Saturday, June 28, 2014

Creepy Salt and Calamari

Hello, everyone! I'm here with more updates and suchlike from the land of salt, water, and a combination of those things. I've been interning 3 days a week the past couple weeks, and because of that, I've been able to get the greatest grasp and understanding of the different things that go on to make the aquarium work so well. Have I put on a wetsuit and jumped into the shark tank? Disappointingly, no. Because apparently you have to be "trained" and "scuba certified" to do that. But don't you worry! That's another goal of mine for this wonderful 2014 year. ;) But I did make friends with a penguin. Her name is Simon. She's crazy adorable and loves flapping her wings.

BUT I know you guys do want to know all of the cool things I have gotten to do over the last few weeks, and honestly, one of the biggest things I've been doing is cleaning. SO. MUCH. CLEANING.

Just like the health inspector is to restaurants, the AZA is constantly checking in and making sure the aquarium stays in line and is continuing their excellent practices. One of the things we recently were told to clean up a bit was our salt creep. Now, as one can figure, with a basic understanding of the water cycle and knowledge that the aquarium contains salt water, it isn't a secret that when the water evaporates, it leaves behind the salt. The biggest areas we have the most problem with salt creep, are on these bio tanks, (they’re essentially just part of each tank’s filtration system) which are up high above your head, and is usually only reached with a ladder or standing on a nearby deck of a tank. From me to you, trust me when I say that salt creep is a SUPER BIG PAIN IN THE BUTT.
A giant chunk of salt creep that fell on my face.
Close your eyes (but not really) and imagine me standing on my tippy toes for about 30-45 minutes with a tiny shop vac, trying to vacuum up thick layers of salt on this cylinder about two feet above me. Got that mental picture? Good. Now add me trying to not drop the salt all over the floor and create more work for myself, and instead, getting salt ALL OVER THE PLACE; in my hair, in my eyes, on my shirt, on the deck I'm standing, and on the ground. My skin was incredibly red and shiny from all that salt. I’m surprised I didn’t dry out and shrivel up like a raisin right there on that deck. Talk about hectic. At one point, my poor legs and arms couldn't stretch anymore, so 3/4 of this cylinder is salt creep free, and then it's just complete solid salt! Oy; a clean freak's nightmare/biggest pet peeve.

High-tech transportation for our fish.
 And now I have some good and some more good (bad if you’re a fan of stonefish) news. This past week, I was given the duty to prepare for the shipment of our two stonefish. I had to measure some boxes and essentially have a sort of practice run to assure that they would fit properly in their boxes to be shipped off to their new destination. For those of you who don’t know, stonefish are one of the most venomous fish on the planet. Their antivenom is CRAZY expensive ($$$) and doesn’t have a very long shelf-life. Let me just say that I, personally, am so excited for those fish to go. They FREAK me out. Look them up. They look exactly like the coral/rocks around them, and they just stare at you when you’re trying to feed the lionfish. It’s like they’re staring into your soul, and it’s really uncomfortable. I’ve had both of them less than a foot away from my hands, and it gives me the shudders just thinking about it! So yeah, glad to see those guys go soon.  My other good news: we were able to introduce some new fish to our exhibits this past week. We now have a rather large tank dedicated to paddlefish, and they’re very energetic in their tank. I personally am not responsible for them, but I walk by their tank every day! I do, however, have a new fish in one of my tanks. I’m not sure what kind he is, but he’s super beautiful. A mix of reds and oranges, and the guy even changes color. His tank is a deep, royal blue, so he stands out well. He’s new to the tank, and even though he’s the 2nd biggest critter in there (after our baby sea turtle, Josie) he gets pushed around and bullied for being the new guy. In fact, I found out he changes colors by watching him get pushed around by an angelfish, when he turned all pale white except for his face. It was quite hysterical, and I assure you he is doing better now, and we’re hoping it stays that way! I actually got to be the one to transport our fish from his quarantined tank to his new, current home. If you want to know how this was done, we honestly used a trash can. Yes, it was clean, and it actually had never been used as a trash can. It was just something that was big enough and could easily be wheeled around without causing awkwardness and difficult transportation.

Real quick, I also want to add this really cool bit of information I learned this past week. One of our biologist vets, Jolene, over the past year or so has been conducting research with our freshwater rays and birth-control. Now if you’re like me, you initially thought “heh, come again?” Yep, that’s exactly it. Jolene informed me that freshwater rays have absolutely NO preference and will breed with literally just about anything. You might be thinking “okay, kinda weird, but what’s the problem?” This is a problem because this can create hybrid species, which is a species that is a mix of two distinctly different species that aren’t typically bred together; a common example of this is a liger (tiger+lion) or a mule (horse+donkey). Hybrid species lack the ability to reproduce, and therefore are just kind of a nuisance and can cause problems on the “regular” species. So, Jolene was suggested to try out the effects of the birth-control on the rays, to see if that prevents the formation of hybrid species. We don’t have any official results yet, but either way, this research will be extremely helpful, but it will either inform us that: 1) yes, this BC does help, and can be used on our rays to prevent the forming of hybrids in our enclosures, or 2) no, this BC doesn’t seem to have any effect, but maybe this other particular BC will show changes. As a reliable facility that wants to help the growth, conservation, and breeding of rays, the best way to do this would be to assure “true” rays, and not hybrids that won’t be able to reproduce themselves and be successful in their environments. I can’t wait for Jolene to conclude her experimentation and share her results. I really enjoy getting to shadow underneath her from time to time, because she’s incredibly knowledgeable about all kinds of things, and I love listening to the different stuff she does, day-to-day, for the aquarium.

For your entertainment, and patience for reading all of my crazy adventures and blah-blah stories, here's a video of us feeding one of our eels in one of the tanks I help take care of. He's actually eating a piece of squid, and as you can see, he doesn't like to share! 

Now, who wants some calimari? 

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