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Animals Up-Close

Encounters with the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home

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African Penguins

AZA facilities have joined forces to develop various projects, from improving disaster response protocols for oil spills to constructing artificial nests to address population declines caused by overfishing, habitat degradation, and oil spills.

Mystic Aquarium has been an active participant in the African Penguin SAFE Program since its inception 2014. Gayle Sirpenski, animal management specialist and African penguin Species Survival Plan co-coordinator, was invited to participate in an African penguin stakeholder meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. Information gathered during two days of meetings and visits to three African penguin colonies was used to identify a list of potential areas of focus for the SAFE Conservation Actin Plan. Sirpenski has been an African Penguin SAFE Officer since 2019, and Mystic Aquarium has contributed funding to SAFE since 2021.

Mystic Aquarium, with Smithsonian’s National Zoo, have managed the African penguin species survival plan since it was developed in 1995. The purpose of the plan is to maintain a sustainable population of African penguins within the 51 AZA institutions, support field conservation efforts, and promote AZA’s SAFE initiatives. Since its inception, 11 Masterplan/Breeding & Transfer Plans have been published. Within zoos and aquariums, the African penguin population is thriving. The population has continued to grow and remains in excellent genetic and demographic standing.

Mystic Aquarium is also an active participant with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), an international body dedicated to seabird rehabilitation. In partnership with SANCCOB, Mystic Aquarium sent staff to Cape Town, South Africa in 2000 to assist with the care, washing, and feeding of over 20,000 oiled African penguins after the MV Treasure spill.

Beginning in 2000 through 2020, Mystic Aquarium staff traveled to South Africa 17 times to assist with the SANCCOB chick bolstering project, and Mystic representatives participated in a comprehensive health assessment of penguin colonies in 2010. 

Coral Reefs

The SAFE coral program has expanded the scope of its conservation targets to include additional taxa and several newly developed programs and techniques. Their program goal is to inspire and mobilize AZA members, partners, and communities to save coral reefs from extinction, with a focus on species occurring in the western tropical Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.

The AZA-Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project (AZA-FRTRP) is an AZA member-driven coral rescue and conservation network focused on the rescue, housing and future propagation of Florida corals affected by stony coral tissue loss disease. In summer 2018, following the development of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Response Team network and while the Florida Coral Rescue Plan was being developed, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission identified AZA member facilities as the only U.S. entities having the skills, expertise and resources to receive and manage Florida corals rescued from the Florida Reef Tract as part of the plan’s coral rescue activities. AZA created the FRTRP in response to that invitation in November 2019. As a participant in this effort, Mystic Aquarium had agreed to house several species of Atlantic coral with the intent of restoring populations to their original range once stony coral tissue loss disease can be further identified and controlled.

Sea Turtles

The SAFE sea turtle's program goal is to make significant and measurable contributions to the conservation of sea turtles by utilizing the collective resources of the AZA community to secure sustainable populations of all sea turtle species, focusing efforts on two of the most critically endangered sea turtles, Kemp's ridley and Eastern Pacific leatherback.

Mystic Aquarium is an annual partner in this effort, rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing many of the hundreds of sea turtles that strand on the shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts each year due to cold shock. Most of the sea turtles the Aquarium rehabilitates are the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle.

Sharks and Rays

The SAFE shark and ray's program goal is to enable evidence-based support for conservation action, engage action among key public and stakeholder groups, support science-based shark conservation communication, and create opportunities for partners to provide direct, impactful, and collaborative support for the conservation of this taxa.

Mystic Aquarium has been a partner organization since 2019, contributing funding to the SAFE programs. Mystic Aquarium’s Director of Fish and Invertebrates is a member of the working group that is developing a Welfare and Best Practices manual for AZA members.

Mystic Aquarium is also currently housing sand tiger and zebra sharks under the species survival plan’s guidelines and may partner in projects related to reproduction and data collection.