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.


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.


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: Stingray Hideaway Edition

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

Hi, my name is Michelle. Thank you for joining me for this #TakeoverTuesday. I’ve worked at Newport Aquarium for more than 13 years.  During those 13 years, I have worked with every type of animal: mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. I am an Aquarist, and I work with saltwater fish and freshwater fish as well as some of our elasmobranchs. Elasmobranchs are a sub-class of cartilaginous fish, which includes all species of sharks, skates, and stingrays. Most of my time is spent in our new exhibit, Stingray Hideaway, which opened earlier this month.

Camera ready (2)

Aquarist, Michelle, has worked at Newport Aquarium for more than 13 years.


Cownose Rays have a high metabolism because they swim around so much, this translates into lots of food prep.  Food prep is a large part of my job as well as observing the animals.  Right now, they are fed 7 days a week at a little over a pound at each feeding. It takes about an hour every day to prep all of their food. Their favorite food is shrimp, but they will also eat clams, squid, herring, mackerel, silversides and ocean smelt.  During the feeding I have an opportunity to assess the health of the stingrays.  Sometimes we also hide their food throughout the tank as a form of enrichment for them, which stimulates them to hunt.

Feeding stingrays (2)

Their favorite food is shrimp, but they will also eat clams, squid, herring, mackerel, silversides and ocean smelt.

A great way for us to share our passion for the animals we work with and take care of every day, is to educate the public. That’s why you’ll see biologists being interviewed on TV. For a short amount of time, we can bring you into their world and hopefully share with you how critical conservation is to the survival of that species.

TV interview (2)

Live TV interview with Brandon Orr, from Local 12. Brandon helped feed the stingrays.

Stingrays are truly majestic animals, it is a joy to watch them glide through the water. In the new exhibit, guests can see so many aspects of their physical abilities. There are three types of stingrays in Stingray Hideaway: cownose, southern, and yellow stingrays. Some are even so memorable; the staff has already given them names.  We have Miss Piggy, she is always the first to come up to eat and she will eat a lot.  We also have Rambo Ann, when she comes over to eat she swims over very fast and rams into your hand to get at the shrimp. As well as the stingrays you will also have the opportunity to see and touch coral cat sharks and epaulette sharks.

Southern stingray

A southern stingray swims by the viewing window inside Stingray Hideaway.

The most memorable stingray for me has to be Finn, our baby cownose ray.  He was born here on March 3rd. When stingrays are born, they come out as little “burritos” and are ready to face the world.  They don’t need Mom or Dad to take care of them but they will hang around the group, or fever, of stingrays.  This allows them to learn from the group how to hunt and avoid predators.  Because I am such a Star Wars fan, yes, he was named after the Stormtrooper, Finn, in the Force Awakens.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I hope that when our guests enter Stingray Hideaway they make a connection with these wondrous animals, they are truly unique and deserve not only our respect but our protection.  I want our guests to leave with a sense of understanding about how protecting their wild habitat is important and even the little things, conserving water and recycling plastics, done in Kentucky do make a difference to animals that call the East coast home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thanks for joining me today. We hope to see you soon in Stingray Hideaway.

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

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

African penguins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

African penguin

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

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

Stay tuned for Part 2: Penguins on Robben Island.

Newport Aquarium and AZA SAFE Partners

2016 National Zoo Keeper Week

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer

This is one of my favorite times of the year, National Zoo Keeper Week. Since 2007, when Congress declared the 3rd week in July as NZKW, we get to celebrate the dedication of the thousands of men and women that dedicate themselves daily to professional animal care in our nation’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife centers. During my 35 years in the industry, I have seen many changes in our profession. Keepers are the ‘front line educators’ for our guests. People want to know more about the animals under our care, and they want to hear it from the person who takes care of the animals. We are out in the elements 365 days a year. We are out in the freezing snow and ice, we are out in the blazing heat; but we are always out there providing the highest standards of care to the animals that are in our institutions.

As a long-time zoo and aquarium professional, I want everyone to know and appreciate my colleagues in conservation. Our mission is to ‘save wild animals and save wild spaces.’ More keepers today are species population managers. Within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), there are over 600 managed species of animals around the world. Many of these programs are managed by keepers. They travel to the range countries where these animals live, they work with local governments on protecting this species as well as the other flora and fauna that lives in that ecosystem. Keepers do amazing things.

A keeper’s day is more than just feeding and cleaning. Keepers may be involved in environmental enrichment, exhibit design and landscaping, administering medical treatments, or training. They are ‘jacks of all trades.’ Keepers are dieticians, carpenters, designers, horticulturists, public speakers and educators. NZKW

Zoo Keeper is such a generic term sometimes… we are called aquarists, biologists, aviculturists, herpetologist, animal technician or animal care specialist. Whatever you call us… please recognize us as passionate and dedicated to our profession.

At the Newport Aquarium, we are proud of the contributions our biologists make for the preservation of species. They work on committees for the management of the North American populations of animals, they work for the preservation of our local waterways and wetlands, they develop guidelines for care of captive wildlife, and they work for the conservation of habitat and ecosystems for wildlife where they live.

Biologists from Newport Aquarium partnered with Thomas More College, ORSANCO and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to help save endangered freshwater mussels in Kentucky.  Pictured: Jen, Ryan, and Ty.

Biologists from Newport Aquarium partnered with Thomas More College, ORSANCO and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to help save endangered freshwater mussels in Kentucky. Pictured: Jen, Ryan, and Ty.

Newport Aquarium is an accredited member of the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums), which means we meet exceptional standards in animal care, wildlife conservation and public education. Newport Aquarium is one of only 233 accredited institutions in North America, where there are over 3,000 professional animal keepers providing invaluable roles as leaders in animal conservation and the frontline educators.

Spend some time this week visiting and let the keepers know they’re doing a great job!

Endangered Species Day: Rescued Loggerhead Sea Turtle Enters New Tank

This Endangered Species Day, Newport Aquarium celebrates a success story as the rescued loggerhead sea turtle hatchling, Shack, is introduced to a new, more spacious home within Newport Aquarium. Shack was just moved into the bigger saltwater tank outside Shark Ray Bay Theater, in the Shore Gallery. He entered the tank to the excitement and applause of a group of young children, and swam down to the front of the tank, giving the children an up close view as he explored his new home.

Shack now has more room to dive and grow as he awaits his next journey to return back to the ocean, off the coast of North Carolina. He was rescued last October, as a hatchling on the beach in Shackleford Shoal, N.C. He weighed 73 grams – about the size of an egg from your refrigerator—and could fit in the palm of your hand. He now weighs about 2.5 pounds.

Biologist, Jen Hazeres, with Shack, shortly after he was rescued.

Biologist, Jen Hazeres, with Shack, shortly after he was rescued. Shack weighed 73 grams.

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling

Newport Aquarium biologist, Jen Hazeres, with loggerhead sea turtle, Shack, before he enters his new, bigger tank. Shack now weighs 2.5 pounds.

“Moving Shack into the bigger tank is part of his development and enrichment,” said Jen Hazeres, biologist at Newport Aquarium. Hazeres was part of the team of biologists that rescued Shack, and brought him back to be fostered at Newport Aquarium. “He’ll be able to dive deeper. We want to get him used to a more natural environment before he’s released back out into the wild in October.”

Saving The Species
Scientists say only one out of 1,000 hatchlings has a chance of making it to adulthood. All sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Loggerhead sea turtles are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Biologists at Newport Aquarium work closely with the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls Shores to rehabilitate a young loggerhead sea turtle each year. Newport Aquarium biologists travel to North Carolina each fall to release the previous year’s hatchling and pick up a new sea turtle that needs our help. The WAVE Foundation’s Aquatic Conservation Fund supports the satellite tagging of our turtles before their release.

Why Tracking Is Important
Satellite tracking is extremely important in determining sea turtle migratory patterns, feeding and nesting data. We hope to learn a lot from their travels. You can go online and see where the rescued sea turtles go at

Loggerhead sea turtle nest

Only one out of 1,000 hatchling turtles will grow up to be adults. Some sea turtles can lay more than 100 eggs each time they nest. However, a lot of things can stop a sea turtle from laying her eggs. They’re accidentally captured in fisheries. They’re also hunted in many coastal communities, especially in Central America.

How To Help

  1. Help by keeping the beaches clean when you go on vacation. Pack up your beach chairs, towels, trash and other items at night so the sea turtles have an easy path to their nest.
  2. Turn off your porch lights at the vacation home during the nesting season. The artificial lighting confuses the female sea turtles from nesting. Instead, turtles will choose a less-than-optimal nesting spot, which affects the chances of producing a successful nest. Also, near-shore lighting can cause sea turtle hatchlings to become disoriented when they are born.
  3. Reduce the need to use plastic bags. They end up in our oceans and look like floating jellyfish to sea turtles. Use reusable bags for your grocery items.

“Let’s Do It” on Earth Day!

By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer at Newport Aquarium

It’s that time of the year; spring is here! And we’re celebrating Earth Day 2016!

This is the time of the year where everyone wants to make a difference and do something good for the planet. It’s just like the New Year’s Resolution: we say we’re going to exercise, we’re going to lose weight – hopefully you’re still on track with your goals, that’s great!
IMG_1814Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water. Our oceans hold up to 97% of all of this water! If we’re doing the math correctly here, that means Earth Day is mostly about the water!


Oak Tree Sapling

So when we plant a tree or recycle our cereal box, we’re saving the oceans and rivers. Plant a Tree and Save a Fish!

Today, I want everyone to make another resolution and take the “Let’s do it Recycle Paper Pledge.” Did you know, according to the US EPA, paper and paperboard products make up the largest portion of solid waste sent to a landfill?Lets-Do-It-Recycle-Logo

We should be recycling paper – it’s easy and simple. We can all be a part of something big even in our region by recycling at home and at the office. In the Greater Cincinnati Area, the Green Umbrella Waste Reduction Action Team has set a goal to reduce the paper waste in landfills by 30% by the year 2020. Reducing paper waste in landfills reduces the greenhouse gas emissions, conserves natural resources and saves landfill space.

I think everyone can take a few seconds and take the pledge – I have!  I also want everyone to tag Newport Aquarium through Facebook and Twitter, showing us how you are doing something special for Earth Day 2016!

Find us on Twitter:

#LetsDoItRecycle! @LetsDoItRecycle

Newport Aquarium is a member of Green Umbrella in Cincinnati. It is a nonprofit organization that works through volunteers to maximize environmental sustainability through member organizations and individuals.

Shark Ray Pups Reach Milestones


NEWPORT, Ky- Shark rays born at Newport Aquarium on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, are doing well according to the animal care team at the aquarium. From the time the shark ray pups were first born they have received care from biologists who have closely monitored them and attended to every need.  Today, the pups are eating on their own and continue to gain weight. See the shark ray pups being weighed, measured and fed in this video:

Pregnant shark ray, Sweet Pea, gave birth to nine shark ray pups at Newport Aquarium. Six female and three male pups were born. The pups’ weight ranged from 2.0 to 2.4 pounds, while their length ranged from 18 – 22 inches.  Shortly after birth, one female shark ray pup passed away, which is not uncommon with similar species, like sharks.  Eight pups are healthy and continue to show progress by independently eating and gaining weight.

Sweet Pea Update
Since shark rays do not tend to their offspring, Sweet Pea has returned to the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit.  The pups remain under constant observation at the aquarium’s offsite animal health facility and will transition to the aquarium and other Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institutions at a future date. Watch Sweet Pea’s return into to the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit:

See Rare and Exotic Shark Rays at Newport Aquarium- Kids Get in Free through February 28, 2016. Four shark rays are currently on exhibit at Newport Aquarium- Sweet Pea, Scooter, Sunshine and Spike.

Shark Ray Breeding Program Background
In October 2015, Newport Aquarium announced both its female shark rays, Sweet Pea and Sunshine were pregnant– the second and third documented cases of shark ray breeding under professional animal care in the world.  Sweet Pea became the first documented shark ray to become pregnant in 2013. In January 2016, Sweet Pea gave birth to 9 shark ray pups.  Sunshine’s pregnancy did not come to full term.

Programs like Newport Aquarium’s Shark Ray Breeding Program are important, because the world’s shark ray population is depleting at a faster rate than it’s being replaced.  This is due to habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing and the use of their fins for products like fin soup.


Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, 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 located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

Stay Hooked In: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | YouTube | WordPress
One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444

Happy Penguin Awareness Day

Today we celebrate our adorable tuxedo-clad birds. Penguins get their special day every year on Penguin Awareness Day, on January 20 – not to be confused with World Penguin Day or African Penguin Awareness Day. There are six species of penguins here at Newport Aquarium. You might be surprised to hear that not all penguins love the snow and cold. In fact, about two-thirds of penguins are warm-weather birds. When you visit Newport Aquarium, you can see the cold-weather penguins at Penguin Palooza. Kings, Gentoo, Macaroni, Southern Rockhopper and Chinstrap all love the snow. Another highlight of a visit to Newport Aquarium is the Penguin Parade. Newport Aquarium’s ambassador animals, African penguins, parade inside our front lobby in the colder months, and outside the aquarium during warmer summer months.

African penguins enjoy warmer temperatures than their cold weather cousins. Here at Newport Aquarium, they have a special home “backstage.”

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer, holding Paula, one of Newport Aquarium's African penguins.

Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer, holding Paula, one of Newport Aquarium’s African penguins.

Our Chief Conservation Officer, Ric Urban, hand-fed many of the African penguins as chicks, and when you see him interact with them, you can tell how close their bond is. Guests are invited to purchase a one-of-a-kind hands-on experience with these amazing birds through a Penguin Encounter. An Animal Experience Expert will talk to you about the penguins while you visit the Penguin House. You get to sit on a bench, and the penguins can waddle right up to you. You’re allowed to take pictures, and maybe even touch one. A portion of the sales for Penguin Encounters is donated to the WAVE Foundation for penguin conservation programs.

Penguin Painting 2

Original artwork created by Blueberry, one of Newport Aquarium’s African penguins. Painting is a form of enrichment for our penguins, it provides mental stimulation.

Penguin Painting

Blueberry finished creating her masterpiece. Alle Barber, Conservation Program Manager at Newport Aquarium, helps create the works of art with each of the African penguins.

Penguin Painting

The work space of an artist. African penguins walk, run and waddle through the paint puddles and leave their tracks on the canvas.

Another one-of-a-kind opportunity is to purchase original penguin artwork from our in-house Picassos – our African penguins created masterpieces that you can order online or buy in Newport Aquarium’s gift shop. Speckles, Paula, Red Pepper, Green Bean, Simon, Sandy, Randi, Blueberry have all taken part in the penguin pitter platter spatter. Each original penguin art comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, an information sheet about the artists and a color photo of the artists in action! Painting is a form of enrichment for our penguins. Enrichment is about providing animals with stimulating and challenging environments, objects and activities. It aims to enhance their activity and provides mental stimulation for the penguins. Who wouldn’t have fun stomping and splattering in paint?!

So, the next time you’re visiting Newport Aquarium, be sure to stop by and say ‘hi’ to these incredible birds – one of the most diverse collections of penguins in the country.

Kentucky Agencies and Institutions Unite to Save Threatened Hellbenders

Newport Aquarium’s Chief Conservation Officer forms statewide working group

NEWPORT, Ky. —   More than 40 people representing 25 different agencies and institutions met at Newport Aquarium for the first time on Monday, Dec. 14 to discuss the status and conservation efforts of North America’s largest salamander species, the Eastern Hellbender, in the state of Kentucky.

Also known as the snot otter, devil dog or lasagna lizard, the prehistoric looking  hellbender is capable of reaching 29 inches in length at 5-6 inches wide. It produces a slimy secretion on its skin that could be noxious to some predators, but is not dangerous to people.

The species population in Kentucky is in decline.  Hellbenders prefer to make their homes in clear, cold, fast-flowing streams that are free of pollution, which many of the state’s waterways no longer offer. Good stream health means safe and clean areas for Kentuckians to enjoy the outdoors.

Because a healthy hellbender population indicates a healthy surrounding ecosystem, Ric Urban, the Chief Conservation Officer for Newport Aquarium had no trouble finding agencies interested in supporting conservation efforts to save the species.

“It’s an important enough of an issue that every agency I’ve talked with wanted to be involved in saving this incredible species by helping to create and support habitats where it can thrive,” Urban said. “Without the support, effort and dedication of these agencies, there is little hope for the hellbender.”

Groups participating in the working group include:

Colleges and Universities

The first meeting of the Kentucky Hellbender Working Group included representatives from 25 agencies, colleges and universities, and businesses.

The first meeting of the Kentucky Hellbender Working Group included representatives from 25 agencies, colleges and universities, and businesses.

“At Newport Aquarium we have the ability to teach our guests about the amazing animals around the world and even in our own backyard,” said Urban.  “They have the ability to help in our efforts as ‘citizen scientists’ helping to protect our environment.  The health of the streams where hellbenders live depends on the residents of Kentucky to understand what each person puts down the drain or on their yard can end up in watery habitats threatening animals that live there.”

The group plans to meet next in the Spring to keep the future hopeful for hellbenders.

For more information on the hellbender, visit this link.

For more information on Newport Aquarium, or to purchase tickets, visit or call toll free 800-406-FISH (3474). Connect with Newport Aquarium on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to its blog, for the most up-to-date news on Newport Aquarium.


Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, 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 located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

Stay Hooked In: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | YouTube | WordPress

One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444

America Recycles Day is November 15

by Madison Wallace, Newport Aquarium Public Relations Aide

The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” is probably one you’ve heard before, but for America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, we would like to encourage you to dive a little deeper into the effects recycling has on marine ecosystems and the ocean at large.

More than any other type of pollution, plastic is harming marine ecosystems.

Why? A single plastic bag can take over 500 years to break down naturally, and this process creates what scientists refer to as “microplastics”. Microplastics are tiny granules of plastic that have worn away from larger pieces of plastic waste like bags and bottles, and are now suspended indefinitely in the ocean.

In fact, scientists estimate that for every square mile of ocean, there are around 46,000 pieces of plastic waste suspended and continuously breaking down.

It’s hard to imagine that the plastic shopping bag you get from the grocery store could make its way into a river near your house, or even the ocean, but it’s estimated that more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean and lakes every year.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of marine pollution originates on dry land, particularly from waste that hasn’t been disposed of properly.  Plastics floating in the ocean pose serious threats to marine animals that are often already endangered. These creatures often ingest plastic waste, or become entangled in it.

For example, if you’ve been to Newport Aquarium, you’ve probably encountered Denver the Loggerhead sea turtle. Sea turtles are particularly at risk for consuming deadly plastics because they feed off the surface.

Denver, our nearly 200-pound loggerhead sea turtle, serves an ambassador to Newport Aquarium's sea turtle conservation efforts.

Denver, our nearly 200-pound loggerhead sea turtle, serves an ambassador to Newport Aquarium’s sea turtle conservation efforts.

Loggerheads’ diets primarily consist of jellyfish, which floating plastic bags often resemble. This mistake can often be fatal or debilitating.

High densities of plastic pollution tend to target seabirds, marine mammals such as seals and otters and reptiles such as turtles, many of which are represented her at The Aquarium.

For America Recycles Day, Newport Aquarium wanted to share some ways you can help minimize the amount of plastic waste that enters the ocean annually and support the well-being of the animals at risk.


Invest in reusable grocery bags
Try grabbing a few reusable grocery bags next time you’re at the grocery! Stores will often give you a discount for bringing your reusable bags, and your family can save up to 1,500 bags annually. (

Bring your own thermos 
Make your next morning coffee run a little greener. Bringing your own coffee thermos allows you to skip the paper (or Styrofoam) cup, the plastic lid and avoid inevitable coffee spills! Plus, many coffee places will give you a B.Y.O.M. (bring your own mug) discount.

Avoid cosmetics with microbeads
Facial scrubs and toothpastes often boast of being exfoliating, but they’re also being filtered into our Great Lakes. These products contain plastic microbeads, which are washed down drains and dumped into lakes and rivers. Switch to more natural products that utilize non-plastic exfoliates.

Pass on the bottled water
Somewhere around 50 million plastic water bottles are produced in the United States every year. Switching to a reusable water bottle can make a huge difference in the amount of plastic you use daily, and save you a ton of money. (

Join the movement
Newport Aquarium’s nonprofit partner, the WAVE Foundation, hosts a river cleanup team through ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission) every year. All bodies of water are connected, and helping clean up the Ohio River is a great place to start.

For more information, check out your county’s recycling guidelines on ways to recycle properly, and do your part to learn more about how to reuse and recycle as many of your household waste products as possible.