology, safe handling, treatment, and the rules of the Derby.

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We learn that through lionfish derbies, institutions like REEF will weigh and measure each fish and dissect the stomach contents of each fish. This gives scientists an idea of how well the fish are thriving, and also how many different types of animals they prey on.

The next morning, I joined 11 divers and set off with the wonderful crew at Blue Water Explorers. Everyone there was very helpful, friendly, and well educated on Florida’s ecosystem.

Ready to dive

Six snorkelers set out on their own to different locations and some of them saw barracuda, crab, reef fishes, and one even saw a manatee!

Each diver got to experience two dives in different locations in the Gulf. Some of us saw grouper, barracuda, rays, and many beautiful reef fishes.

We captured every lionfish we saw!

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After a long day of diving and snorkeling, most of us catch some z’s, relax on the beach, and grab a bite to eat at the St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.

The next morning, an educator from Mote takes us to a bay area for a Field Study. We aren’t just on a conservation trip, but an education trip too!

Field Study group

Group photo, getting ready for our Field Study. Our conservation trip is also educational!

Here the educator is teaching us all about Florida ecology in the bay and then she sends us in the water with nets to see what we can catch.

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The educator took a few of the best specimens to examine and put them in little Tupperware containers, so that we could get a better look. We caught whelk, sea stars, pinfish, pipefish, toadfish, and a sole. After the educator answered all of our questions, we released the animals back to their habitat.

After the Field Sampling, it is off to the Lionfish Derby Festival!

Lionfish Derby Festival

At the Lionfish Derby Festival. Jen and Matt turn in their lionfish to get measured and scored. Let’s see how they do!

At this station, a biologist is dissecting each fish and collecting the stomach contents to get DNA identification later on in a lab. One of our very own biologists assisted in a dissection!

Lionfish dissecting

We’re always learning. During the scoring, one of Newport Aquarium’s biologists assisted in a lionfish dissection!

 

After scoring, we went inside for the lionfish food contest. Five local restaurants made different lionfish dishes that will later be vote on by the tasters (a.k.a. us!). Of the dishes, there are raviolis, tacos, garlic toast, fried rice, and even a dessert all with lionfish. If you ask most of us, the garlic toast was the best!

lionfish food contest

Our “taste testers” Kathy, Diver Jon, and Erin, sample some of the lionfish dishes.

A representative from Whole Foods in Florida said it’s hard to keep up the demand for lionfish, which is a good problem to have! You can help if you are in Florida- go to www.myfwc.com for a fishing license to legally catch and sell lionfish to restaurants in Florida.

And now we wait for the awards ceremony!

If you think about it that is a potential 480 million baby lionfish that could have been produced by those eight fish. Thankfully, they were removed from the reef they were causing harm to!

Not only did we do our part to remove harmful lionfish and learn about Florida’s ecology during the Field Study, but we also picked up beach trash in our free time.

Reusable bag on beach

‘Picking up trash on the beach is more enjoyable than picking up sea shells.’

I would like to share this email from one of our volunteer divers, Mark:

“Early this morning, a local name Bob stopped me for a brief conversation. He thanked me for removing the trash today. I noticed that Bob also had a reusable bag and he stated he gets up every morning to collect the trash on the beach. He stated it is great to see people like you (I pointed to the WAVE Foundation on my bag) and your organization picking up trash. Bob left me with a fantastic quote… ‘Picking up trash on the beach is more enjoyable than picking up sea shells. It’s a good feeling knowing you doing something to help and start your day out right.’”

Conservation starts with you and sometimes it is as easy as picking up trash that you see and sometimes it involves driving 972 miles and diving to 70 feet to capture venomous lionfish!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Water Day at Newport Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ky– Today is World Water Day!

World Water Day was created in 1993 and is coordinated by UN Water—the United Nation’s branch concerning all issues related to freshwater. The day is meant to spread awareness about freshwater and to encourage actions to ensure safe water for everyone—including fish!

Here at Newport Aquarium, water is a huge part of what we do. In fact, we have more than one million gallons of water here in our tanks!

Water Story

We share a “Water Story,” with signs welcoming guests to exhibits. Guests will go on a “journey” of sorts, as they discover diverse ecosystems, the source of our planet’s water and threats to the world’s water.

When guests visit, they learn about the important role they play in conservation and helping keep our water clean. They’ll also learn what we can do to help preserve our most precious resource – water.

Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at how we make that water safe for our marine animals.

Water Recipes from around the World

One million gallons is a lot of water! And our animals can’t just live in any old water.

According to Cameo VonStrohe, Water Quality Specialist at Newport Aquarium, “It really is ‘world water’ here at the aquarium. We have animals from all over the world, so we have to mimic water from all over the world!”

Cameo

Water Quality Specialist Cameo VonStrohe started at Newport Aquarium as an intern in 1999, while studying biology with a minor in chemistry at NKU. She didn’t always know she wanted to work in the water lab of an aquarium—although animals were always part of the equation! She first dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but eventually discovered that she loved the laboratory.

How do we do this? It’s a process! First, when the city water comes in, it gets filtered through carbon to take out things we don’t want in our water—chemicals that are added for people, like fluoride and chlorine.

Then we break out our water “recipes” to match each aquatic environment that our animals represent. Our biologists and engineers make our saltwater using a unique recipe that includes sodium chloride (better known as table salt!) and nine other salts.

Filtration systems and weekly testing keep the water clean and safe for both animals and divers.

Testing the Waters

VonStrohe tests water from all of the tanks at the aquarium in the Water Quality Laboratory at least once a week. She conducts what she calls a “full run” of four tests on each water sample:  salinity, pH, ammonia, and nitrite.

Refractometer and pH Test HM

To test for salinity—the amount of salt in the water—VonStrohe uses an instrument called a refractometer, which looks like a small telescope and uses light and a tiny scale inside to measure the amount of salt in each water sample. pH testing measures how acidic or basic a water sample is. VonStrohe uses the results of the tests to adjust the tanks to suit each animal.

The goals for each test vary by tank, because each tank simulates a different aquatic environment from around the world. For example, the big 385,000 gallon saltwater shark tank has salinity levels mimicking the ocean, and requires a pH of above 8. But in the Shore Gallery, the water is brackish, meaning it’s a mixture of fresh and saltwater.

In nature, the nitrogen cycle transforms toxic ammonia created from animal waste to nitrite and then to nitrate thanks to the help of some good bacteria. “Everyone thinks bacteria are so horrible,” VonStrohe said, “but they are actually essential to keeping animals healthy!”

Water Lab

Ammonia is created naturally by animals, but it’s toxic to them. The water samples in these test tubes turn different colors depending on their ammonia levels. VonStrohe uses these results to adjust the water going into the tanks.

In an aquarium, this cycle is helped along by people like VonStrohe and machines like the shark tank’s denitrification unit. This machine has three big tubs where tank water is cycled through different chemical reactions that eat up nitrites. Then the machine returns the water to safe levels before sending it back into the tank.

Nitrite Test

VonStrohe conducts four different tests on water samples from all of the aquarium’s tanks each week. One of these is to test for nitrite in the water. “The more pink the sample turns, the more nitrite is present!” she said.

Sometimes, VonStrohe performs more involved testing on the water. Microbiology tests check for tiny organisms and bacteria, and a machine called the atomic absorption spectrometer uses an open flame and beams of light to measure the levels of certain elements in the water.

Spec 2 Water Lab

This atomic absorption spectrometer uses light and an open flame to measure the levels of elements in the water samples. VonStrohe likes to tell people that this is the same type of machine that is used on crime shows like NCIS!

 World Water all year round

Here at Newport Aquarium, it’s World Water Day every day of the year!

A lot of behind-the-scenes water testing, filtering, and cleaning is done by our dedicated staff to ensure our aquatic friends from around the world feel right at home here in Newport, Kentucky.

Cameo Water Lab

All of our water is filtered with carbon and specially made using a recipe of salts to match water environments from around the world!

 

 

 

Midwest shark scientist begins groundbreaking research on secret lives of sharks

By: Nick Whitney, Senior Research Scientist

We announced last fall, the arrival of Dr. Nick Whitney at Newport Aquarium. Read more here: Newport Aquarium announced Renowned Shark Scientist, Nick Whitney, joined the Newport Aquarium team.

From the time I was a young kid growing up in Michigan I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: a garbage man. What could be better than riding around on the back of a truck all day, wearing whatever you want, and playing your music at full blast?

As I grew up I tried various other jobs: I umpired softball but was always getting screamed at by half the people (the half that knew the rules). I worked construction for a while but accidentally shot my boss in the hand with a nail gun (he handled it well). I worked in an aquarium store but got fired for missing too much work (spring break trip to Florida).

With all of these career failures during high school, college seemed like a logical choice for me. I was intrigued by the work of Dr. Jeff Carrier, a professor at nearby Albion College (Albion, MI), who was studying sharks in the Florida Keys. A shark scientist in the Midwest? What a concept!

I had been fascinated with sharks all my life, and my experience in the aquarium industry (including breeding some endangered species in a series of tanks in my bedroom), made me the closest thing to a marine biology student that this professor could find at a small liberal arts college in Michigan.

Jeff took the time to meet with me and eventually invited me to come to Albion and help him with his shark research. It took me about half a second to accept this invitation, and as an undergraduate I spent three summers capturing, tagging, and tracking nurse sharks on their mating grounds in the Florida Keys. I had the time of my life – no one screamed at me, there were no nail guns, and my boss was the one sending me on spring break trips to Florida.

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Nick Whitney tags a nurse shark while on a tagging exhibition  in the Florida Keys, as an undergrad at Albion College. Photo Credit: Dr. Jeffrey C. Carrier

I learned how to handle myself on the water and how to handle sharks without getting bitten (most of the time). I also learned science skills that made me a good candidate for graduate school at the University of Hawaii.

Working in Hawaii for 8 years and Florida for another 7 after that put me on the front lines of shark research, and in the process I started learning how to use a new type of tag called an accelerometer.

These tags use the same sensors found in Fitbits, smartphones, and video game controllers to reveal fine-scale details about the secret lives of sharks. I’ll talk more about these cool tools/toys in an upcoming post.

It’s now 2017 and you can do whatever you want from almost anywhere! Take it from a shark scientist working for an organization in Boston, MA (New England Aquarium) living in Cincinnati, OH, working in Newport, KY, who still does much of his fieldwork in Florida. It sounds complicated, and it took some time to set up, but so far it’s fantastic.

My research now focuses largely on what happens to sharks after they are caught and released by fishermen. Our tags allow us to determine whether the sharks live or die, and how long it takes them to recover and start swimming normally again.

I’m also involved with exciting research on the behavior of sea turtles and other species, and all of my work involves a heavy logistical component. By that I mean we often have to design and build new tag packages for different projects. So I spend a lot of time brainstorming ideas on how we can combine different tags, how we can attach them to animals, and how we can get them back.

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This is one of the things I am excited to work on with my new colleagues at Newport Aquarium. I now have easy access to a number of different sharks and rays (and other species) just 20 minutes from my house. We will be taking advantage of this in the coming months by testing a number of different tag packages and attachment styles, some of which you may see on animals when you visit the aquarium.

The whole goal is to figure out the best way of attaching these tags so that they will stay on the animals without inhibiting them. This takes a lot of trial and error, so don’t be surprised if most of the tags you see are in various stages of falling off the shark. That means we’re learning!

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Photo Credit: Rob Nelson, UntamedScience.com

I’ll also be helping the biologists at Newport Aquarium to formalize and publicize some of the research they have already been doing over the past several years. This includes some groundbreaking work in breeding and rearing shark rays that reminds me a lot of my work with mating nurse sharks in the Keys. So exciting!

Now my kids get to come to Newport Aquarium almost weekly and are blown away by the place. They try very hard not to admit that their uncool dad has a cool job, but once they start walking through the exhibits they go bonkers. My 2 year old wakes up in the middle of the night and says, “Go see Dory?”

They may grow up to be garbage men, or umpires, or construction workers, or most likely some career that doesn’t even exist today. But if they decide to be shark scientists, they have every reason to believe they can do that from here, or anywhere in the country.

 

 

 

Renowned Shark Scientist Joins Newport Aquarium

Newport Aquarium Takes Research Efforts to Next Level 

NEWPORT, Ky. — Thanks to a partnership with New England Aquarium, Newport Aquarium has created a new Senior Research Scientist position. Dr. Nick Whitney, Ph.D. is the new researcher working with the two institutions, and is now in residence at Newport Aquarium.

“This partnership speaks to the reach of the aquarium. We are now expanding our scope and commitment to wildlife conservation through leading-edge shark research,” said Eric Rose, Executive Director at Newport Aquarium.

Dr. Nick Whitney

Dr. Nick Whitney, new Senior Research Scientist

The opportunity for a dedicated research position presented itself when Dr. Whitney relocated to Cincinnati after more than seven years with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. He then joined the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at New England Aquarium, and thanks to some great collaboration with these leading institutions, Dr. Whitney will work in residence right here at Newport Aquarium.

“I’m looking forward to taking research and conservation efforts here at Newport Aquarium to more of a national and international level. I’m excited to join this team of dedicated biologists and build upon their impressive research efforts that have the potential to improve animal care and field conservation around the world,” said Whitney.

Whitney’s research uses high-tech tags called accelerometers (the same motion sensors found in smartphones and Fitbits) to measure fine-scale movements of animals to study their behavior and answer questions that can’t be addressed through traditional tags. His current research with New England Aquarium focuses on whether sharks survive after being caught and released by fishermen.

At Newport, Whitney looks forward to contributing to ongoing research around the Aquarium’s groundbreaking shark ray breeding program, developing and testing new types of shark tags and attachment methods, and helping to increase the conservation impact of this research.

“We are fortunate to have the talents of Dr. Whitney on staff. He will also be supporting the animal husbandry team by leading our own in-house research, then publishing our original research in leading journals and publications,” said Eric Rose.

Dr. Whitney has conducted research on sharks, sea turtles, and other species and has appeared on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic Channel among others. He has worked with the conservation group OCEARCH to tag adult great white sharks off of Cape Cod, and his research has been supported by a variety of funding sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Geographic Society.

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

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

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