Rescued Seals Make a Splash at Aquarium Pyramid

The journey began 11 months ago for two harbor seals in peril named Tomato and Ravioli in Crescent City, California. They now have settled into a splendid forever home in Galveston, Texas at Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid. Both harbor seal pups were rescued and cared for last year by the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City. Due to health issues both pups were deemed non-releasable to the wild.  Both arrived to Moody Gardens at the end of February and have made great progress since arriving. Tomato and Ravioli officially went on exhibit and made their public debut on July 11, 2018.

Following their arrival both Tomato and Ravioli needed additional exercise and training to prepare for their exhibit. Originally upon release they would have hunted on their own, so the great people at the stranding center made sure they had some reserves to get by on until they started catching fish on their own. Since they have a new home at Moody Gardens there’s no need for that extra weight, so they have slimmed down to a healthier weight. “Now that they are both at normal weights for their age and species, we are able to take better care of them and provide for all of their needs,” said Maggie Reynolds, Moody Gardens biologist.

Both seals have had their share of personal health struggles. Tomato had severe injuries due to a suspected dog attack. His injuries healed, but did leave him blind in one eye. This attack led to Tomato not being able to forage for himself in the wild deeming him non-releasable.

Ravioli suffers from a vestibular disorder causing her to suffer from neurologic and balance difficulties. She suffered from seizures as well. All of these problems made her unable to hunt successfully in the wild.

Both seals have had an interesting journey, but it hasn’t slowed down their progress one bit since arriving. “Our focus is healthy, interactive animals who will build trusting relationships with us through positive reinforcement training and enrichment. Both are excited for their training sessions and are learning new things as fast as we can figure out how best to teach them,” said Allison Folsom, Moody Gardens biologist.

Both Tomato and Ravioli are now on exhibit inside the Aquarium Pyramid and enjoying seeing guests who are anxious to meet them. Fellow seals and sea lions at Moody Gardens have joined them in the exhibit to create one big happy family. Tomato and Ravioli are right at home at Moody Gardens, which is the perfect happy ending to their enduring and heartfelt journey.

Guests can see Tomato and Ravioli in their new habitat at the Aquarium Pyramid daily, but also on the live seal cam at www.moodygardens.org/sealwebcam which is available 24 hours a day seven days a week.

The Birds of Moody Gardens – Spring Migration Summary

Yesterday I found myself taking a deep breath.  The spring migration seemingly came to an abrupt end as I flipped my calendar from April to May.  The combination of southeast winds and calm weather purged our coastal habitat of all those colorful Passerines that took a brief rest stop here on our Island.  Last night as I completed my eBird lists for the weekend and transcribed all the species tallies into the excel file I’ve been using to track sightings, the magnitude of what happened through the month of April was striking.  I offer my sincerest apologies to my family, friends and colleagues that weren’t as obsessed with birds this past month as I clearly was.  I realize looking at the number of species encountered, and moreover, the time spent looking for them, that April is by far the birdiest month of the year for us here in Galveston and for this project here on the Moody Gardens property and Golf Course.

During April the property species list jumped from 111 to 179 and the Golf Course list saw a similar jump from 73 to 114.  There continue to be 11 species seen at the Golf Course that were not encountered here on our main property, yielding an overall species total of 190 for this year-long project as we enter only the 5th month.  There will continue to be spring migrants working through this area as we move through May and early June, but the main influx of birds moving north is mostly complete.  I’ll be looking for a handful of shorebirds and perhaps another 2 or 3 Warblers over the next month.  After that, the birds that can be seen from property should stabilize until we start to see the dribble of the fall migration moving more slowly through the area in late August or early September.  Looking at the list of possibilities that might be tallied through the summer, I’d only anticipate adding perhaps another dozen species to the overall count before the cooler weather near the end of 2018.

The property map above is a good depiction of the various habitats here on Moody Gardens that have been the best locations for seeing resident and migratory species.  I’ve inserted numbers that loosely follow the order that I typically survey when I drive on property in the morning.  In early April I started doing a slow drive down the east side of the hedge running down the east side of Hope Blvd.  This area proved to be a great location to see a variety of the more cryptically patterned thrushes and small ground warblers using the shady cover as they foraged through leaves for insects.  The water treatment plant is a good reference building with a large mulberry tree and cluster of bottlebrush plants in the east hedge along Hope Blvd.  There is also a water slough that runs under Hope Blvd from Schlitterbahn and out to the Lake Madeline channel that borders our east side of property.  Incidentally, I have been surveying this shoreline starting at the Jones Drive bridge in the top right corner of the map by driving out the gravel roads by Galveston Rentals and around the south fence line of the Municipal Sewage Plant.

Locations 3 and 4 are the areas where I survey the Lake Madeline channel and old marina near the apartments to the northeast of Moody Gardens.  The heavily vegetated areas around the west and north sides of the Learning Place education building proved to be excellent locations for the migratory birds as well as a nesting aggregation of Yellow-crowned Night Herons and Green Herons.  The mulberry tree along the southeast corner of this complex as well as the bottlebrush in the south courtyard of the Learning Place were hotspots for warblers, tanagers and vireos while the low, dense shrubs to the west of the entry door were excellent places to look for thrushes, ovenbirds, waterthrushes and an elusive Swainson’s Warbler.

The entire shoreline between the Marina Dock and Colonel Dock were viewable along the tram road running south of Palm Beach and north of the Visitor Center, Rainforest, Discovery Museum and large white tent.  During the peak of the migration onslaught, I added a stop to look through the large oaks and shrubs on the south side of the Visitor Center with a few late migration additions showing up in that canopy area.

The mulch pile, experimental tree farm and north marsh are a large area that didn’t receive as much attention as it probably should have.  Access to these areas requires walking and the prairie and marsh habitat tends to be a bit soggy at times and harbors hungry mosquitos, so be forewarned that it’s not an easy stroll down sidewalks or tram trails like the other areas on property.

Finally, the retention ditch on the west side of the Aquarium continues to be a great showcase for shorebirds and wading birds as well as a few warblers and buntings.  This feature is primarily a freshwater runoff retention area with some saltwater influence from Aquarium operations.  The sediment and nutrient inflows create a prolific vegetation community that then provides habitat (shelter) and a dynamic food web that attracts and supports the birds that seem to thrive in there.

 

 

 

Written by Greg Whitaker

Cold-stunned Green Sea Turtles released after being cared for at Moody Gardens

More than 90 Green Sea Turtles that were rescued last week after suffering from cold-stun were safely released to warmer waters off North Padre Island Wednesday afternoon.

These beautiful turtles, ranging in size from 6 pounds to a whopping 70 pounds, called Moody Gardens home since last week following a dramatic drop in temperatures that left the turtles stranded in East Matagorda Bay, about 100 miles southwest of Galveston. 

In all, nearly 300 Green Sea Turtles were rescued along a five-mile stretch of the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) led the rehabilitation mission. With an animal holding facility, complete with large holding tanks, Moody Gardens was happy to partner with NOAA to offer a home, and rehabilitation, for the turtles until it was time for their release.

NOAA released about 75 turtles off North Padre Island Tuesday with another 200 released Wednesday. Some turtles will remain at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Lab here on Galveston Island until they are well enough to be released back into the wild.

Officials chose North Padre Island, just south of Corpus Christi, as the release site so that the turtles will enter warmer waters. Another cold front is expected to hit the Galveston area this Friday, and the goal is to release the turtles into warmer waters before that happens. The cold front shouldn’t impact North Padre Island and the surrounding area.

Green Sea Turtles feed on sea grasses found in the shallow bay waters. They were in the East Matagorda Bay area last week when temperatures dropped to freezing, leaving them cold-stunned and unable to retreat to warmer waters. Cold-stun can happen when water temperatures drop to 50 degrees. When that happens, the turtle’s metabolism shuts down and they respond by expanding their lungs and floating to the top of the water. Doing so can further expose them as they let cooler air into their lungs. Unable to swim, many are pushed up to the shoreline.

Turtles were triaged as they were rescued. They were measured, weighed and checked for any abnormalities and wounds. Those deemed healthy were sent to Moody Gardens while those who were wounded were cared for NOAA’s fisheries lab.

Staff and volunteers cleaned turtles, scrubbing off algae, debris, grime, barnacles, and in some cases even oysters. Tags were attached to the turtles’ front flippers. Internal tags were also placed so that the animals can be tracked in the future, if needed.

Moody Gardens’ mission has always focused on conserving natural spaces and resources. Looking at the natural habitat around Moody Gardens, sea turtles are probably one of the highest profile species that live in our native waters and are in need of our help.

Meet our new Friends in the Forest!

The stork was busy in July, visiting Moody Gardens twice in the Rainforest Pyramid with the birth of a Blue Duiker calf and just a week later with a Prehensile-Tailed porcupette.

Our female baby Blue Duiker was born July 22 at just 420 grams to proud parents Basi and Ruben. Soksi is Swahili for “socks”, which is fitting since her front feet are white, giving the appearance that she’s wearing a pair of socks. This is the first pregnancy for Basi and first breeding for Moody Gardens.

Blue Duikers are one of the smallest antelope. They are native to central, eastern and southern Africa and are actually longer than they are tall – reaching 22-35 inches in length and 13-16 inches tall. They can weigh 7-20 pounds and have short, spiky horns on their head.

The stork visited again on July 31, delivering a porcupine, born to mom Cora and dad Bono. This is the second birth for Cora, who delivered her first porcupette last summer. The baby was born with soft hair that will harden into quills with age. Once the quills come in, biologists will send one off to learn the gender of the porcupette.

Prehensile-Tailed Porcupines are native to Central and South America. They are tree-dwelling and typically weigh between 4-11 pounds and their tails are nearly as long as their entire body!

And, that’s not all.

 Our Giant River Otters Dru and Ella welcomed Maximo and Manuel to the exhibit this month, doubling the number of otters you can spot inside the Rainforest.

Maximo and Manuel, both 2 years old, came to Moody Gardens from the Los Angeles Zoo, where they were born.  The two new male otters will be companions for Dru and Ella.

Be sure to stop by and see all our friendly new faces!

Moody Gardens welcomes warm-climate Humboldt penguins to aquarium

There’s a new group of birds on the block at Moody Gardens and we’re thrilled to introduce them. Meet the Humboldts!

These unique warm-climate penguins hail from the coastal areas of Peru and Chile, but this group will now call the Aquarium Pyramid their new home and are settling in nicely in their new exhibit near the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat, home to the King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins.

Contrary to belief, not all penguins love the cold. The majority of penguin species actually live in warm climates. The Humboldt’s natural habitat is more like a desert, and you’ll easily notice the difference between it and our South Atlantic Penguin Habitat.You’ll be able to see this threatened species above water and underwater, where they can swim up to 30 miles per hour!

The Humboldts are easily recognizable by the black band of feathers across their chest and the pink patches on their face, feet and the underside of their wings. You may think you’re seeing pink feathers, but it’s actually bare skin. Humboldts have to avoid overheating, so when they get too hot, they can shed extra body heat by sending blood to the bare parts of their bodies, thus making them pink.

We’re not only adding new penguins to the aquarium – we’re giving you a chance to see them up close when we bring the Humboldts outside of their exhibit for keeper chats and to interact with guests!

The addition of the Humboldt Penguin Exhibit is just part of the multi-phase $37 million renovation at the Aquarium Pyramid. You’ll get to meet the Humboldts, and their new friends, starting May 27 when Moody Gardens hosts a grand reveal at the aquarium.

World Penguin Day 2016

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Ever wondered what these tuxedo wearing birds enjoy eating? Where they’re from? Celebrated annually on April 25th World Penguin Day is a day that is meant to show appreciation to these cool birds and learn things such as biology, origin and more. In honor of this holiday we thought to include some cool information…enjoy!

  • Worldwide there are currently 17 species of penguin.
  • These flightless birds can be located mostly in the Southern Hemisphere from Antarctica to other places like South Africa and New Zealand.
  • Spending the majority of their time in the water their diet consists of seafood life such as fish, squid and krill.
  • The prominent black/white coat is used as a form of camouflage from predators in the water. From below their white chest blends in against the surface of the water and from above their black back appears like the dark depths of the ocean.
  • During breeding season most species of penguin will build nests of rocks in preparation of a chick.
  • Once a penguin has laid an egg most species share the incubation, while the other seeks food.
  • Once the egg has hatched the chick will begin calling the parents to get them to recognize its voice. As you can imagine this helps a lot when the chick is left with a huge group!

Be sure to stop by the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid, the largest aquarium in Texas. With 1.5 million gallons of water, the building houses life from four distinct ocean environments including more than 80 penguins such as Gentoo, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Chinstrap and King Penguins. Recent upgrades were made to the penguin exhibit earlier this year showcasing a swankier, brighter living space for our little friends.

Click this link to see what our guys are up to!

Jungle Love

Finding Mr. or Mrs. Right in today’s day and age isn’t an easy task.  With the success of the Internet, dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble have taken the place of matchmaking services for purposes of convenience.  The skilled biologists at Moody Gardens have recently added matchmaker to their resumes as they successfully paired up and introduced two fuzzy Cotton-top Tamarins in the Rainforest Pyramid.  This is a difficult feat as this process requires information to be sorted through an extensive database to find the ideal match.  Both Victor and Gracie immediately took a liking to one another; so much so that he sweetly observed and presented his new lady’s favorite flower to her. Gracie willingly accepted the gift as her afternoon snack.

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The Moody Gardens curatorial staff is very hopeful that the two will breed in the future.  Tamarins thrive on companionship and usually live in large groups, with sometimes as many as fifteen members.  Typically, female Tamarins give birth to non-identical twins and the father will take part in caring for the infant by carrying it on its back.  Infant Tamarins are about 15-20% of the weight of an adult Tamarin so it will certainly be an endearing sight to see as you can imagine!

Native to the South American country of Colombia these petite primates spend most of their time in treetops feasting on fruit, bugs and flowers. Approximately 9 inches in height, they are among the smallest of the primates that are easily identified by their white flowing head of hair.  Although small, these primates can produce close to 40 different vocalizations when communicating with family or other fellow Tamarins. The Cotton-top Tamarins reside in the Moody Gardens Rainforest Pyramid. This exhibit is home to various birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles native to the rainforests around the world. Offering canopy and ground level views this immersive environment gives guests a one-of-a-kind experience.

Happy Birthday, Wagner, the Oldest Chinstrap Penguin in North America!

Some people think that age is just a number but at Moody Gardens it is something to celebrate, especially when one of our animals has a milestone birthday!

Wagner is one of 15 chinstrap penguins that we have in our Aquarium Pyramid® and she is the oldest of her species in all of North America! Wagner is turning 32 today which is big deal not only because she is the oldest penguin on this continent but because the general lifespan of her species is only in the mid-twenties.

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While living in our South Atlantic Exhibit Wagner generally enjoys spending her time swimming but on her birthday we planned a little something extra. Wagner was presented with a special ice sculpture modeled after the Aquarium Pyramid® that she lives in and she seems to know that it was all about her today. She is typically more aloof. Today, she was frolicking in the water and interacting more and seemed to enjoy her birthday party. The children outside the exhibit also enjoyed her party, as they sang Happy Birthday to Wagner. Please join us in wishing Wagner a very happy 32nd birthday and send her a congratulatory message on being the oldest chinstrap penguin in North America!

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Also be sure to see Wagner in person before the penguin exhibit temporarily closes from January 11-March 11 as part of the aquarium renovations. (Don’t worry though; the rest of the aquarium exhibits will still be open during this time.) Before the penguins go on hiatus there is still time to come visit our South Atlantic friends! You can get up close to our penguins as part of the Moody Gardens Public Penguin Encounter. The encounter lasts for 45-minutes and allows you to get up close to one of our penguins like Wagner. During your experience you are led by a Moody Gardens biologist from the front of the exhibit to behind the scenes of the penguin food preparation kitchen and then to the back of the chilly penguin exhibit. This is all while discussing penguin biology, conservation, training, enrichment and care with your Moody Gardens biologist.

Come experience the cool climate and sounds of the exhibit and witness a penguin create a work of art with a penguin painting as part of an enrichment activity for the animal! More information on the Moody Gardens Public Penguin Encounter can be found here. You can even purchase a penguin painting in our Aquarium Gift Shop. Proceeds from the painting go toward animal conservation projects. It’s a very unique gift for the animal lover in your life!

For more information, click here.

Moody Gardens Grieves Loss of Presley the Harbor Seal

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It is with great sadness that we share the news of the death of Presley the Harbor Seal. She died overnight this past week from an Upper Gastric Torsion. This condition can informally be described as the twisting of the stomach that was likely caused by movement or something the animal unknowingly did to itself. As was the case with Presley, it can occur suddenly and without symptoms. At home, some of us may be familiar with the condition as it is fairly common with dogs. Some animals can endure chronic, long-term battles with Gastric Torsion without relief. In Presley case, she had no symptoms and her behavior and appetite were normal throughout the day.

Presley was born in 2005 at the Memphis Zoo. In 2006, we opened our doors and hearts to her as the ideal companion for our Harbor Seal named Porter. Porter is a rescue animal found off the coast of Maine and ineligible for release to the wild. Although Porter had Fur Seals and Sea Lions in his North Pacific Exhibit, the addition of Presley provided better companionship from another seal of the same species for a more natural situation.

Together, the two Harbor Seals bonded and were active and playful in their exhibit. In 2011, the pair had a seal pup named Riley. Riley currently lives at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. Presley and Porter have been a favorite among guests who have come to visit them at the Aquarium Pyramid for nine years. As the staff mourns the loss of this beautiful animal, we know she will be greatly missed by our guests as well. She will be remembered for her gregarious nature and the joy that she brought to so many of us.

Although the Aquarium Pyramid is currently closed for the first phase of renovation, you can watch the seals on our Webcam. You can visit the seals in person when the aquarium temporarily reopens starting November 14, 2015.

Most certainly Presley cannot ever be replaced, but biologists will closely monitor Porter’s behavior and well-being as animals grieve the loss of a companion too. They will work with AZA and the National Marine Fisheries Service to identify a suitable companion.

Happy birthday, Murphy and Diablo!

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The Komodo Dragons of Moody Gardens celebrated their fifth birthday with quite the party. Murphy and Diablo, Galveston’s only Komodo Dragons, were surprised with a lizard style birthday cake containing some of their favorite treats including eggs and meat. The crowd gathered around as the zoo keeper team fed them their delicious birthday treat. The dragons also received handmade cards and birthday decorations to enjoy on their special day.

Among the crowd, were two particular guests that had something very special in mind for the dragons. Twins Izzy and Abby have celebrated every birthday with the dragons and visit them frequently. Every year, they bring cards and sing “Happy Birthday,” but this year, they decided to adopt a Komodo dragon from the World Wildlife Fund on behalf of Murphy and Diablo.

“This is such a warm and inspirational happening, one that touches us all here in the Rainforest Pyramid,” said T’Noya Gonzales, Asst. Behavior Management Coordinator.

The Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard species in the world with potential of reaching 10 feet in length and weighing over 150 pounds. Despite their size, these guys are known for their burst of speed. They can briefly reach speeds up to 13 mph.

While the dragons have already had their cake, the celebration will continue.  Be sure to stop by and wish them a Happy Birthday!
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