RESEARCH IN A PINCH
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.
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.
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.”
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.
STAFF SPOTLIGHT: JOSH DAVIS
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.
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:
HAVE YOU MET OUR NEWEST ANIMAL AMBASSADORS?
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.
INAUGURAL SEASONAL GIVING TREE LIGHTS UP AQUARIUM’S ANIMAL CARE
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.
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.
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.
FIN-TASTIC FAMILY FUN
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
AQUARIUM AFTER DARK
Select Dates Every Month Prosecco with Penguins
May 23 First Cocktails with the Whales!
July 26 Seals on the Rocks
OVER 30 YEARS AND COUNTING: BELUGA RESEARCH AND KNOWLEDGE SHARED DURING INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP
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.
RAISING MONEY FOR OUR MISSION
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
VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: HEATHER & SERVICE DOG MAREA
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.
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.