MAKING WAVES spring 2019

Dear Friend,

During your regular visits as a member of Mystic Aquarium, you get to see the extraordinary happenings that take place every day.

New animals join our current ambassadors not only to inspire you, but also to inspire our team. Veterinarians, scientists and educators thrive as they take on challenges to learn about different species, explore groundbreaking opportunities, share knowledge with others and more.

Our team is always looking for revolutionary ways to grant you access to corners of the world that may otherwise be unreachable. We are thrilled to present you with not one, or two, but three upcoming exhibits. One takes you to the Arctic, the other to the Caribbean; both without stepping outside of Mystic’s beautiful oasis. The final exhibit brings a global epidemic into focus; forcing us all to re-examine how we treat the planet we call home while providing solutions to make a difference.

In this edition of Making Waves, we will reminisce on our winter-time successes, spark excitement for upcoming occasions and shine a light on friends who motivate us to be better. We simply celebrate all that we have done – and continue to do – for our ocean planet.

I want to personally thank you for your camaraderie and support. As a nonprofit organization, we depend on our members to help lead the way as we work together toward a common mission.

Best Wishes,

Dr. Stephen M. Coan, President & CEO


Ever since they arrived at Mystic Aquarium, our cast of Giant Japanese spider crabs (named for their great size and long legs) have inspired wonder in guests of all ages. This marine crab can weigh over 40 pounds fully grown and can have a leg-span that extends beyond 10 feet. Because of their weird and wonderful appearance, this species of crab is commonly cared for in aquariums worldwide.

And now, these crabs are providing our veterinary staff with a research opportunity that seeks to streamline efforts to evaluate the health of this impressive crustacean.

“An important part of ensuring optimal health care for any animal in our care is performing routine exams,” said Veterinary Intern, Dr. John Griffioen, who is working alongside our Chief Clinical Veterinarian, Dr. Jen Flower on the project. “This often includes bloodwork.”

However, in many crab species, baseline data is not well established. Plus, crabs don’t have true blood; instead, they have a blood-like substance called hemolymph which can be sampled much like blood from other animals.

Drawing hemolymph

Samples are drawn by inserting a needle attached to a syringe into the crab’s joint membrane where their last walking leg meets the rest of their body. Unlike mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, crustaceans don’t have veins. Instead, a spider crab’s hemolymph travels through its body in an open circulation and can collect in sinuses – that’s where our veterinarian’s gather their samples.

What comes next?

The goal of this research project is to determine what the normal hemolymph values are in Giant Japanese spider crabs and to see if there are differences depending on where the crab lives, its diet, sex and even variations in water quality parameters. In order to introduce a more diverse sampling population to their research, Dr. John and Dr. Jen have partnered with other facilities that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that also exhibit the species, which will ultimately provide more meaningful data.

While the study is ongoing, Dr. John and Dr. Jen are still actively collecting samples from our crabs along with samples obtained from partnering facilities. Ultimately, this information will be very important in helping veterinarians assess the health of these animals and determine if medical treatments may be necessary.

As a result of his work, Dr. John was awarded with the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine’s (IAAAM) Student Travel Award, which will cover a portion of the cost of transportation to Durban, South Africa, next month where he will present his current findings at the annual IAAAM Conference.

“For me, the most rewarding part of performing research is knowing that my findings will contribute to improving upon the healthcare of a species,” concluded Dr. John. “Better yet, my colleagues can take the information learned and apply it to improve the health of their own collection animals or even use it to expand upon their own wildlife conservation projects.”


There is no better place to witness a mission come to life than at Mystic Aquarium. Days are filled with the enthusiasm of children and families learning, classes thriving and the community joining in local conservation efforts. Some days are more challenging; some lessons take more effort to absorb and some events require more attention than others, but it’s always worth the investment.

That is why Mystic Aquarium constructed the Milne Ocean Science and Conservation Center. With a resolute focus on expanding educational reach, streamlining fish and invertebrate husbandry practices and further cultivating meaningful relationships, the new building, which held its grand opening on March 1, is already revolutionizing the Aquarium’s mission to inspire others to care for and protect the ocean planet through conservation, education and research.

“This is a $10 million investment in ocean science and conservation,” said Dr. Stephen M. Coan, President and CEO. “It is a place where the mission of Mystic Aquarium will thrive.”

State-of-the-art classrooms, including the Aquarium’s Sea School preschool, the nations’ only licensed aquarium-based preschool, challenges students of all ages to learn about the ocean planet through structured programming. The new Sea School classroom provides preschool-aged children with various spaces to learn and play while exploring the exciting world of marine life while two standard classroom spaces include touch habitats with a collection of local species, a SMART board and various marine artifacts.

The 18,000 square-foot building also features conference space, animal quarantine and aquaculture laboratory. The building also connects to the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Veterinary and Animal Health Center, which received a complete renovation in 2016.

“This is truly a beautiful place to learn,” concluded Coan. “We look forward to welcoming thousands of young people through these doors and inspiring them with our programs.”


Earlier this year, Aquarium veterinarians performed surgery on two harbor seals in our care – Bristol, a resident in the Arctic Coast (AC) exhibit, and Laysan, a rescued pup that came to our clinic last May. Both seals had similar ear infections that didn’t respond to antibiotics and antifungal medication. As a result, each underwent surgery to remove their ear canals.

BRISTOL came through the Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic in 2013 after stranding in Maine. Shortly thereafter, she joined other resident seals at the Pacific Northwest exhibit, acting as an ambassador to her species. Chronic ear problems throughout her life eventually led to her surgical intervention this past December. Since the surgery, Bristol has not displayed signs of any ear troubles.

LAYSAN was rescued in Falmouth, Maine, by the Marine Mammals of Maine and was transferred to the Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic last May. He was considered to have been abandoned shortly after birth and was also believed to be premature, arriving at the Aquarium as an approximately one week old pup. Following eight months of rehabilitation, including recovery time following surgery, Laysan was released at the start of this year.

Learn more about each seal and watch their full story unfold in this Aquarium Rehab episode.

Now with Bristol back on exhibit, days have become more routine as she re-establishes her place in the AC with fellow seals and the belugas. And while Laysan has since returned to her ocean environment, her team of rescuers at the Animal Rescue Clinic have returned to anything but the routine.

“We have been receiving more reports than normal of seals hauling out on beaches this ice seal season which usually lasts from February to late March or early April,” reported Janelle Schuh, Manager of the Animal Rescue Program (ARP).

From January 1 to March 8 alone, the ARP received 85 calls to their hotline of reported seal sightings and responded to another 18 strandings; that’s a major increase from the eight year average of 16 sightings and 8 strandings – and the reports continue to grow daily! With this increase in area sightings came an increase in public and media awareness.

“It’s not uncommon to see seals haul out on beaches or land throughout the year,” noted Schuh. “This is actually a very normal behavior for them. Seals can swim great distances in a single day, which can be exhausting. So, they often sun themselves or may even rest for longer periods of time before returning to the ocean.”

While the Animal Rescue Team expects these sightings to soon calm as harp seals begin migrating back north towards colder waters, their work in the Animal Rescue Clinic will continue.

“The late winter, early spring tends to be busy on our hotline, but once summer hits, we start seeing harbor seal pups come in to the clinic for care,” concluded Schuh. “It’s a constant cycle, but our team loves helping the seals, educating their community, learning about the local populations and making a difference for our area’s ecosystem.”

Do you know what to do if you spot a seal?

1. Respect its space – keep all people and pets at least 150 feet away to avoid stressing the seal or causing it to act aggressively.

2. Do not intervene – no need to toss it food, pour water over it or help it in any way. If you are concerned for its well-being, contact our Animal Rescue Program.

3. Call our 24-hour hotline – when you spot a seal on land or even in the water, call us at 860.572.5955 x107. We track every sighting and add it to a database where we can learn about their migratory patterns and more.


Pearl, one of our resident harbor seals, is pregnant and we cannot wait to meet her pup this summer!

In May 2012, Pearl stranded in Bar Harbor, Maine as a pup. She arrived at our Animal Rescue Clinic a week later for around-the-clock care – routine protocol for seal pups that are assumed to have been abandoned shortly after birth. Following months of rehab, it was ultimately decided that Pearl would be best suited in an environment with animal care professionals. Just a few days before Christmas 2012, Pearl joined other harbor seals at our Pacific Northwest exhibit.

As Pearl nears the end of her first pregnancy, our team of veterinarians and trainers are keeping an even closer eye on her progress. Regular ultrasounds plus an enhanced diet (and let’s be honest, some extra special attention!) are helping to ensure Pearl and her baby remain strong and healthy through delivery day and beyond.

Stay tuned to our social channels to follow Pearl’s pregnancy!


His story is what a little kid's dreams are made of...

A young boy on one of many family trips to Mystic Aquarium, Josh found himself looking up to the animal trainers and eventually took fate into his own hands. One internship led to another which then turned into the start of a budding career in animal care and husbandry. The rest is history.

"I was always fascinated by the training," notes Josh. "That relationship between trainer and animal inspired me during each childhood visit. I knew that someday I would stand where they stood and do what they did."

In 2010, Josh started his first internship working with pinnipeds and penguins. Immediately from one internship to the next, he then became the first penguin intern during the summer of 2011 before being hired as an Assistant Trainer of Penguins. Now the Aquarium's Senior Trainer of Penguins, Josh has successfully fulfilled his childhood dream.

Then & Now: Josh and his brother posing by the beloved 'Sassy' statue.

While routine animal care jobs including regular training and feeding sessions and wellness exams generally occupy his day, Josh is also one of the many Aquarium staff who live the mission. Beach cleanups, classroom programming, animal encounters and more are just some of the other duties that allow Josh to help inspire the next generation of animal trainers and conservationists.

"Working at the Aquarium is more than just a job, it has even helped to shape the way that I live."

"I've been to South Africa several times during my career to help the endangered African penguin populations," continued Josh. "I've seen firsthand how preventable threats are harming animals and their habitats. It's because of what I've learned through my work that I am mindful of my carbon footprint, I pick up what others leave behind on the beach, I talk to anyone who is willing to listen - I do all of this and more because way back when, I was a little boy inspired by what Mystic Aquarium was doing."


Each year, we introduce something new for our members to enjoy. Be it the arrival of a new animal or a fresh exhibit experience, we seek to teach guests more about the ocean planet, get you closer to inspiring animals and keep the fun at an all-time high!

Check out what we have in store for you this spring:

This family-friendly experience will immerse you into a digitally created Arctic environment where walruses, humpback whales and polar bears roam. The combination of modern-day technology, life-like imagery and poignant conservation messaging will certainly inspire all of our friends to join us in caring for and protecting the ocean planet.
Through this new exhibit, you and your family will learn about the changes you can make at home to protect our oceans for generations to come. Get hands-on with eco-friendly products that help in the fight against plastic pollution and discover the impact of plastics on the environment.
Opening Memorial Day Weekend | Just in time for the start of summer, this new tropical touch experience invites you to get hands-on with colorful aquatic species that are native to the Caribbean.


As the only organization in the continental U.S. to house Steller sea lions, we were thrilled to welcome 17 year-old Eden and two year-old Perl in early December, bringing the Aquarium’s Steller total to four.

After receiving exemplary care at Alaska SeaLife Center, the mother/daughter duo joined our current Steller residents, Astro and Sitka, as vital ambassadors to their species. The Western population of Steller’s in Alaska are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as near-threatened and are listed as endangered by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act. Their presence at the Aquarium is vital as it allows us to educate guests on the importance of conserving this and other species.

Two months later, Natasha, a 37 year-old beluga whale, traveled with a team of animal care specialists from Sea World San Antonio in Texas to her new home here at our Arctic Coast exhibit. Weighing in at roughly 1,170 pounds, she is the smallest of the three whales in our care.

As a mission-driven organization, Mystic Aquarium is keenly focused on and fully engaged in conserving and protecting beluga whales. Natasha, along with Kela and Juno, help to inspire our guests to take action in protecting the ocean environment all while allowing us the opportunity to advance important efforts in their conservation.


The 2018 holiday season kicked-off an exciting new opportunity for our friends to support the mental and physical health and stimulation of animals in our care. Our inaugural “Giving Tree” stood tall in the Main Gallery, providing a way for our guests to give back to the animals that they have grown to know and admire.

Guests were invited to pick an ornament that highlighted a holiday wish from our animal care team and information about how they could donate enrichment or other items to the animal of their choice. A text to donate option was also made available. For those unable to spend the holiday with Mystic Aquarium, an Amazon Wish list was created and remains available online.

As a result of the Giving Tree and its supplemental efforts, the Aquarium received almost $1,000 worth of donations to support our comprehensive behavioral enrichment and training program.

You can help too!

Help us grow our collection of animal enrichment items by donating today.

The generous donations received during our Giving Tree season have provided our penguin colony (and many other Aquarium species) with added interest in their daily routine by interacting with veterinarian-approved objects.

Text MYSTIC to 44321 to learn more.


Tips & Reminders

  • Bringing friends? While your guests receive a discount, you can actually bring a guest FREE each visit when you purchase an Add-A-Guest option. Learn more on our membership page.
  • Check in faster! You can skip the membership booth all together by showing your membership card or temporary member ticket just inside the main entrance.
  • Discover your monthly member perk by checking your inbox the last Monday each month or by simply visiting this page on our website.


Did you know that horseshoe crabs have blue blood that protects them (and us!) from infection? So cool! Here are some more fun facts about the species:

  • The horseshoe crab has TEN eyes
  • The horseshoe crabs you see on beaches are ALL adults
  • They aren’t really crabs but more like scorpions or spiders
  • The tail (telson) does not sting but instead helps them to steer or flip over when they are upside down
  • A single horseshoe crab can lay up to 90,000 eggs in one season
  • They may molt (shed their shell) 16 to 17 times before they reach their adult size

Transform yourself into a crab!

Click here to head to our Pinterest page and download your FREE crab hat template.


Tailored for young explorers, animal and nature lovers and budding marine biologists, Mystic Aquarium Summer Camps are held annually June through August. Offering hands-on activities, up-close animal encounters, field trips and other fun and educational experiences, these camps are sought-after experiences for children ages 3 to 16.

Exceeding over 250 national standards relating to program content and quality, camper health and safety, and staff training, our summer camps are accredited by both the State of Connecticut as well as the American Camp Association.

And, our summer camps promise plenty of outdoor time; from the field of the Sea School Green to the pathways of outdoor exhibits to the shores of Long Island Sound.

“While there are so many positive reasons for child development and education, the bottom line is our camps are also fun,” said Becky Hirsh, Outreach Program Manager and Camp Director.

Beyond summer camp offerings, we have a full line-up of fun and educational programming taking place this summer. From Aquarium events that provide hands-on learning about the ocean planet to off-site adventures where you can join in vital animal counts and area cleanup efforts, there are countless ways you can get involved with Mystic Aquarium this summer. Check out our calendar of events below and save the date for Citizen Science programming and FIN-tastic Family Fun events!


Earlier this year, Mystic Aquarium launched two new event categories, each featuring a new twist on the classic events you have grown to know and love. We hope you’ll join during one of our summertime FIN-tastic Family events or, for the 21+ crowd, an Aquarium After Dark event.


Select Dates Every Month Pancakes with Penguins, Pizza with Penguins

April 28 Earth Day Cleanup

May 17 Endangered Species Day

May 25 Long Island Sound Day

June 8 World Oceans Day

June 24 First Day of Summer Camp!

June 24 Members Only Summer Night

June 28 Family Overnight

July 8 First Night of Summer Nights!

August 17 Mystic-Wide Cleanup


Select Dates Every Month Prosecco with Penguins

May 23 First Cocktails with the Whales!

July 26 Seals on the Rocks


Over the past decade, population counts estimate over 150,000 beluga whales inhabit various Arctic and subarctic habitats. While the species at large is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, we are well aware of select sub-populations that are struggling, with some already critically endangered.

That is why we hosted the Second International Workshop on Beluga Whale Research and Conservation this past March.

“As the home to the largest outdoor beluga whale exhibit in the United States with a team of scientists and educators dedicated to beluga research and conservation efforts, we were proud to host this workshop,” said Dr. Stephen M. Coan, President and CEO.

Throughout the course of this workshop, forward-thinking pioneers in research and influential tribal community leaders connected, communicated and collaborated in an effort to better inform conservation and management decisions of belugas in both aquarium and native settings.

“We welcomed over 100 of the greatest minds in beluga conservation and research to Mystic Aquarium,” added Dr. Tracy Romano, Vice President of Research and Chief Scientist and chair of the workshop committee. “Attendees came from all over the world to share their knowledge and make headway in beluga research and conservation efforts globally.”

The three-day workshop was the first event held at our new Milne Ocean Science and Conservation Center.


With nearly 100 splashers, donors and supporters lining the beach, this year’s Seal Splash did it again, surpassing last year’s fundraising efforts by more than $5,000! The annual arctic plunge event raised over $50,000 in support of our Animal Rescue Program, with more than half the funds raised by our Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, Susette Tibus. Susette vowed to rush the freezing waters of Groton’s Eastern point Beach if she could raise $30,000.

“I love a good day at the beach, but usually not when there is snow on the ground,” said Susette of her splash. “That water was cold, but it warmed my soul running alongside a group of people who love the Animal Rescue Program and Mystic Aquarium just as much as I do.”

Save the Date

Friday, July 26 @ Mystic Aquarium | Join us for the warmer half of our Animal Rescue Program fundraising efforts! Seals on the Rocks features craft beer, live music, gourmet bites and even a glimpse inside the Animal Rescue Clinic.
Saturday, September 21 @ Mystic Aquarium | Our traditional black tie gala is the Aquarium’s largest fundraising event with exclusive auction items, delectable multi-course dinner, live entertainment, glamourous décor and so much more.


Heather has taken on countless challenges in her life and has faced them all with confidence, excitement and success. Fighting health issues, she has not let that stand in her way of making a large impact in the local community.

Heather at the 2017 Seal Splash fundraising event for the Animal Rescue Program

Since 2013, Heather has been a volunteer first responder and advocate for Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program.

“Heather has been the driving force behind the Aquarium’s Seal Scoot public outreach program,” said Sarah Callan, Assistant Manager of Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program. “She has connected with hundreds of people and has made a significant impact in the education of our community.”

On any given day, you can find Heather and her son Jack scouring beaches and cleaning litter. Even Heather’s service dog, Marea, gets in on the act. The first-ever canine first responder for Mystic’s Animal Rescue Program, Marea joins Heather as she is often the initial response to a call to the Aquarium’s hotline. The dynamic duo helps determine the status of an animal and helps the Aquarium prepare for action when necessary.

“While it is important that we keep family pets away from marine mammals on the beach, the training that both Heather and Marea have makes them among the best to do the job of first responder,” added Callan.


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Mystic Aquarium is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to inspire others to care for and protect the ocean planet through conservation, education and research.

Contact Us: Mystic Aquarium Membership Department Membership@MysticAquarium.org | 860.572.5955 x233
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