Endangered Species Day
Thursday of this week marked the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day. Led by Director of Education and Conservation MaryEllen Mateleska, Mystic Aquarium highlighted various threatened and endangered species that call our facility home, including sharks, sea turtles and African Penguins. We also called attention to the plight of the vaquita, an animal that I discussed in a previous entry.
Some time back I delivered a talk on the future of zoos and aquariums and their role in addressing increasing concerns in our world about the possibility that we are in the midst of a mass extinction. I want to share excerpts on the occasion of Endangered Species Day:
There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the earth. Mass extinctions occur over thousands of years. But they impact the biosphere more quickly than that, beginning with noticeable loss of key species and the emergence of dead zones where little or no life exists.
There is growing concern that we are living in the beginning stages of the sixth great extinction. Each day nearly 200 species of animals; fish, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, as well as plants and insects perish, never to be seen on this earth again.
Globally we are building on our coastlines at rapid pace. We are destroying rainforests, coral reefs, rivers and wetlands. These are the building blocks that allow large mammals to survive in water and on land. Even as we make progress restoring these environments in the United States, our consumption of goods and services are contributing to the rapid destruction abroad.
One of the great misperceptions of zoos and aquariums is that they can be a modern day Noah’s Ark. It is true that zoos and aquariums play a vital role in maintaining many species and have heroically kept many species from extinction. But the reality is that the majority of animals in our world are relatively small and less charismatic than what we typically see in a zoo or aquarium.
There are too many species dying each day for all of the zoos and aquariums in the world to handle. Likewise, most zoos and aquariums are ill prepared to serve as DNA banks for millions of life forms, another concept that is sometimes advanced with regard to the future of these institutions.
Zoos and Aquariums can and do engage people in ways that no other organization has been able to do or will be able to do. They capture the attention and imagination of people most of whom have no direct connection to nature or wildlife.
Mystic Aquarium houses many threatened and endangered species including Steller Sea Lions, African Penguins, and various species of frogs, and Beluga whales which are threatened in North America. We rescue and rehabilitate hundreds of animals annually including seals and turtles. We are currently tracking three Beluga Whales that we have identified as being from the Saint Lawrence Seaway and that are dangerously out of their local habitat. They were last and sighted near Oyster Bay on Long Island Sound.
We learn much from the Belugas in our care so that we can care for a declining wild population. We believe that the presence of animals such as Belugas in zoos and aquariums inspires action to save the growing list of endangered species everywhere.
Charles River Laboratories and Horseshoe Crab Research at Mystic Aquarium
This week Mystic Aquarium received a major grant from Charles River Laboratories (www.criver.com) in support of our conservation and education programs related to horseshoe crabs.
The Mystic Aquarium programs include citizen science projects where individuals engage in population counts of horseshoe crabs along the New England coastline, coastal field studies programs for at-risk youth, and career programs for high schoolers showcasing the close connection between marine science and health science careers.
Dr. Norm Wainwright, Senior Director of Research and Development for Charles River Laboratories, is also a Scientist-in-Residence at Mystic Aquarium. He specializes in research on horseshoe crabs and is very involved in conservation efforts to assure the survival of this important and ancient animal that dates lineage to 440 million years ago.
Horseshoe crabs are critical to the stability of coastal waters. Their blue blood is also important to human health, serving as an agent to diagnose bacterial contamination in many medical treatments throughout the world.
Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary Research at Mystic Aquarium
Senior Research Scientist, Dr. Peter J. Auster received major funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Sanctuary Program, this week. The funding allows Dr. Auster to work on “community ecology” or the impact of Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary management policies on fish and macro invertebrate populations. Dr. Auster will provide expert counsel to help refine and establish management in relation to the ecology of the sanctuary.
Concern about Whale Populations on the East Coast
Vice President of Biological Programs, Dr. Allison Tuttle, shared an important update on the status of whales in our region this week.
An official “Unusual Mortality Event” for humpback whales has been declared for the East coast of the US. The cause has yet to be identified; however, it was declared on the basis of 41 documented mortalities from Maine to North Carolina in the period of Jan 1, 2016 through April 3, 2017.
Additionally, the Greater Atlantic region is seeing increased number of marine animal strandings this year, including harbor porpoise, common dolphins, and minke whales.
Weird and Wonderful Exhibit Opening Soon
Our teams at Mystic Aquarium are very busy this week completing work on the new Weird and Wonderful exhibit gallery. We have a VIP opening scheduled in the next week, and a grand opening on Memorial Day weekend.
Here are some images from the gallery which, in addition to the animal collection of truly fascinating fish and invertebrates, includes exciting graphics and amazing new interactive technologies.
New Touch Tank Coming Soon
This week we took ownership of a beautiful new touch tank for the Discovery Lab exhibit. Special thanks to Senior Life Support Technician Todd Devlin-Perry, who is installing the unit. This will be an exciting addition to the main Aquarium floor, replacing an aged system that was removed a few weeks back.
We continue to make improvements and add exciting new experiences to Mystic Aquarium for our guests, while also developing our mission programs in conservation, education and research.
See you all soon!
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