It’s World Wetlands Day: Celebrate the Wetlands All Around Us

I see you spoonie
Loading

By Leslie Peart, Vice President of Education and Conservation

Boardwalk Panaramic Composite 9x30 preview

To the right is our own wetland area, right in the Aquarium’s backyard.

Over the last few days, I’ve tried in vain to sit still to write about wetlands.  I sat at my computer with a stack of books and brochures, combing through scientific papers and online resources.  I’ve even taken stabs at reworking articles I’d written in the past.  But I’ve encountered a problem in these beautiful January days.  Whether dark and spitting rain, or sunny and warm, I just couldn’t sit still.

I love wetlands.  I love to explore and muck around in them, and I have shoes caked in mud in the trunk of my car to prove it. I want to experience all they have to offer, from the feisty army of fiddler crabs in the narrow patch of sand out back, to the killifish that supply herons and egrets.  In our neck of the woods, wetlands taste like the redfish and drum that use them for nurseries.  A “quiet” wetland, if you can find one away from the business of being human, is a virtual symphony of watery, muddy, squishy sounds, not to mention the sounds of insects and animals. 

So this is the problem.  Texas State Aquarium is filled and surrounded by interesting coastal wetlands that tempt me away from the office.  River otters Ari and Merlin may be our most persuasive wetland ambassadors.  This is no easy feat, given the Aquarium is also home to crowd favorite Bo the alligator, who was rescued from a drainage ditch (yes that’s a wetland, too) up the road near Taft.  Grace, the rehabilitated Bald Eagle from Alaska; the wading birds, especially the roseate spoonbills known as the pink ladies, in the Nearshore exhibit; and Anna the diamondback terrapin in Swamp Tales, all speak volumes on behalf of wetlands every day. 

Bo, our American alligator, is a species success story.

Bo, our American alligator, is a member of the wetlands.

I see you spoonie

A Roseate Spoonbill, one of our many wetland ambassadors.

From our third floor observation deck, one can take it all in – a 360 degree view of barges, ships, and bridges; Nueces Bay, the Papalote Creek Wind Farm, Indian Point, North Beach and Corpus Christi Bay.  They are my playground, and yours, as well.  These are the places we fish, swim, wade, sail, fly kites, walk, take pictures, and picnic.  These special areas between the tides, where water and land come together, make our city habitable, enjoyable, and prosperous.   

Today is World Wetlands Day.  In our normal course of business, 60 seventh graders from Corpus Christi ISD will spend the morning gathering data to profile Rincon Canal and the wetlands surrounding our SeaLab facility.  Two third grade classes will explore habitats and animal adaptations in our exhibits, and get up close and personal with a specially selected wetland inhabitant before heading back to school. 

At 3:00 p.m., all staff that can get away will leave their desks and workspaces to meet at the corner of Burleson and West Causeway Blvd.  We meet there five or six times each year to clean the precious wetland that has become a trap for windborne single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, discarded fishing gear, and dumped garbage.  We’ll pick up a hundred pounds of trash or more.  This is how we’ll mark World Wetlands Day.

Learn more about wetlands with these great resources:

Great Wetlands of the World – a storymap

U.S. Wetland Mapper

Texas Wetlands

Texas State Aquarium’s Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program Reports Record Release Numbers for 2015

LAGU Release3 small
Loading

The Texas State Aquarium is pleased to announce a record number of released and transferred Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program patients for 2015.

GHOW1 small258 patients were admitted for the year, 33 percent of which were rehabilitated and released back into their natural habitat, and 20 percent of which were transferred to other accredited animal facilities. This positive release rate included 32 different species of shorebirds and 15 species of raptors, making up a very high species diversity rate for the program.

Manager of Wildlife Rehabilitation Laura Martinelli said this year was a higher caseload compared to recent years, and she and her team worked hard to rise to the occasion.

“It presents certain logistical challenges as well as extra time and effort, but I am really proud of my team. It takes flexibility, hard work, and being able to adapt quickly to be as successful as we are, and volunteers are absolutely crucial to our mission and our success,” explained Martinelli.

LAGU Release3 small2015 was also a banner year for in-house surgeries. Martinelli and Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. David Stelling credit the advanced technological equipment in the Second Chances surgery suite for allowing them the opportunity to perform more surgeries and, ultimately, treat the medical issues of more patients.

“The more understanding we gain doing surgeries, the better,” said Martinelli, who also added the combined experience of Second Chances staffers provided a large boon to 2015’s great numbers.

The most common bird species Second Chances staff sees are Laughing Gulls, Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, Brown Pelicans, and Great Horned Owls.
  

 

Making a Difference: Meet ‘Diver Dennis’

hermit crab small
Loading
teeth small

Burk shows off his “teeth,” those gathered from our Islands of Steel exhibit residents Hunter & Orion.

In any other instance, a man that carries a bag of teeth around in his pocket might be considered a little bit strange, but in the case of veteran volunteer Dennis Burk; it’s just another day at the Aquarium. hermit crab small

Burk, a 22-year volunteer, loves showing curious kids and even adults what a pearly, pointy sand tiger shark tooth looks like up close. “It’s neat for them to make the connection that these right here [pointing to the teeth in his palm] are actually the chompers that come out of Orion and Hunter,” Burk says, referring to the Aquarium’s two resident sand tiger sharks, “And most times, I let them take one home as a souvenir.”

In his professional career, Burk worked as a RN at Christus Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi- South and also at the health center’s Beeville location. Other job duties included teaching hospital education courses in crisis intervention, CPR training, and also coaching staff how to use new medical instruments. After moving to Colorado for work, Burk decided in the early nineties that it was time to come back to the Coastal Bend.

“I missed my ocean,” he says. “I was a 35-year Divemaster and when I moved back and saw the Aquarium opening. I jumped at the opportunity to become a volunteer.”

flower gardens small

Burk gestures to the size of the corals in our Flower Gardens exhibit and how they correlate to those he’s seen out in the ocean.

Burk is passionate about diving, a hobby he took up while in Guam serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

“The water was crystal clear and there were these huge blue starfish that were just so cool,” Burk remembers.

Since, Burk has dived all over the Gulf, as well as the Caribbean. The unique sponges found diving the waters of the Cayman Islands are one of his favorite sights, and now so are many of the fish in exhibits at the Aquarium. Burk dives in the Aquarium’s Flower Gardens and Islands of Steel habitats, befriending many a finned inhabitant. While he loves diving, Burk says it’s interacting with Aquarium visitors that “pays all the bills.”

“I’m a certain personality, you know? And teaching is a large part of my background. So not only do I enjoy talking to people, I also love to inform them, and to teach them about this amazing world, these animals around them.”

Burk started out as  what’s referred to as a “brown apron,” then took the proper volunteer training courses to become a top-tier “blue vest” volunteer, a place of honor that requires the wearer to be able to speak at length about all areas of the Aquarium.

Burk says his passion for animals, diving, and teaching are all fulfilled in his position as a volunteer at the Aquarium, a fact he’s truly thankful for. 

kayak

One of Burk’s many hobbies includes kayak surfing.

“This place is not only great for the community and all the economic benefits it provides locally, but the people here are great. I’ve met a lot of staff and had a lot of fun here and I just love that I’m a piece of all that, I’m a part of this place,” he states.

Burk has enough anecdotes and stories concerning late night banquets, visitor questions, and diving adventures to fill the Islands of Steel exhibit he loves so much, but there’s one that stands out in his memory.

“There was a mother and her three little daughters visiting one day, years ago, and I was getting ready to dive in Islands,” he recalls. “So I went out and introduced myself to them and told them that soon I’d be diving in there. And they were hysterical! They said, ‘In THERE?! With the shark?!’ And I told them to stay and watch!”

Burk proceeded to strap on all his dive gear and enter the water, when he saw all three girls with their six hands on the acrylic, waving like mad and in awe that he was swimming with a shark. He began cleaning and also picking up ejected shark teeth he found on the bottom of the exhibit, when he noticed the oldest child trying to get his attention. He realized she was pointing to a large tooth he had missed, so he swam over, picked it up and held his palm against the acrylic so they could all get a good look.

“Their eyes were so wide, it was so cute,” says Burk.

turtle release

Burk also volunteers at the Padre Island National Seashore, where he has helped satellite tag sea turtles and assist in releasing rehabilitated turtles back into the wild.

Burk finished his dive and then went back out to the Islands of Steel viewing area, where his rapt audience met him with squeals of awe and delight. 

“They were hugging my legs and told me they were glad I was okay,” Burk says with a laugh, “So then, I pulled that tooth, the one the little girl had spotted, and showed it to them. They inspected it and touched it, and then I asked her if she wanted to take it home with her – she was beyond excited!”

Burk said they all hugged him, and the mother thanked him for such a great visit.

motorcycle

Being a “seahog” is a sentiment Burk takes to heart.

“They walked away with a great visit, and me, I still think about them to this day. That’s the reason why I’ve been doing this for so long. It truly never gets old.”

 

Meet ‘Diver Dennis’ every Thursday when he dives in our Islands of Steel and Flower Gardens exhibits!

 

Talk With a Trainer: Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals Sarah Zigmond

ziggy1 small
Loading

Ziggy3 smallFor marine mammal trainer Sarah Zigmond, life is about lightbulb moments. When working with an animal and teaching them a new behavior, then seeing the second the training takes and the animal learns the behavior – there’s not much better than that, she says.

“It’s just incredible. When you see the connection made and realize they get it, they know it, it’s just amazing,” described Zigmond. 

Better known as Ziggy, the energetic young animal lover is the Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals at the Aquarium, responsible for the top notch care of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins Shadow and Kai, as well as North American river otters Merlin and Ari.      

“My day starts off at 6 a.m. to prepare diets for the day,” Ziggy explains, “Then we SCUBA dive to help keep the exhibits clean. Throughout the day, we are constantly washing and disinfecting the area, monitoring water quality, and caring for not only the animals, but their environment as well.”

Ziggy says that at their core, the Aquarium’s marine mammal staff is there to ensure that Shadow and Kai receive the highest level of care in every possible way. To do so, the Aquarium’s trainers possess a variety of skills and educational backgrounds to benefit the animals they care for.

After graduating from Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi with a degree in psychology, Ziggy interned at the Vancouver Aquarium, and then was hired as a marine mammal trainer at the Miami Seaquarium in 2011. There, she worked and created relationships with California sea lions, harbor seals, and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

“And that’s a really important thing that a lot of people may not realize,” she explains, “These animals, they choose to have a relationship with you. It’s totally their choice. I’m fortunate because Kai and Shadow allow me to have a relationship with them.” Ziggy7 small

This special bond between trainer and dolphin is absolutely crucial when it comes to training or caring for them. Whether it comes to training new behaviors, participating in enrichment sessions, or for animal husbandry purposes; Ziggy says that that particular animal has to trust you.

Husbandry sessions include normal health-related activities like teeth brushing, physical exams, and veterinary check-ups. They are one of the many ways Ziggy and Dolphin Bay staff ensure Shadow and Kai are healthy and happy. Ziggy says it’s important to train animals to be at ease during certain procedures in order for the optimum health of all involved.

In regards to health, Shadow and Kai receive only the best. That includes diets in a big way. The 450-pound, eight and a half feet long marine mammals eat quite a bit.

ziggy1 small“They eat about five percent of their body weight……..every day,” she says with a laugh.

Ziggy and the other Dolphin Bay staff feed the dolphins restaurant quality fish like herring and capelin around six times per day.

In addition to their regular dietary intake, Shadow and Kai also receive food and a variety of enrichment items. For birthdays and milestones, creative-minded trainers like Ziggy freeze up colorful Jell-o and fish cakes for the dolphins and otters to play with and enjoy.

In simple terms, enrichment is anything that changes an animal’s environment. Enrichment is a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices by drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and to improve their social, cognitive, and psychological well being. Enrichment items can be food or toys (environmental enrichment devices)  – and it’s not just fun for the animals.

“We love making toys for them! It’s so fun!” Ziggy exclaims.

For example, flexible pool noodles and colored duct tape became candy cane toys around Christmas for the dolphins to enjoy. They also have plenty of sports balls (Spurs-themed, of course), as well as water squirt toys, hoops, and more. One of the more unique and fun enrichment sessions includes trainers playing classroom instruments in the Underwater Viewing Room to produce some auditory enrichment for them! Ziggy4 small

Ziggy says interacting with the dolphins and otters in such ways is just as much fun as it is a privilege, and she also hopes to spread those lightbulb moments to others. 

“It’s enriching for me too, to further my education and knowledge of these animals while working alongside them. There are so many different things we can learn from them and others working with them around the world. Knowing more about them and teaching others about them will only help to protect their species and their environment in the future.”

MORE: 

Ziggy6 smallFor children or students interested in becoming marine mammal trainers:

Ziggy says this career is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of commitment, but it’s totally worth it! To swim along in her career path, she advises you to:

  • Get a good education concerning caring for all aspects of all animals. Prior to her internships with marine mammals, Ziggy actually worked as a care specialist at a boarding facility for dogs, and as a kennel technician and vet tech at a rescue shelter.
  • Get hands on! Dive right into hands-on experience, whether it’s volunteering at your local animal shelter, working at a well-reputed pet store, or caring for your neighbor’s cats – it all helps.
  • Work hard at everything you do. The marine mammal training field is a competitive one and it takes perseverance, commitment, drive, intelligence, and most of all, heart, to be successful, but you can do it!

The Mystique of Massif

????????????????????????????????????
Loading
Student scientists explain how the technology onboard the Falkor helps us map parts of the ocean seafloor never mapped before

Student scientists explain how the technology on board the Falkor helps us map parts of the ocean seafloor never mapped before

Dr. William Sager said his recent 36-day journey to map the world’s single largest volcano, the same one he named TAMU Massif, was a scientific expedition of epic proportions. At the same time, he noted that it was punctuated by creature comforts such as gourmet food, a small gym, and even a berth featuring a plush queen-sized bed.

“There were issues with that bed, though. Don’t get me wrong, it was comfortable; but when you’re on a ship at sea, you want to huddle up in a corner to stabilize yourself,” Sager explained. “Normally, I’d be in a small bunk sticking life jackets and whatnot into the bed frame to make a barrier.”

The purpose of the voyage was to further explore and map TAMU Massif, an underwater volcano Sager has been studying for the past 20 years. The geological phenomenon lies nearly 1,000 miles east of Japan, in the middle of what is known as the Shatsky Rise, an oceanic mountain range.

????????????????????????????????????

Nanez-James

Sager acted as chief scientist on board the research vessel Falkor, a specialized ship lent to him and a team of scientists and students via the Schmidt Ocean Institute to learn more about the mysteries behind TAMU Massif. Aquarium Manager of Distance Learning and Outreach Suraida Nanez-James was also part of the crew, documenting the team’s findings via blog posts and other correspondence, while connecting with children in classrooms all over the world and giving them an inside glimpse at the historic expedition and what “science at sea” looks like.

Nanez-James broadcast to students in real time – meaning 2:00 p.m. for them and 1:00 a.m. for her – via Internet connection and took them on a tour of the vessel, all the while introducing them to various scientists, explaining about data mapping, expedition equipment, and more.

She explained to students, while stepping over sleeping crew members in the dead of night, that TAMU Massif is somewhat of a geological anomaly.  

“It has this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality going on,” said Sager. He means that the magnetic striping of the volcano, produced by previous lava flows, run on some sides of the TAMU Massif, but not all sides. In addition, Sager says TAMU Massif looks like a single volcano built by lava flows going long distances, but that this behavior should not produce magnetic stripes like the team is finding.

“It’s definitely perplexing,” he said, “Seismic profiling is showing us that this may be a whole different kind of volcano.”

Other data collected from the expedition will help Sager and other scientists study more accurate magnetic soundings, topography and bathymetry maps of TAMU Massif and the Shatsky Rise.TamuMassifConeImage_PhotoCreditJohn Greene

“I was so excited to examine those soundings – all nearly 74 million of them – that I plugged the information into my computer when I got back, and it promptly crashed,” Sager said with a laugh.

Thankfully, there were no similar crashes while aboard the Falkor during the journey. Nanez-James said she had remarkably good Internet connections when she helped to show nearly 4,000 students what the middle of the Pacific Ocean looked like.

Nanez-James made 90 ship-to-shore connections to students from Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend, as well as to those as far away as the Bahamas and Portugal.

“What was really cool and what I emphasized was that the information we shared with them and the data that they were seeing; they were the first in the world, in history, to see it,” Nanez-James said.

Being bilingual in Spanish and English gave Nanez-James a unique opportunity to reach more students.

“I was able to speak to a class at a field trip at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and they hardly spoke any English, so it was a very cool connection to make. They’d never been exposed to information or science like that before,” she said.

Another tidbit (or bite) Nanez-James shared with students featured “Maggie,” the ship’s magnetometer that the team used to collect magnetic field data, and how the area’s resident sharks tried to collect data about it.

MaggieSharkTeeth2_Nov05_Seger small

Maggie the Magnetometer with shark bite marks

“They really chomped on one (of the magnetometers),” said Nanez-James, “We actually had to stop using one of them because they bit the heck out of it.”

But for Nanez-James and Sager, the time spent away from family and friends, as well as visits from sharks and stormy weather and rocky sleeping situations, was all worth it.

“We have a fantastic new data set for future research and publications,” Sager said. “We’re talking years. It’ll take a while to work through all the data we have, but we’re very excited to see how it’ll help answer some of the questions we have about TAMU Massif and learn about how it was actually formed.”

Totally Touchable: 16 Animals You Can See and Feel at the Aquarium

Kid with urchin
Loading

Kid with urchinAt the Texas State Aquarium, we’re all about providing extrasensory experiences to excite and engage visitors with animals and nature. It’s been scientifically proven that people, especially children, tend to feel more passionately for and care about things they can see and interact with up close and personal – that’s why we foster compassion, education, and conservation via the ability to touch and feel certain animals.

We hope the thrill of petting a shark’s tough skin, feeling the tingling tube feet of a sea star, and holding a live conch will create lasting memories in your child’s mind for years to come, and also inspire them to care about our world’s oceans and the inhabitants that swim, splash, and scuttle beneath their waves.

Below is a list of the many totally touchable animals you can encounter at the Texas State Aquarium:

 

  1. Hermit crabhermit crab small

Found in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, the striped hermit crabs in our Living Shores touch pool area are only hermit-like as a defense mechanism, and because as they grow, they have to change shells, temporarily exposing their soft, vulnerable bodies to the world. The striped hermit’s body and legs are dark green or brown, streaked with white. Adult crabs often occupy shells of over 10 cm. (4 in.) in length.

 

  1. Horseshoe crab

Did you know we have an animal older than the dinosaurs that you can actually touch?! That’s right; the hard-shelled, blue-blooded horseshoe crab has been scuttling around the earth for over 300 million years! Though with their hard exoskeletons, ten legs, nine eyes, and long tails called telsons, they seem to look more like they come from outer space than earth. These can be found in our Living Shores touch pool area.slipper lobster sm

 

  1. Slipper lobster

You might notice that the slipper lobster seems to be lacking a very crucial part of lobster anatomy – where are its pinchers? Don’t worry; this crafty crustacean, found in our Living Shores touch pool area, comes equipped with multiple ways to fend off predators. This lobster has one of the toughest carapaces under the sea, and it also has amazing camouflage capabilities, as well as the ability to climb and cling to surrounding landscape to escape!

 

  1. Sea urchin

Also found in our Living Shores touch pool area, the spindly spindles of the pencil and short spined urchins in our touch pool area only look menacing – there’s nothing to fear! Urchins can be covered with hundreds of these spines and can range in color from white to purple to blue and even red. pin cushion urchin small

 

  1. Sea star

The Bahama, or red cushion, sea star found in our Living Shores touch pool area is the largest sea star found in its range, which stretches from the Caribbean Sea to the western Atlantic Ocean. The upper surface of this oceanic omnivore is hard and covered with blunt spines, but pick one up, and you’ll feel its tube feet moving against your hand.

 

  1. Southern Ray smallSouthern stingray

These flat, diamond-shaped rays are usually a stone gray or muddle olive color and the large adults are famously seen in the waters off the Cayman Islands swimming with visitors. Not only can you touch them in Stingray Lagoon, you can also see larger southern stingrays in our Islands of Steel and Flower Gardens exhibits.

 

  1. Cownose stingray

The distinctive w-shaped nose of the cownose ray looks just like that of its bovine namesake. These rays swim in multiple exhibits at the Aquarium and are among those that can be touched at Stingray Lagoon. Like most rays, cownoses have crushing plates they use to eat clams and oysters. And though they can use their barbs for defense in the wild, we trim the barbs of all the stingrays at the Texas State Aquarium. They’re made of keratin, just like our hair and fingernails, so the procedure is totally painless.

 

  1. Whitespotted bamboo shark

Just one of the three types of carpet sharks we have at the Aquarium, these benthic and banded sharks are easily identifiable by their medium and dark brown-striped bodies spotted with white dots. Visitors can get up close with them in our Saving Sharks exhibit.

 

  1. Brown banded bamboo sharkbrownbanded bamboo shark small

This small shark likes to search the sediment on the ocean bottom for prey and can also amazingly survive outside the water for extended periods of time! It can be found in the Aquarium at our Saving Sharks exhibit.

 

  1. Epaulette shark

These tan and black-spotted sharks use their fins for more than swimming – they actually walk with them! By wriggling their bodies from side to side and pushing with their paired fins, they can effectively walk across the bottom of the ocean and their Saving Sharks exhibit.

 

  1. Horn shark

Recognizable by its short, blunt head, ridges over its eyes, two high dorsal fins, and brown coloration with a plethora of small, dark spots, the horn shark can be found slowly swimming inside the touch pool area inside Saving Sharks.

 

  1. Sea cucumbersea cucumber sm

Named after its resemblance to the common green vegetable, sea cucumbers are important parts of marine ecosystems as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process. They can be found in our Living Shores touch pool area.

 

  1. Horse conch

The largest gastropod in American waters, the horse conch is also one of the largest sea snails in the world. The animal can retract its bright orange soft parts into its shell and seal itself off from predators. Touch one in our touch area in our Living Shores exhibit!

 

  1. Common spider crab

Also known as a decorator crab due to its tendency to camouflage itself with algae and debris, the spider crab is a long-legged and slow-moving creature that can be found from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Mexico in brackish, salty waters. At the Aquarium, you can catch this crustacean in our Living Shores touch pool.Spider crab sm

 

  1. Milk conch

This iconic conical conch can be found burrowing into sandy ocean floors all throughout the gulf and the Caribbean. The inside of the shell is creamy in color, and the animal itself is a greenish color with large eyestalks. When disturbed, it will retreat into its shell and close it using the operculum. Get up close in our Living Shores touch pool!

 

  1. Chiton smChitons

Chitons are marine mollusks that look more like fossils than living animals. They dwell on hard surfaces such as on or under rocks or in crevices and can be found all across the world’s oceans, as well as in our Living Shores touch pool area. They have plates that overlap and give them that tough, tank-like appearance similar to the body of a cockroach. Chitons creep slowly along surfaces thanks to a muscular foot – they’ve been doing so for close to 400 million years.

 

Top Five Creepiest Creatures

Brutus
Loading

Top Five Creepiest Creatures

Here at the Aquarium, we have creepy, crawly, and spooky creatures of all shapes, sizes, and species. In honor of Halloween this Saturday, we made a definitive list of our official creepiest critters – tell us what you think, then be sure to come visit Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3  p.m. for our third annual Green Halloween where you can SEE them in person! 

5. Brutus, Eurasian Eagle Owl 

Brutus

Brutus

Eyes as big as half dollars and as yellow-orange as a harvest moon stare straight into yours, the intense gaze of the apex predator creeping into your soul…or at least that’s how some may feel. The long look a Eurasian Eagle Owl can give you is not one you’ll soon forget. These owls are native to Europe and Asia, and are among the biggest in the entire world – they can reportedly boast a six-and-a-half-foot wingspan! Within this impressive wingspan are serrated (like the teeth on a knife) wing feathers that enable the owl to glide almost silently through the night, stalking its prey – unbeknownst – from the sky. Eurasian Eagle Owls hunt using their silent flight, keen eyesight, and impeccable hearing. Brown says that like other species of owl, eagle owls have facial disks, or groups of feathers around their ears, that actually direct sounds toward their ears. Owls can raise these feathers slightly when on the hunt, enabling them to hear the rustle of a mouse in the grass, the flapping of feathers in the night, or the slithering of a snake in a tree branch. These sounds give away the location of prey animals, making it easy for these owls to swiftly swoop in to catch a meal – and their pointed, powerful talons can exert 500 pounds of PSI (pressure per inch)! Compared to the human hand’s 30 lbs of PSI, that’s scarily strong. The scariest thing about this creature, however, is its history. During the first half of the 20thcentury, Eurasian Eagle Owl numbers declined radically as humans over-hunted and nearly poisoned the whole population. Local European governments began increasing protective measures regarding the owls, and they are now back to a healthier number, though not as populous as they once were. TSA’s resident Eurasian Eagle Owl, Brutus, will be one featured creature you can meet at Green Halloween this Saturday!

4. Lionfish 

Lionfish

Lionfish

This invasive species not only looks scary, with its tiger-striped coloring and venomous spines, but the fact that it has been introduced into nonnative habitats where it has no natural predators is truly terrifying. Thought to have been dumped by hobby aquarists into Florida waters in the mid to late 80s, lionfish have spread like a disease and can now be found as far south as South America. The problem lies in that they feed on coral reef fish and similar coral-supporting species. With no natural predators, their numbers are increasing too rapidly to replenish the species they feed on. Scientists have been keeping tabs on the alien fish and trying to track how their influence is affecting marine ecosystems and it comes as no surprise that the end results don’t look good.  Fortunately, many U.S. states encourage lionfish hunting and ridding them of your local waters. An added bonus: If you are well versed in cooking venomous fish, rejoice, because lionfish are considered to be quite tasty!

3. Julius Squeezer, Red-tailed Boa Constrictor 

One of the most storied and legendary creepy critters to ever slither is the snake! Feel squeamish? You’re so not alone. From their cold, scaly skin, to their forked tongues and tendency to eat rodents in one gulp, it’s no wonder these reptiles have secured legendary creep out status. Boa Constrictors are scary in part due to their large size and the way in which they sometimes kill prey – by coiling around it and squeezing so tight as to suffocate it. However, more often, they will strike their prey first, and then coil around it, causing it to die by cardiac arrest. Their jaws are lined with small, hooked teeth perfect for grabbing and holding prey while they squeeze around it. Very large, strong boas can cause spinal fracture due to the huge of amounts of pressure they can apply to prey. Boas will eat almost anything they can catch, be it birds, rabbits, monkeys – even wild pigs, their jaws stretch extremely wide, enabling them to swallow large prey whole. Being native to the warm, tropical climes of North, Central, and South America, boas like to dwell in humid places and partially enclosed spaces like hollow logs; news stories depicting an elderly couple in Florida who discovered a slithery surprise in their garage one day are not at all uncommon. Squeezer Slither

2. Great White Shark 

Great white shark replica

Great white shark replica

With row upon row of razor sharp serrated teeth designed to shred and rip through flesh, along with the fact that they can grow to be 20 feet in length and weigh around 5,000 pounds, it’s no wonder many humans have a fear of the great white shark. While pop culture and movies like JAWS and Sharknado do nothing to dispel these fears, the fact remains that the great white shark is a scarily effective predator. Using the countershading of its body, its ability to pinpoint prey, and super speedy swimming skills, the great white was born to be an apex predator. Unfortunately, these attributes don’t stop it from becoming bycatch in the unsustainable fishing trade, or finned for soup in Asia. Much is still unknown about these misunderstood creatures, such as their mating and breeding habits, and their migratory patterns. Scientists like those from our own Harte Research Institute and members of OCEARCH, a research and expedition team who tag sharks and other apex predators around the world. The Aquarium’s newest exhibit, Saving Sharks, incorporates research from OCEARCH and HRI regarding shark conservation, because the scariest thing about great whites is how quickly they’re disappearing from our world’s oceans.

1. Human 

Adopt-A-Beach Cleanup Volunteers

Adopt-A-Beach Cleanup Volunteers

And, finally, drumroll please: the most terrifying, horrific, scream-inducing, bloodcurdling animal out there? Go take a look in the mirror. That’s right, it’s the human being. Though it’s the most intelligent creature in the world, this animal has a penchant for overpopulating, overusing (and abusing) the earth’s natural resources, and even littering the only home they have. They’re not all bad, though. They’ve created cures for diseases, they have extremely advanced technology, and many are humanitarians who try and help other animals and causes they find deserving. If more of them begin to treat the earth and their fellow animals with more respect, they’ll definitely take a dive down the creepiest creature list, but until then; they’ve got some work to do.  

Think Green This Halloween!

Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal
Loading

Trick-or-treating, the hallmark sugar haul of Halloween, is a favorite aspect of the holiday for costumed kids everywhere. Dumping out the plastic pumpkin at the end of the night to inventory Reeses and M&Ms, Snickers bars, Tootsie Roll Pops and the like is a definite highlight of the hallowed night (and for weeks after). At the Texas State Aquarium, we hope to impart this same excitement with our Halloween candy, but with a green twist.

In the animal world, the manufacturing of candy and similar food and even household items like cosmetics and cleaning products can have big repercussions. Palm oil, a product used to make all of those products and more, is grown and harvested in plantations – unsustainably and largely unchecked – around the world.imgres

The oil palm trees produce is extremely versatile, making it a highly demanded commodity. Unfortunately, it only grows in the tropics, where its cultivation can have disastrous impacts on people and the environment. To compound the problem, palm oil plantations are expanding more rapidly than almost any other agricultural product. Much of this expansion is taking place in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. In fact, in 2000, those two countries accounted for just over half of the world’s total plantation area, then 9.7 million hectares. What else are Malaysia and Indonesia home to? The Asian elephant, tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, and the orangutan, all of which are highly endangered animals.

Palm oil is harvested via large scale deforestation, pushing many of these species and more ever closer to extinction. In addition to deforestation, habitat degradation, and climate change, often indigenous people, plants, and animals are abused in the world palm oil trade.

How can you help? Pay attention to what products use palm oil and even consider making a few swaps for those products that don’t. A few simple lifestyle changes for your family could mean big changes to animals affected in the wild.

Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal

Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal

Take for instance Halloween candy; at the Aquarium we choose to serve our guests candy produced by Yowie and the Natural Candy Store, two companies that make organic, GMO-free, gluten free, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance Certified foods. The Rainforest Alliance is an international nonprofit organization that works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods. Products bearing the seal (a little green frog) originate on or contain ingredients sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms or forests. These farms and forests are managed according to rigorous environmental, social and economic criteria designed to conserve wildlife; safeguard soils and waterways; protect workers, their families and local communities; and increase livelihoods in order to achieve true, long-term sustainability.

Yowie Chocolate

Yowie Chocolate

Not only do these organizations help cut down on the palm oil production, they are also simply healthier. With no GMOs (genetically modified organisms), trans fats (artificial additives that make food more solid), or gluten (found in many grains), you can feel good about your children enjoying candy and chocolate that is natural, made sustainably, and best of all – green!

Join us for SPOOKTACULAR fun for the whole family as we celebrate our 3rd annual Green Halloween event on Saturday, October 31st from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.!

This October 31, make your Halloween green in every way and be sure to join us for our third annual Green Halloween event, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Texas State Aquarium!

Don’t fear the fin: Saving Sharks exhibit shows misunderstood fish need our help, not our fear

Saving Sharks Logo FINAL
Loading

Justifying not only the existence, but the conservation of Jaws is a hard license plate to swallow for many ocean-loving humans. Not everyone feels pity for the ocean’s apex predators, but the fact is that sharks are crucial to the health of our world’s oceans and their declining populations need our help now more than ever. Helping to illustrate the various ways in which we can and are conserving shark species is Saving Sharks, the newest exhibit brought to you by thUntitled-1-01e Texas State Aquarium, OCEARCH, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Due to unsustainable fishing practices, habitat alteration, climate change, and finning, shark populations have declined between 70 and 90 percent in recent years, leaving many of them swimming toward the endangered species list. Humans, unfortunately, have had a heavy hand in getting them there. The good news is, we can help turn their grim fate around. Passing on all shark products, consuming only sustainable fish, fishing responsibly, and learning more about your local shark populations are all things you can do to make the oceans safer for sharks – which makes it safer for us all.

Saving Sharks aims to support these conservation practices by furthering learning about these often misunderstood predators using facts and educational efforts to combat such ideologies. A section on shark biology helps accomplish this by exhibiting a shark’s cartilaginous skeleton, as well as skin, scales, and teeth samples from a number of different species.

ToothlessDesigned to capture the hearts and minds of would-be conservationists and lifelong shark fans, alike, Saving Sharks is a fun, interactive, and informative exhibit. Featuring a live touch tank area where visitors can see and feel whitespotted bamboo, horn, and epaulette sharks, track great whites in real time, and even stand inside a life-sized underwater diving cage, it’s a shark showcase that’s sure to excite and engage every member of the family!

The king of the shark world, the great white, is well represented throughout the exhibit, especially where OCEARCH is concerned. OCEARCH is a non-profit organization and leader in open source data collection and research concerning great whites and other apex predators.

Aboard the OCEARCH research vessel, the team travels the world and collects data including reproductive conditions of females, body measurements for comparative studies around the world, muscle biopsies to identify key life stages, and more. Led by founding chairman and expedition leader Chris Fischer, OCEARCH is able to bring live shark tracking straight to your fingertips via the Internet and their Global Shark Tracker. Follow majestic creatures such as Katherine, the 14-foot great white who has swum over 15,000 miles in the two years since she was tagged, or cruise alongside Sam Houston, the 10-foot long tiger shark tagged off the coast of Port Aransas last summer. OCEARCH plays a critical role in providing scientific information necessary in tracking and measuring shark species across the globe, helping to lead and better steer conservation efforts. SandTigerSharks062515a

Some of the first identified sharks that OCEARCH ever tracked were tagged by Corpus Christi’s own Dr. Greg Stunz of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Stunz was one of the first grantees to benefit from the Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Care, Conservation, and Research Fund. Stunz’s main project focus was to gain a better understanding of shark migration patterns in the Gulf of Mexico. We’re excited that our funding could positively affect members of the local Corpus Christi community, both human and otherwise.

Take a dive into the underwater world of Saving Sharks this October and together, we can join fins and work to conserve these beautiful and fascinating fish!

The Man Behind the Mulch: Meet Landscape Specialist Keith Bethel

EPSON MFP image
Loading

From the backwash basins in the very bottom of the building, to the tippity-top of the tall steeple on top of the observation deck, Keith Bethel knows the Aquarium from side to side, top to bottom. The twenty-five year staff member is technically titled Landscape Specialist, but he’s more like the Aquarium’s own Renaissance man. From parking issues, to sanitation stations, electricity and wiring, exhibit building – you name it and he’s had a hand in it.

KeithBethel3small

Bethel pulling errant weeds out of his pristine landscaping.

Though a native Corpus Christian, Bethel lived in Hawaii as a young adult and worked in the landscaping industry, thus giving him the edge he needed 25 years ago to land his current position.

“I was somewhat knowledgeable about tropical plants and our climate here and what works here,” says Bethel.

Bethel says he was largely tasked with making choices regarding planting, soil, landscaping the front, back, and individual exhibit areas all around the aquarium – a somewhat daunting task for a young man. But Bethel knew exactly where to find answers and inspiration; they were right across the bridge.

“I would go and cruise down Ocean Drive and check out what was thriving and doing well in their yards, then take that knowledge back to the Aquarium. We have the same kind of exposure they do and it translates well,” Bethel explained.

But Bethel’s knowledge and ingenuity doesn’t just stop at plants and landscaping. As a master falconer, he is extremely well-versed on bird care, specifically raptors.

From a very young age, Bethel said he developed a fascination with birds. 

EPSON MFP image

Bethel poses with a hawk behind the Aquarium. 

“From hummingbirds to condors, you name it; I think they’re all amazing creatures,” says Bethel, who used to spend hours of his childhood researching different bird species in the Corpus Christi Library’s encyclopedia collection. After wearing out the more general books, Bethel looked for other options and discovered one single volume concerning falconry, and that was it – the sport flew away with him.

“It is defined as ‘the art of using trained raptors to hunt,’ and is a sport that’s been around for thousands of years,” Bethel says. “There’s such a rich history behind it. Back even before the Medieval period.”

Bethel is very fond of his two peregrine falcons, Mamba, a female, and Colt, a male or tiercel. He says that working at the Aquarium over the years has afforded him great opportunities to learn more about birds of prey.

KeithBethelsmall

A master falconer, Bethel is pictured here hunting with one of his two falcons.

“I’m grateful for a lot of opportunities I’ve gotten working here. I’m thankful also for the stability the Aquarium has provided me and my family – my kids grew up in the halls here and now so will my grandkids,” Bethel says with a smile. His daughter Sarah is part of the Aquarium’s Guest Services staff and recently had a baby boy.

Pride indeed runs deep at the Aquarium for Keith Bethel. From creating and maintaining our award-winning grounds, to helping with various tasks in every department, and even helping to transport animals, there truly is so much to learn about the man behind the mulch.