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

Saving Sharks Logo FINAL

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


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.


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. 


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.


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.

Saving Sharks: A Great White Encounter


20030523a-dscn0132It’s either at the very top of your bucket list, or the number one thing you would never, ever dare to do: Swim with great white sharks.  

Here at the Texas State Aquarium, we’ve got some pretty brave souls. We have those who dive with the sand tiger sharks in our Islands of Steel exhibit; those who help give our 400-lb alligator Bo a physical, and even those work every day with our raptors, or birds of prey. But one of the bravest is Suraida Nanez-James, our manager of distance learning and outreach, who not only studied and helped to identify great whites; she cage dived with them, too.


Nanez-James is pictured wrestling bait back from a great white.

Back in the summer of 2003, Nanez-James was working on earning her undergraduate degree in Marine Fisheries at TAMUG and scored the opportunity to work for six weeks as a research intern for the now-defunct White Shark Trust Organization in Gansbaai, South Africa, A.K.A. the great white capital of the world.

Nanez-James and the rest of the crew were most interested in tracking demographic information of great whites in the area, i.e., recording data based on sex, length, and distinguishing marks.

“A big part of it was trying to get them to surface for us,” says Nanez-James, “Ideally, we were trying to study and ID their dorsal fins.” 20030606d-dscn0028

Research leader Michael Scholl called the process “finprinting,” and Nanez-James says it was a tad harder than it sounds.

After going about ten miles out in a rather pint-sized boat (cue Jaws quotes), their nine hour day began.

“We had to chum the water, and then drop bait, trying to get them close to the boat and to breach the water,” Nanez-James explains.

She said the task was made more difficult because the team didn’t want the sharks actually biting the buoys attached to the bait, or eating all of the bait. The object was not to feed the legendary creatures, but to lure them up to get photos for data purposes.

Nanez-James says it’s an experience she will never forget.

20030601b-dscn0139“I wasn’t scared of them, but let me tell you; it definitely gives you a healthy respect for them as predators. It was amazing to be able to get that close to them and just be aware of their grace and agility,” she says with awe. “Not only are they incredibly fast and agile for their size, they are super smart, too. They would learn where we were going to drop the bait and anticipate it before we even did it.”

A dearth of important information was recovered from the project, helping to support great white conservation efforts and also data in general.

“There’s just so much we don’t know about them – their migration patterns, where they breed, when and why they travel and why they travel so far,” Nanez-James says of the species.



Thanks to the efforts of scientists like Nanez-James and organizations like OCEARCH, Discovery’s Shark Week, and the shark tagging work done by Greg Stunz of the Harte Research Institute, we now know so much more and are learning every day about the wide world of sharks. Such research allows us to properly educate others about the oceans’ apex predators and also to learn how we can help conserve them for future generations and healthier oceans to come. 

Make Your World Oceans Day Clean & Green!


From World Ocean’s Day, to events like Party for the Planet and Green Halloween; we know we spout big ideals about conservation, eco-friendliness, and recycling. As we focus on this year’s World Oceans Day theme of “healthy oceans, healthy planet” and reducing marine debris, we’d like to tell you about our own eco-friendliness and maybe even inspire you to take home more than just memories and souvenirs from the Aquarium!

Xeriscaped landscape

Xeriscaped landscape with crushed granite, instead of soil

From our Xeriscape landscaping and multiple recycling stations, to even the things that you don’t see – like our water filtration/cycling system and the solar panels on our roof – the Texas State Aquarium is happy to assure you that not only do we talk the talk, we also walk the walk when it comes to doing our part to keep the planet healthy.

Check out the ways in which your Aquarium stays clean and green!

Restrooms: Installed in our upstairs restroom are Zurn Dual Flush systems. These systems are extremely water efficient and have two options: flush the handle up for liquid waste and flushing down for solid waste, providing just the right amount of water to handle the waste.

The urinals in our lobby restrooms are waterless, thus also contributing to our facility’s water conservation efforts.

Waste Recycling: Nearly every single waste container at the Aquarium is broken up into plastic and/or recyclable waste receptacles. Upstairs and spread around the premises, we also have designated disposal areas for cans, paper, plastics, and even bottle screw tops and batteries. 

Outdoor recycling center

Outdoor recycling center

Seawater usage and recycling: One of the many perks of being located right on the incredible Corpus Christi bay front is our direct access to the bay’s seawater. Instead of filling our exhibits with tap water, treating it, and then adding massive amounts of salt to it in order to make it a suitable habitat for marine life, the Aquarium pipes in water from the bay, filters it multiple times, while also treating it for impurities and chemicals, and then pipes that water into our exhibits. This practice not only saves huge amounts of time and money, but also massive quantities of freshwater.

Additionally, the Aquarium will change the water in our exhibits from time to time. The very same water that is piped in is treated, filtered, processed, and sent back out into the bay.

LED Lighting: At the Aquarium, we employ LED lighting all over the facility. As opposed to incandescent bulbs or compact fluorescents, LEDs produce light by using light emitting diodes – a much more efficient use of energy than traditional sources.

Utensils Made From Plants, Paper Straw

Utensils made from plant starch

Xeriscape landscaping: One of the first things you notice about the Aquarium is the lush, beautiful grounds. Palm trees, tropical flowers, manicured lawns, and more. The one thing you won’t find are lot of flower beds or mulch, as the Aquarium utilizes Xeriscape landscaping wherever possible on our premises. Xeriscaping is a landscaping or gardening practice that vastly reduces and sometimes eliminates the need for supplemental watering. Xeriscaped grounds use up to two-thirds less water than traditional lawn landscapes and also help support drought-resistant plant life local to the region, giving that true Coastal Bend flora experience. 

Utensils: Not only can you enjoy the delicious food from our Pepsi Shoreline Grill and Café Aqua, you can feel good about eating it, too! The utensils we supply at our restaurant facilities are from an eco-friendly and green company called Eco Products, and our spoons, forks, and knives are all made out of plant starch. The cutlery is made from 70% renewable materials, thus helping to reduce the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels required to make conventional plastic cutlery.

Solar Panels: The rooftop of the Aquarium not only provides stunning view of the USS Lexington, North Beach, and Corpus Christi Bay, but also an array of sustainable solar energy panels. Solar power cells convert sunlight into electricity, using the energy of photons to create an electrical current.

Solar panels on roof

Solar panels on roof

Over the past few decades, scientists studied how to harness the sun’s energy with more efficiency to do the work of non-renewable fuels – without pollution, noise or radiation, and not subject to economic issues that can cause costs to fluctuate.

Keurig K-Cup Recycling: If you’ve been up to the third floor of the Aquarium, you’ll know that the majority of the space is dedicated to offices, and though the Aquarium may not look like just any other office building – we still thoroughly enjoy (and need) our coffee. Keurig coffee brewers are very conducive to office environments, allowing each individual to brew his or her very own custom cup of coffee, however, the issue comes in disposing of the Keurig K-Cups. As more K-Cup recycling programs have become available, the Aquarium has decided to utilize the Keurig Grounds to Grow On K-Cup pod recycling program as another one of our green efforts.

Grounds to Grown On simply requires participants to purchase a K-Cup recovery bin that will act as both a disposal receptacle and as the mailing container to ship gathered K-Cups back to the organization, where they will use leftover coffee grounds in compost and recycle the plastic parts of the K-Cup.

Green Audit: We’re also pledging to conduct a green audit this summer, seeking and implementing every additional means we can to reduce energy and plastic waste, including marine debris. While Texas State Aquarium has long facilitated Texas General Land Office Adopt-A-Beach cleanups on North Beach, this year we’re implementing a comprehensive marine debris plan that will coordinate Aquarium staff, AquaTeens, and community volunteers for at least ten cleanups at North Beach and Packery Channel sites.

Together, we can move/remove mountains – mountains of plastic that harm wildlife, and ultimately ourselves – in the world’s ocean. Please join us in action, small and simple or large and grand on World Oceans Day and beyond.

World Turtle Day!

Walker, our Texas tortoise
Walker, our Texas tortoise

Walker, our Texas tortoise

It’s only fitting that we celebrate one of the world’s oldest creatures with its own designated day. That’s right, the sea turtles you can glimpse while catching the sunset in Port A, the box turtle you have as a pet, and the famous Galapagos Islands tortoises (who fittingly look like living fossils) have been around for a whopping 200 million years.

Conservation Cove small

To honor and promote awareness on behalf of these wonderful animals, the American Tortoise Rescue founded World Turtle Day in 2000. The organization also gathered a bunch of helpful tips and advice on how YOU can do your part and help to save turtles and tortoises so that they can be around for another 200 million years! 

  • If you’re interested in obtaining a pet turtle, do your research on different species and their needs, then purchase the animal from a reputable store, breeder, or shelter. DO NOT TAKE A WILD TURTLE FOR A PET.
  • Do not release a pet turtle into the wild if you find yourself unable or unwilling to care for it. Turtles kept as pets may not have the important nutrients they need to survive cold winters. In addition, pet turtles may not be native to your area and should not interbreed with wild turtles.
  • Don’t remove turtles or tortoises from the wild unless they appear sick or injured.
  • If a tortoise is crossing a busy street, pick it up and take it in the same direction it was going – if you try to make it go back, it will turn right around again.
  • Do your part to keep beaches and other natural turtle and tortoise habitats free and clean of trash.
Danni small

Danni, our Red-footed tortoise

Sadly, many of the turtle and tortoise species here at the Aquarium are considered by the IUCN as near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. These species include all of our sea turtles – green, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead – as well as our Diamondback terrapin, Red-footed tortoise, ornate box turtle, and gopher tortoise. 

Help us bring awareness to the plight of these incredible creatures by visiting the Aquarium to learn more about them, WEAR GREEN, and please consider donating to organizations like ours that are committed to conserving species!

Happy World Turtle Day!

Species Success Stories

Bo close up small

There are far too many species – both plant and animal – listed on the Endangered Species List. However, the silver lining in the inherent doom and gloom of impending species extinction lies in the fact that we have the power to get species OFF the list.

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

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

Take for example, the American alligator. Mass market hunting and habitat loss left this species at an all-time low in the 1950s. Many believed the reptile species, whose ancestry dates back 200 million years, wouldn’t survive. Thanks to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and many other state conservation agencies, the opposite happened.

In 1967, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the alligator was listed as endangered, giving it certain protections. Then, when the ESA was passed in 1973, even more protections were granted the species. It became illegal to hunt, allowing the animals to rebound in many areas where it had been nearly depleted.

As southern states saw the alligator start to turn the corner, they established alligator monitoring programs and then used the data to ensure that the species was continuing to increase in number. 

Join us on Friday, May 15 as we celebrate the amazing animals that inhabit our world and learn all about how to help and protect the ones that are endangered or threatened. We will have a host of fun and educational programming you won’t want to miss!

Join us on Friday, May 15 as we celebrate the amazing animals that inhabit our world and learn all about how to help and protect the ones that are endangered or threatened. We will have a host of fun and educational programming you won’t want to miss!

Finally, in 1987, after being endangered for over 20 years, USFWS declared the American alligator fully recovered and removed the animal from list of endangered species. And although it’s no longer endangered, it’s not fully “out of the swamp” yet. Related crocodile and caiman species are still in trouble and as such, have caused the USFWS to continue to protect the alligator under the ESA classification “threatened due to similarity of appearance.” The organization regulates the harvest of legal trade in the species, thus preventing illegal taking efforts and the trafficking of endangered look-alike reptiles. 

Meet Bo, our very own American alligator, and join us Friday, May 15 for Endangered Species Day and learn all about how YOU can help save species and write more success stories like this one!

A List You Don’t Want To Be On

Daisy, our Kemp's ridley sea turtle, is Critically Endangered.

Your name on the list to get into an exclusive club – great. Being on the list to win a prize – awesome. Your name being on a list concerning potential extinction….not so good. That list – the Endangered Species List – is definitely one you don’t want to be on. As we detailed in our last post, this list focuses on federally protected plant and animal species that are at varying levels of risk for extinction. Below we explain what leads scientists and officials to put plant and animal species on the list. 

Daisy, our Kemp's ridley sea turtle, is Critically Endangered.

Daisy, our Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, is Critically Endangered.

While terrestrial animals are covered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, water-based species are watched over by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Scientific data is collected from these agencies by scientists on the local, state, and national levels. Said data is thoroughly analyzed to determine if the animal qualifies for protected status under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

Analysis of that information leads conservationists to ask the following questions:

  • Has a significant portion of the species’ vital habitat been damaged or destroyed?
  • Has the species been affected by overconsumption due to commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational uses?
  • Is the species affected by excessive predation or disease?
  • Are the current regulations that protect this species inadequate or lacking?
  • What manmade factors threaten the long-term survival of this species?

If the answers to one or more of the above questions are in the affirmative or show to be negatively affecting the species, then the species is eligible to be listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act. Once granted this designation, that species is then given special protections by the government, such as being shielded from being “taken,” traded, or sold. The ESA defines the term “taken” as “harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, collecting, or attempting  to engage in any such conduct” with the species.

Join us on Friday, May 15 as we celebrate the amazing animals that inhabit our world and learn all about how to help and protect the ones that are endangered or threatened. We will have a host of fun and educational programming you won’t want to miss!

Join us on Friday, May 15 as we celebrate the amazing animals that inhabit our world and learn all about how to help and protect the ones that are endangered or threatened. We will have a host of fun and educational programming you won’t want to miss!

Like what you’re reading? Be sure to join us Friday, May 15, for Endangered Species Day at the Aquarium! 

What Does Being Endangered Mean?

Einstein, our Hawksbill Sea Turtle, is Critically Endangered.

For many of us, an endangered species is an exotic animal from a far-off land, like the White Bengal Tiger, Javan Rhinoceros, or the Polar Bear. We don’t oftentimes associate animals about to be booted off the face of the earth as creatures like a backyard tree dweller (the Houston Toad), or the gentle Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

The sad truth is that too vast a number of flora and fauna inhabit the endangered list, but the first step to saving those species is to understand more about how and why they got where they are today. 

Einstein, our Hawksbill Sea Turtle, is Critically Endangered.

Einstein, our Hawksbill Sea Turtle, is Critically Endangered.

In this, the first in an installment of blog posts about endangered species, leading up to Endangered Species Day – Friday, May 15 – we will examine how species’ conservation statuses are determined and what those categorizations mean.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the Endangered Species Act (ESA for short) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1973 to protect endangered species, threatened species, and critical habitats.

Endangered Species are defined as, “Species that are likely to become extinct throughout all or a large portion of their range,” while Threatened Species are, “Species that are likely to become endangered in the near future.” Critical habitat is termed as that which is “vital to the survival of endangered or threatened species.” 

Once on the endangered species list, bald eagles like our Grace have made a great comeback as a species.

Once on the endangered species list, bald eagles like our Grace have made a great comeback as a species.

LC – Least Concern

NT – Near Threatened

VU – Vulnerable

EN – Endangered

EW – Extinct in the Wild

EX – Extinct

The Endangered Species list also has varying levels of endangerment. These range from Least Concern on the non-serious end, all the way to final depressing designation: Extinct. Between the two lie Near Threatened, meaning the animal is likely to soon qualify for a threatened category in the future. Next serious is the Vulnerable designation, meaning the species is currently facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. The next category is Endangered, meaning the species is very seriously facing an imminent threat of extinction. Critically Endangered ratchets that extinction threat up even more. Next is Extinct in the Wild, meaning the species is known only to survive in a cultivated or naturalized environment (read: no longer in the wild). Finally, being designated as Extinct means that scientists and researchers have no reasonable doubt that any of the species is left alive.  

The websites below are great resources to learn more about Endangered Species and their fight for life.

Stay tuned for our next post!,28757,1888728,00.html

Texas State Aquarium Released Rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk

Rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk released

Second ChancesThe Aquarium is happy to announce that we released a Red-Tailed Hawk back into its natural habitat at Hazel Bazemore Park earlier this morning!

The Aquarium’s Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital took in the juvenile raptor February 11, when a local woman discovered the injured hawk near Allison Point Road and brought it to the facility.

Upon inspection, Second Chances staff discovered the young hawk was dehydrated and had a broken clavicle and coracoid, two vital shoulder bones that inhibit flying if fractured. Surgery was performed by Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. David Stelling to pin the bones back together. The major surgery required slow conditioning and physical therapy by staff. The young hawk steadily progressed in its rehabilitation, moving from low perches to higher ones, eventually regaining its ability to fly.

Throughout its recovery, staff carefully monitored the mending of hawk’s injuries and encouraged appropriate eating habits. All were excited to see the healed hawk return to its natural habitat.

Rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk released

Rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk released

Rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk released

Rehabilitated Red-tailed Hawk released

Texas State Aquarium Saddened Loss of Fish Species


The Texas State Aquarium is saddened to report the loss of approximately 400 marine fish.  These fish inhabited several large habitats, including the Islands of Steel exhibit and the Flower Gardens exhibit. In an attempt to control a particularly difficult parasite that had proven resistant to other treatments, staff administered a different, commonly used drug. The fish in the affected exhibits had an adverse reaction to the medication. Staff members worked diligently throughout the night to save as much of the collection as possible, but considerable losses were sustained.

The majority of the Aquarium’s animal collection was not impacted. The Living Shores gallery, Nearshore gallery, Amazon, and Floating Phantoms, as well as a number of smaller exhibits, were not affected. None of the freshwater aquariums, and none of the touch tanks were impacted. In addition, none of the outdoor exhibits such as Tortuga Cay and Texas Trails were affected.  The loss represents about 13 percent of the Aquarium’s overall collection.

As a standard precaution, staff had tested the treatment on an individual smaller exhibit with no adverse reaction prior to administering it into the larger exhibit.

The Aquarium’s first priority is to focus on stabilizing the water in the affected exhibits. The Aquarium has sent water samples from affected exhibits to testing laboratories in hopes of a clear explanation for what caused the adverse reaction.

“This is a very sad day at the Texas State Aquarium,” remarked Aquarium Chief Marketing Officer Richard E. Glover, Jr. “We are working diligently to find out what caused the adverse reaction, and we will keep the public informed with any updates.”