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!

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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!

 

In Our Hands

By Ric Urban, Senior Biologist

Can you imagine a day when there is more plastic in the Oceans than fish and other marine life?

Newport Aquarium has joined 18 other aquariums around the country in a new initiative to “stand up” and take a stance against plastic pollution and our society’s dependency on single-use plastics.  Monterey Bay Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium and the National Aquarium are the founders of this movement that invited Newport Aquarium to join other notable aquariums across the United States in this collaboration known as the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) in 2016.

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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.

This summer’s campaign is called “In Our Hands” and the mission is to encourage our guests and our communities to reduce their plastic use and find alternatives.  The ACP is setting a goal to eliminate or reduce plastic beverage bottles in our respective institutions by 2020.

Each member has already eliminated plastic straws and single-use bags, and intends to “significantly reduce or eliminate” other plastics over the next few years.  Our Aquariums want to set the example in our communities that we are concerned and want to make a difference.

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All known species of sea turtle ingest or are entangled by plastic in their lifetimes. aquariums in turning the tide, at http://www.ourhands.org #SkipTheStraw #LoseTheLid

The members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership are also members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).  More than180 million visitors visit zoos and aquariums each year and our aquariums have a responsibility to educate of visitors of the dangers of plastic pollution and the effects it has on our freshwater and marine environments. New studies have shown more than 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year and the number is expected to double by 2025.  In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year.  The Aquarium Conservation Partnership members are not only raising awareness about plastic pollution, promoting behavioral changes with our guests, but also working with business partners and vendors to share good alternatives to single-use plastics and introduce new products and materials.

Our choices are transforming the ocean, lakes, and rivers

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Plastic is now found in almost every marine habitat on Earth, and we’re producing more than we can sustainably manage. Source: A. Lusher, Microplastics in the marine environment: distribution, interactions and effects, Marine Anthropogenic Litter, 2015.

Change takes time

You can help make a difference. Every time you go to the grocery store and every time you drink a bottle of water or soda.  By changing to a re-useable water bottle, you’re making a healthy change in your personal lifestyle and making a life-saving contribution to our planet. Last year, the U.S. used about 50 billion plastic water bottles; that is nearly 200 per person.

reusable water bottle

Our everyday choices are transforming the ocean – but the solution to the plastic problem is #InOurHands. Find out how you can help at www.ourhands.org

Where do all these water bottles go?  Are they recycled?  Studies say no.  Only 23 percent of the plastic bottles were recycled, meaning this plastic was ending up in our landfills or in our waterways.

 

It is time for all of us to “accept the challenge” to reduce our dependency on single-source plastics.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Ask for paper bags at the grocery store or bring your own re-useable tote bags
  • Skip the Straw at places you eat. Ask the staff not to bring straws to you or put them in your drinks.
  • Drink your beer from the tap or buy beer in growlers at the store. This reduces your use of cans and bottles and less recycling.
  • Start using a re-useable water bottle.
  • Reduce, Re-Use, and Recycle – every little bit helps

Join Newport Aquarium and the Aquarium Conservation Partners in making this change to “Save Wild Animals and Save Wild Spaces.” Take pictures and tell us how you’re doing your part and we’ll share them on social media. Remember to use #InOurHands with your posts.

Ric is skipping the straw

We’ve eliminated plastic straws and bags, because we love our sea animals. Visit http://www.ourhands.org and find out what you can do for your favorite aquatic creature.

For more information on the “In Our Hands” campaign, visit:  www.ourhands.org.

Ric-Urban-portrait-120x120About Ric: Ric has more than 30 years experience working in AZA-accredited institutions. He will be presenting in two sessions at the upcoming 2017 AZA Annual Conference: Consume for Conservation and  Using Innovative Science to Refine Conservation Actions. Ric is the Project Coordinator for the AZA SAFE African Penguin Individual Identification Program. He also holds a seat on the AZA African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) and Penguin Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Steering Committees, and is a member of the AZA’s Animal Welfare Committee.

Top 10 Seahorse Fun Facts

Seahorses: Unbridled Fun, Newport Aquarium’s newest exhibit, features 10 species of seahorses and their relatives. Here are 10 Fun Facts:

1.     Seahorses, sea dragons, pipefish, razorfish and trumpetfish are all part of the Sygnathid family, which means “fused jaws” in Greek.

2.     Seahorses are the only animals where the male becomes pregnant! After a courtship dance, the female deposits her eggs into the male’s pouch. The male will fertilize them, carry them, and then eventually give birth.

3.     A baby seahorse is called a “fry.”

4.     Seahorse fins beat at rates of 30-70 times per second! This is a similar speed to a hummingbird’s wings.

5.     Unlike most other fish, seahorses do not have scales. Instead, they have hard bony plates that help them stay upright when swimming.

6.     Seahorses have a prehensile tail like a monkey!

7.     A seahorse’s tail looks rounded, but it’s actually a square shape. The flat edge of their tail gives them a better grip and keeps their tail from rotating in the waves. Scientists are looking into how this design could help with prosthetics for people.

8.     Seahorses have chameleon-like eyes! They can move their eyes in two different directions at the same time! This allows them to look for food with one eye and look-out for predators with the other.

9.     Seahorses have a long, straw-like snout to suck in their food. They open their mouths so quick that it works almost like a vacuum.

10.  Seahorses are an “indicator species” – where there is a healthy seahorse population, it indicates a healthy habitat for all coastal animals.

Seahorses: Unbridled Fun

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium

The Kentucky Derby is only weeks away and Newport Aquarium is bringing ‘horses’ of a different kind to Northern Kentucky. After months of anticipation, Seahorses: Unbridled Fun opens to the public April 9th. Newport Aquarium staff has been working around the clock, creating the most interactive seahorse exhibit you’ve ever seen. Guests can discover 10 species of seahorses and their relatives from the family of Sygnathids – which includes Sea Dragons, Pipefish, Razorfish, Trumpetfish and Seahorses.

Weedy Sea Dragons

Weedy Sea Dragons

Seahorse Characteristics

Seahorses and their relatives can be found around the world. They live in mangrove forests, coastal seagrass and coral reefs. In Seahorses: Unbridled Fun, guests can discover the unique characteristics seahorses have that equip them to live in these environments. Seahorses use their tail to grab and hold onto corals and grasses. They have eyes that work independently like chameleon eyes. Seahorses can hover and swim with the agility of a hummingbird.

In the exhibit, guests can design their own seahorse using custom computer technology. Each guest can use these unique characteristics and build a seahorse to email home or to friends.

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The Barbour’s Seahorse

Seahorse Threats

There are several threats to seahorses around the world. What can you do to protect these amazing creatures? Maybe the easiest is to start eating shrimp – responsibly. You have to know where your shrimp is coming from and how it’s raised.

Seahorses and other marine life are caught in nets used in fishing for shrimp. Wild shrimp are caught through ‘trawl netting’ which is bad for the marine environments. Trawlers drag the seabed catching everything in their path and destroying the habitat.

Download the Seafood Watch App. This is one of the best ways to quickly find out more about the fish or shrimp that you’re ready to buy, and you can check if it is sustainable. Start looking for freshwater shrimp or prawns. This species does not have such an impact on the marine ecosystems and coastal waters.

Ribboned Sea Dragons

Ribboned Sea Dragons

Coral reefs and coastal seagrass habitats are home to many seahorse species. These marine environments are impacted even here in Newport Aquarium’s Tri-State region. From Banklick Creek to the Licking River, to the Ohio and eventually down to the Gulf of Mexico, our waterways will affect the oceans. What we do locally can make a global difference.

Seahorses are a good example of an indicator species. If the habitat is healthy, seahorses are seen in abundance and thriving. If the habitat is struggling with environmental threats, there will be few to no seahorses to be found.

I would like to invite everyone to come and discover the wonder of seahorses together with your families and have some “Unbridled Fun.”