Archive | June 2011

What About Manta Rays? A Look At Animal Exhibits

The only manta ray we have here at CMA is just a large ornament-like statue that was used in the movie "Dolphin Tale"

One day when I was doing a mobile prop shift at the Dolphin Deck,  an elderly man asked me if we had manta rays on display. I told that we did not have any manta rays in our care because currently we just do not have any room for them here at Clearwater Marine Aquarium to put them in so that they would be cared for. I told him that currently the only animals that are on display at the aquarium are dolphins, otters, sea turtles and certain fish species that are all native to Florida waters. While he was a little disappointed by my answer, he was glad to have his question answered.

Manta ray residing at the Georgia Aquarium (this photo belongs to Georgia Aquarium)

As a lot of you may know, Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia is currently the only aquarium in the western hemisphere to ever successfully display a colony of live manta rays in human care (I do know of one aquarium in Japan that has already become the first facility in the entire world to successfully breed these amazing animals in captivity). So the question is that why is Georgia Aquarium the only western aquarium to house manta rays and whale sharks and not other aquarium favorites like SeaWorld or Clearwater Marine Aquarium? This is because both animals are difficult to maintain in human care when it comes to water temperature, dietary needs, and exhibitional space when it comes to thriving in aquariums since both animals are pretty large by nature. So to see how and Why Georgia Aquarium is currently the only western facility to house two dream animals (manta rays and whale sharks), let’s take a look at Georgia Aquarium’s Ocean.

Ocean Voyager exhibit at Georgia Aquarium (this photo is NOT mine)

On the money issue, the Ocean Voyager Exhibit costed Georgia Aquarium about $20 million to build from top to bottom. According to Georgia Aquarium’s site the exhibit contains about more than 6.3 million gallons of salt water and an estimated 4,574 square feet of exhibition space. Oh, the water temperature is also anywhere from 74-76 degrees, the perfect water temperature that these tropical animal usually prefer out in the wild. One of the reasons why most aquariums prefer to keep water temperature warm than what most aquarium goers think is because they keep it at the perfect water temperature that the animals prefer. Like for example, the water temperature at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium is about 55 degrees and this is because killer whales can usually be found in cold temperate or polar waters throughout the world. Another important thing when it comes to maintaining manta rays and whale sharks in human care in Atlanta is the dietary needs. While the whale sharks are given a combination of both small fish and lettuce, the rays are given a variety of fish that they would feed on out in the wild. So in conclusion, it’s safe to say that Georgia Aquarium is currently the only facility in the western hemisphere to successfully maintain both whale sharks and manta rays in human care although, both animal species have been known to be extremely difficult to keep in captivity because of their large volume of needs.

Look out world because Clearwater Marine Aquarium is dreaming big and will begin to expand

The saddest concept I get from most aquarium goers (most of whom live overseas) who come to Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the fact that when they come to visit us, they usually expect to see a bigger and louder aquarium with a large animal collection that may breed it’s animals for research, and conservation purposes. But, as a small facility, Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a working animal hospital that is dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing animals in need that only displays rescued and orphaned animals that could not be released for various reasons depending on individual cases. It currently does not have a permit that would allow the facility to breed these animals for research and conservation purposes. However, the facility is expanding. Not to long ago, my fellow staff mates, including the CEO broke ground on a $12 million expansion on our beloved aquarium which will include a new dolphin exhibit that would be the size of SeaWorld’s dolphin stadium, and a new sea turtle hospital. So, everyday we, the staff, volunteers, and interns here at Clearwater Marine Aquarium are dreaming big everyday to see our animals continue to inspire the world to make a great connection with our oceans.

Oh, by the way, you can also leave your mark here by donating to our Pave the Path campaign by donating $100 or more to leave your legacy on our expansion. So perhaps one day, CMA may become just a large facility with a big time conservation message for all the world to cherish.

Our Oceans At Risk of Extinction: It’s Not too Late to Do Something About It Though

Manatee at Homosasa Spring National Wildlife Refuge in Homosasa, FL

If no action is taken to help marine wildlife, animals like manatees could die out

Just not too long ago, a new study done by the International Program On The State Of The Ocean (IPSO) has revealed that marine animals such as sea turtles, manatees, sharks, penguins, whales, and the marine ecosystems they all depend on are all at risk of becoming victims of an unprecedented marine mass extinction that could happen in our lifetime. But, unlike other mass extinctions of the past, this one would be the result of  generations of human activity.

This ground breaking UK study has revealed that centuries of pollution, commercial whaling, and overfishing have all caused an extreme increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the oceans that have combined to put marine animals and the ecosystems they all depend on at terrible risk of extreme danger of extinction. Sadly some of the most popular animals such as the African penguin, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the blue fin tuna, the Hawaiian monk seal, and the Hector’s dolphin are among the many marine animal species that are becoming at risk of becoming extinct because of ever growing marine issues such as global warming , oil spills, and overfishing,

Winter the dolphin

Winter, a five-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin lost her tail in a crab trap, an example of what marine derbis can do to animals like dolphins.

Just to make matters worst, in some places in the world, there is a huge increase in “dead zones”, which are oceanic areas where fish and other animals cannot survive because of lack of oxygen is making impossible for marine plants and coral reefs to thrive, all of which the animals need to survive. There has already been a report of large dead zones in Gulf Coast which may have been a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. It seems like everything is starting to die out on us during our lifetime. This is not good because then, if everything in the ocean dies out, then, the next generation may never be able to enjoy seeing sea turtles swim in coral reefs, nor killer whales catching themselves a salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

It's never too late to do your part to save the ocean, (I am holding a sea star that I am about to return to the water in South Carolina in May 2011)

However, it’s never to late to save the oceans from a pending mass extinction. Here are some things YOU can do to make a difference when it comes to saving marine wildlife and the ecosystems they depend on for generations to come:

  1. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle any reusable and non-reusable materials
  2. Participate in an annual beach clean up in your town
  3. volunteer or intern at your local stranding or wildlife rehabilitation center. These places rely so much on the dedicated work of both interns and volunteers alike.
  4. Share your environmental concerns on the internet, your community, your friends, and even your family.
  5. Educate yourself on marine wildlife, marine biology and conservation by getting a book at a store, library, or even look the topics up on the internet.
  6. Visit a marine life facility
  7. Adopt an animal through any conservation organization that offers symbolic animal adoptions like Save the Manatee Club, The Whale Museum, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and The BC Killer Whale Adoption Program.
  8. Reduce the use of toxins in your home, school, or business
  9. Conserve water, paper, and energy.
  10. Don’t buy any wildlife-based products when on a holiday vacation in a country that sells them legally.
  11. Write letters to NOAA, Congress, your senators, or even the president.
  12. When fishing please remove any unused fishing gear from the water in order to prevent entanglements
  13. Stay at least 50-100 yards from any wild dolphin when whale watching on a non-commercial tourist vessel
  14. Stay 50 yards from any marine mammal, bird, or sea turtle when swimming in the ocean.

On behalf of all the animals at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (including Nicholas), I hope that these tips will encourage you to do your part to protect the oceans for generations to come.

Hope: A Moment With A Baby Dolphin Behind The Glass

Hope sure loves to interact with you behind the glass when she's in a very playful mood.

When ever I end up doing mobile props and I have to go down to the underwater viewing at Dolphin Deck to find people whom I can be able to share the prop with, our baby dolphin Hope, may sometimes come right up to me through the glass windows and check out what is that thing I have in my hands. It just makes me think that the seven-month old bottlenose dolphin is pretty curious about what goes on outside of her window.

For example, I was presenting a dolphin skull to a group of people at the Dolphin Deck’s underwater viewing when all of the sudden, Hope came right up to us and would not leave that window unless, she was taking a breath of fresh air.  I wondered if Hope was attracted to the dolphin skull because she was constantly just hanging there with us from the comfort of her window. Because I was so curious about Hope’s curiosity about the skull, I started to face it in front of the window while opening it’s jaw. Hope’s response was to take a breath of fresh air and just stick her face to the window. It was one of the cutest experiences I had at Clearwater Marine Aquarium during my internship.

Hope sure loves that dolphin skull. One of the reasons why she'll interact with you. However, she will still interact with you if you have a few toys on you.

CMA Dolphin Story: Panama


Panama , just like Winter, loves that blue "bed" that Winter likes to rest in when she is not doing demonstrations.

Panama is the oldest dolphin resident at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She is estimated to be in her late thirties to early forties. She was sent to Clearwater Marine Aquarium from Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City, FL in 2000. When she was rescued, she received rehabilitative care for anemia, sunburns, and infection. Although she would respond well to treatment, she did have worn down teeth and suffered from a very low stranding weight at the time of her stranding. She was also associated with” beggar” dolphins that would wait for people to feed them from their boats. And because of all this, Panama was declared “non-relesable” by both NOAA fisheries and the US National Marine Service. In 2007, it was discovered that Panama had become deaf after the trainers were seeing her no longer responding to whistle blows during sessions. Currently, Panama weights around 450 pounds and is Winter’s adopted mother.

In these days, Panama is a laid-back old lady who likes to check people out during the day and play with her toys at the Winter Zone. She is mainly used for guests interaction programs and does most of the physical acts in dolphin presentations.


The Touch Tank Experience

The Sea Carven has three different touch tanks. The first tank to the left is for animals that are in quarantine. The second, which is in the middle is the only tank we allow guests to touch the critters under supervision. The third is for animals about to be released.

So today, I worked at the touch tank which is located in the Sea Cavern exhibit. It was nice and quite with just only a few families just coming by so that they could allow their children to get a chance at touching one of our little critters. However, just a few minutes later, the cavern was loaded with families and youth groups, all of whom, all want to let their children have a chance at touching a little critter. There were so many kids at the cavern that I just wanted to tell you the story about one of them. So, this young girl, who was with her mom came up to me before I asked her from the other side of the touch tank if she would like to touch a critter today. The girl replied, “yes” and before long, I shared with her a variety of little critters, including several sea urchins. After touching her first critter, this girl would keep on coming right back to my tank side and ask me if she could hold another animal as I continued to show off  hermit crabs and a fighting chonch to other people in the cavern.  Eventually, I respected her wish and I picked up an animal for her to hold and I would tell her all about it.

Yes, even this large hermit crab was made to put up with the large crowds at the Sea Cavern today.

One of the reasons why I tell people about some of the animals that they get to touch at our touch tank is because people like to be informed about the animals they are seeing. For example, while I allowed some boy to hold hermit crab, I would tell him and his family the fact that hermit crabs are crustaceans that are born with their shells but they move from one shell to another as they get older, and so on. On some occasions, some of the guests would tell me stories about a time when they encounter such animals elsewhere. It’s pretty Amazing how connecting with people with just sharing a few little critters.



Toba the Sea Turtle Gets a New Bandage

Surgical Suite where Toba, a rescued green sea turtle had his bandage change today.

So today, while I was finishing up my first shift for the day, I got to briefly witness a green sea turtle named Toba get transferred from one of the sea turtle ICUs, to the newly renovated surgical suite. The reason why Toba was brought to the suite was because he just needed another bandage change an injury he suffered back in November. Although I was not allowed to take any photos of the procedure, I did get to see a little bit of little Toba go through just another step towards recovery. If all continues to go well, Toba will probably be released back into the wild.

The surgical suite was where a scene from Dolphin Tale was filed. In a scene from the upcoming movie, a veterinarian named Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) performs an operation on a stranded sea turtle. Once when the movie was finished, this suite was donated to the aquarium for future operations on sick and injured animals that would eventually have to undergo surgery in an attempt to save their lives.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Undergoes Surgery at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Hey there guys,

Today was my day off and I had just received an email from Anne this morning that the rescue team had to perform surgery on a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle named Rebel to remove a broken flipper that was unable to be saved. Based from X-ray exams, the staff learned that several bone fractures of Rebel’s were completely damaged. This made his left flipper completely dislocated as a result of an injury from a boat strike. As a result, the turtle rehabilitation team made a decision to perform surgery on him in order to save his life. However, it was only after an observation of the injury and a long discussion between three aquarium veterinarians, the decision was made to fully amputated the infected flipper due to the nature of the unhealthy look of the bones within the animal’s flipper. After a two-hour surgery, and an hour wake up, Rebel the sea turtle ended up becoming a “three-flippered turtle”. During this surgery, the entire front flipper was completely removed, almost up to the shoulder joint.

From what I am hearing from Anne, Rebel was docked in a dry area overnight and was returned to the water by the turtle rehab team this morning. But, they will still have to continue monitoring how he’s doing on a long term basis just to make sure that he is making a full recovery.

Who’s Looking Forward to A “Dolphin Tale”?

The offical poster for "Dolphin Tale"


In case you are all wondering, Winter’s upcoming movie Dolphin Tale, it will be released to theaters by Warner Bros. on September 23rd, 2011 in theaters throughout both the United States, and Canada. The movie focuses on an 11-year-old-boy named Sawyer, who befriends Winter during her rehabilitation at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. From there on, Sawyer relies on his friends and family to save Winter by convincing a well-known doctor to create a prosthetic tail in order to help gain the animal’s ability to swim again.

Keep in mind that when you see one of CMA’s video presentations, the presentations will all begin with a trailer for Dolphin Tale before moving forward to the featured presentation.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment.



There’s Something About Winter’s Tail

Winter enjoys attention


It’s a story that almost everyone across the globe knows……A little dolphin gets stuck in a crab trap for 36 hours before help came along. About 4 hours later, the animal arrives at Clearwater Marine Aquarium where months and years of rehabilitation began. But, it did not end there; just in a few weeks time, the young dolphin, named Winter, would lose her tail because of her violent ordeal. About two years later, when she was about 18 months old, Winter received her  first prosthetic tail which was made by Hanger Prosthetics Inc.

Yours Truly, Jenna showing off one of Winter's early prosthetic tails

Winter is currently believed to be the only captive dolphin in the western hemisphere with a prosthetic tail. In order to keep the prosthetic in place, a white, rubbery sleeve is places on her peduncle to protect her delicate skin. It is then, the prosthetic is inserted on to the sleeve afterward. The tail is mainly used twice a day as a form of physical therapy. While she swims fine without her tail, her spine has become curved due to swimming in a fish like pattern, instead of a natural horizontal dolphin swim pattern. Therefore, Winter undergoes physical therapy and exercises.  Over the course of her lifetime, Winter has had 15 tails. These tails are both adjusted and improved by size and ability because Winter keeps on growing into her adult size.


First Post: A Little Talk About Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Education has always been one of CMA's missons

Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is a marine life hospital, and non-profit organization with a motto says “rescue, rehab, release”. The facility’s root go back to 1953 when a marine life museum called “Sea-O-Rama”, which was located on Clearwater Beach, displayed fish that were native to Florida waters. About ten years later, an interest in having an aquarium that displayed live animals began to take it’s shape. In 1972, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened to the public for the first time as a marine science center after the city of Clearwater donated a former water treatment plant to the facility. But, it was not until the mid 1908’s that it started to house resident rescued dolphins.  in 1984, Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s first resident dolphin Sunset Sam, became the first surviving stranded dolphin in Florida after he was rescued by it’s rescued team. He was known for his ability to paint and work with disabled children. He died in December 2001.

Today, it is now identified to as a marine animal hospital that rescues, rehabilitates, and release cetaceans, otters, and sea turtles in need. If the animals are not releasable, then sometimes they are given a permanent home at Clearwater Marine Aquarium where they serve as the aquarium’s ambassadors. They also do a lot of work on sea turtle conservation such as monitoring turtle nests in beaches of Pinellas County, FL as well as rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing sick and injured sea turtles. In 2009, CMA reported over 138 nests all over beaches in Pinellas County. Recently, they have been religiously involved in the January 2010 strandings of a number of cold-stunned turtles who have fallen victim to the unseasonable cold temperatures in Florida. Jojo, was the first of those cold-stunned turtles to be successfully released on February 2, 2010. In the summer of 2010, CMA took in six sea turtles that were inflicted by the BP’s April 20th Deep Water Horizon Gulf Coast Oil Spill Disaster. After the turtles received a second rehabilitation and check up exam, they were soon released in waters off Southwest Florida. They were not alone during this project; they also assisted by rescue staff from aquariums from all over Florida.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium also has six different interaction programs that allow guests to meet their dolphin collection up-close. They include the Dolphin Encounter, Dolphin Trainer Experience, Trainer for a Week, Paint with Winter, Wade with Dolphins. The prices range from the $50 Paint with Winter to the $950 Trainer for a Week Program. The Dolphin Trainer Experience also allows guests to take part in a training session with the river otters too and learn about what it takes to care for these playful animals. These programs are just some ways that allow the public to connect with marine animals in a whole new way.