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

Go Green in 2018

Looking for a New Year’s resolution? Why not commit to doing your part for the environment. Check out these ten tips to get started.

  1. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Leaving the water running for two minutes can waste up to five gallons a day.
  2. Take a travel mug to your favorite coffee shop instead of using paper cups. Replacing one disposable cup goes a long way; 58 billion paper cups are thrown away annually in the United States alone.
  3. Use a water filter to purify tap water instead of buying bottled water. (Also, use a reusable water bottle.) Americans spend about $1.22 per gallon on bottled water every year while tap water costs less than a penny per gallon on average.
  4. Bring your own reusable bags to the store when doing your shopping. A plastic bag can take anywhere from 15 to 1,000 years to break down, depending on the environment.
  5. Buy items in bulk. These larger containers reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills.
  6. Sign up for paperless billing. The average American uses about one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree’s worth of paper per year.
  7. Unplug unused chargers and appliances. The United States uses approximately 23 percent of the world’s energy, but only has about 5 percent of the world’s population.
  8. Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible. As much as 90 percent of the energy used in a wash cycle goes in to heating the water.
  9. Try cooking meals using small appliances such as the microwave or toaster oven. These appliances use 30 percent less energy than a full-size oven.
  10. Try carpooling or taking public transportation to and from work. An average American spends 40 hours each year stuck in traffic, why not have some companions along for the ride?

Here’s to an eco-friendly 2018!

Give Back When You Give A Gift This Holiday Season

Christmas is just around the corner which means the countdown is on to find gifts for all those special people in your life. But in the spirit of giving, why not also give some love back to the environment at the same time with an eco-friendly gift. Moody Gardens is here to help with these suggestions.

Handmade (or Feet-Made) Gifts – Show you care by taking time out to make something from scratch, whether that be a recipe or craft. If you aren’t feeling so artsy yourself, did you know the Moody Gardens’ penguins are painters? As part of their enrichment activities, some of our penguins have become quite the established artists. Watch them hop across a canvas to create their masterpieces during a Public or Private Penguin Encounter, or simply pick up a piece of art in the Moody Gardens’ gift shop. The funds raised from these purchases goes toward animal conservation efforts.

Gifts That Benefit An Organization’s Conservation Work – Several agencies also allow you to purchase gifts or make donations where the money collected goes to help with conservation efforts. As a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Moody Gardens is a proud supporter of the Vaquita CPR effort, which seeks to provide safe habitats for the most critically endangered marine mammal in the world. Our own Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker even took part in AZA’s #Pied4APorpoise campaign earlier this year.

Recycled or Upcycled Goods – Whether it’s a wind chime made out of a wine bottle or a rug made from medicine containers, there has been a recent trend in giving discarded products new life. Several sites such as Etsy offer these goods direct from the artist who makes them and they are sure to be conversation starters with anyone who sees them.

Growable Gifts – Have someone with a green thumb on your holiday shopping list? Seedlings, planting kits or seed paper are all great ideas to ensure they have something to enjoy all year long.

Experiences – Instead of giving a tangible gift, make some memories with your loved ones with an activity. Moody Gardens has something for everyone to enjoy from adrenaline-filled adventures to romantic dinners and spa packages.

Happy Gifting!

Moody Gardens Recognizes Six Outstanding Animal Care Professionals

Zookeeper WEEK.Logo 2006 VThis week is National Zookeeper Week and Moody Garden’s Life Science and Exhibit Operations department has taken this opportunity to recognize the dedication and hard work that goes into this challenging career path. Moody Gardens would like to thank each and every person on our team for providing the highest level of animal care and well-being while creating personal connections between our guests and our conservation, education and research efforts. The LSEO management team recognized 6 individuals with outstanding animal professional awards. These employees have had a significant impact on Moody Gardens through outstanding dedication, competence, conscientious performance, excellence in engaging guests and ingenuity.

The 2015 Outstanding Animal Care Professionals are: Dave Brossette, T’Noya Gonzales, Karen Holcroft, Marci Kurtz, Maggie Reynolds and Sean Salinger. As evidenced by their dedication to their job, only 3 recipients were present at the awards lunch on Tuesday, 21 July as duty called the others away.

Marci Kurtz, Sean Salinger and T’Noya Gonzales receive their recognition.
Marci Kurtz, Sean Salinger and T’Noya Gonzales receive their recognition.

Shark Finning Banned in Texas!

IMG_4330

After years of campaigns to bring awareness and promote change, the trading of shark fins has finally been outlawed in Texas.

Texas became the 10th state, and the first Gulf coast state to prohibit the sale of shark fins after Governor Greg Abbott signed a new bill on June 20. The new law is a win for shark conservation groups across the globe, since Texas had become a major location in the shark fin trading business.

Finning is federally banned in U.S. waters, but import and export of them is still allowed in a lot of places stateside. That is no longer the case in the country’s second largest state.

Moody Gardens Animal Husbandry Manager Greg Whittaker helped organize a unified letter of support amongst the 17 Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited facilities across the state to bring awareness to this growing issue. Whittaker says:

“The International trade in shark fins is convoluted and difficult to track and Texas was being used as a major exporter to Asia with a reported 50% of the US total shark fins transiting through our state.  This legislation effectively closes the trans-shipping loophole and protects the well managed, sustainable Texas fisheries.  It is an important step in closing down the supply lines in a wasteful exploitation of wildlife.  This is a good thing for sharks and we are proud to work with the Humane Society of the US in achieving this victory.”

What exactly is shark finning? It’s a brutal act against one of the ocean’s most iconic animals.

Fishermen capture sharks in the ocean and slice off their fins. The sharks are then thrown back into the water where they either drown or bleed to death.

The process is essentially the ocean’s version of killing an elephant or a rhino for its tusk or horn.

The shark fin is so special because it can make a lot of money. A pound of shark fin can go for as high as $880 dollars. The main use of the fins is shark fin soup, a delicacy in China. The soup normally sells for around $100.

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year, with 73 million of those being used to create shark fin. Around 98 percent of the animal is wasted when it is only harvested for its fin.

Shark finning is largely responsible for a major decrease in shark populations. Some species have seen their numbers decrease by 99 percent. Overall, around 32 percent of open-ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.

The new Texas law certainly will help reduce the trade in shark fins globally , but there is still a long way to go. If you want to find out how you can help end shark finning, visit wildaid.org.

Have questions on this? Join us tomorrow for our #MGSharkTalk and our shark experts will answer them for you. CLICK HERE for more info.

Moody Gardens Assists Texas State Aquarium with Restocking Efforts

Following a tragedy at the Texas State Aquarium last month, the AZA aquarium community stepped up in support of our colleagues with offers of replacement exhibit specimens from our own collections.  Moody Gardens was able to contribute 18 exhibit fish to this effort.  Donated specimens included 8 Pompano, 3 Rock Beauty Angelfish, 3 Porcupine Puffers, 1 Red Drum, 1 Red Snapper, 1 Crevalle Jack, and 1 Tripletail.

We were also able to transport these fish as well as 8 adult cownose stingrays from the Houston Downtown Aquarium to Corpus Christi and assist in getting them put directly on display.  This effort is one small part of the larger AZA community response that emphasizes the collaborative collection management that makes our industry so strong.

For more information on how you can help, visit texasstateaquarium.org/support-us/recovery-fund/

Celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend at Moody Gardens!

We’ve got a fun-filled Mother’s Day weekend ahead of us! Join us for any of the following events and activities:

FRIDAY – SUNDAY | Red Cat Jazz Festival:

Red Cat Jazz Festival 2015Red Cat Jazz Preservation Society, Inc. presents the 5th annual Red Cat Jazz Festival at the Moody Gardens Hotel! There will be four days of non-stop live jazz concerts featuring a variety of local and international jazz artists. Invited guests include Grammy winner Kirk Whalum, Ronnie Laws, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Mindi Abair, Peter White, Hiroshima, Jazz in Pink, Mike Phillips and a host of others.

The 2015 festival will feature the following:

  • Friday, May 8: Celebrity Golf Classic hosted by Mike Phillips at the Moody Gardens Golf Course, Veteran’s Luncheon, VIP All-White Attire Poolside Party and After Party
  • Saturday, May 9: Red Cat for Pink, Women Empowerment Conference, T.E.A.M. Scholarship Workshop and Live Jazz Concerts
  • Sunday, May 10: Red Cat Jazz Legends Awards Breakfast and Live Jazz Concerts

CLICK HERE for more information

SATURDAY | 9 A.M. | Birding 101
ProthonotoryWarbler

Presented by Moody Gardens® and Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council, Birding 101 is a series of free classes designed to educate and excite people about the tremendous variety of bird life routinely seen around Galveston Island. Classes are from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and meet at the Aquarium Pyramid lobby.

SATURDAY | 10 A.M. | Demo Day at the Moody Gardens Golf Course

IMG_8531

Representatives from Titleist, Callaway and Ping will be at the Driving Range with all the latest technologies for you to try out! If you have been thinking about getting new clubs, or just curious about the new products available, this day is for you! For more information, contact PGA Professional, Rick Christ, at (409) 683-1201 or rchrist@moodygardens.org.

SUNDAY | 11 A.M. | Mother’s Day Buffets

mombuffet

Treat mom to one of our special Mother’s Day Buffets this Sunday.

The Garden Restaurant will be serving a wide array of fruits, fresh greens, and scrumptious entrées like carved prime rib and hand-sliced Texas rope sausage from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A special dessert spread of cakes, cookies and pies will also be included. Buffet prices are $35.95 for adults, $25.95 for seniors, $15.95 for children ages 5-12 and free for children 4 and under. For the full menu, CLICK HERE.

The Moody Gardens Hotel is also hosting their decadent Mother’s Day Buffet! Enjoy complimentary Bloody Marys and Mimosas as well as smoked prime rib, carved yucatan grouper, herb roasted chicken and more! Prices for the Mother’s Day Buffet are $52.95 for adults, $42.95 for seniors, $24.95 for children 4-12, and children three and under are free. Seating times for the Mother’s Day Buffet are available every half hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For Buffet reservations call 409-683-4466. For the full menu, CLICK HERE.

SUNDAY | Mother’s Day Special at the Moody Garden’s Golf Course

Golf-Course-uncropped

Moms play FREE at the Moody Gardens Golf Course on Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 10) with a paid accompanying round! Limit one free green/cart fee round per paid green/cart fee. Call 409-683-4653 and mention this post to make a tee time.

SUNDAY | Last Day to Discover the Ice Age

IMG_2959

Be sure to visit Discover the Ice Age in the Discovery Pyramid before it closes its doors on May 10! This is an exciting and educational exhibition that invites you to travel back in time to discover a frigid world, covered in ice and occupied by mammoths, saber-toothed cats, bears, gigantic birds, cave people and more. The exhibit features life-sized animatronic animals, real fossils, some of which can be touched by our guests, and cast skeletons set within elaborate Ice Age scenery.

MG SPOTLIGHT: Wild Almond Tree

almond-blossom-5290_640

Spring is finally in the air, which means many of Moody Gardens’ 20,000 plants and trees will soon be blooming.

One of the trees currently in bloom is the Sterculia foetida, also known as the Wild Almond tree.

Native to East Africa, the Wild Almond’s genus is taken from Sterculius of Roman mythology, the god of manure. The name is in reference to the unpleasant aroma of the Wild Almond flowers.

While its flower’s smell isn’t the best, the tree’s wood is so durable that it is used as masts for ships. It also produces large nuts that are dark, smooth, woody and boat shaped. The nuts burst open to reveal many filbert-sized black seeds which are roasted and eaten like chestnuts.

Sound like a good ingredient for your next trail mix? Well there is a downside to these nuts. If eaten raw and in excess, it can cause nausea and vertigo.

The Wild Almond’s leaves and bark have considerable medicinal value thanks to an extract called Gum karaya. The extract is used as a thickener and emulsifier in foods, as a laxative, and as a denture adhesive. The oil from its seeds is also given internally for itching and skin diseases.

The Wild Almond doesn’t bloom for very long. In fact, as you can see from the photos, the Moody Gardens Wild Almond is almost done, with small, reddish flowers that are borne in clusters.

It doesn’t bloom for very long, in fact, it’s about done….flowers are small, reddish & borne in clusters. And yes…they do stink. Thanks Sterculius!

MG Sweetheart Scavenger Hunt!

With its peaceful foliage in the Rainforest Pyramid and beautiful marine life in the Aquarium Pyramid, Moody Gardens is a great place to spend this Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart or family.

VDAY_ScavengerHunt_2015While you are at Moody Gardens, you can participate in the Sweetheart Scavenger Hunt. Learn about the intricate relationships and courtships that take place in the animal kingdom with this scavenger hunt. And best of all, you could earn a family 4-pack of Moody Gardens tickets by participating.

Here are some of the facts you will learn while participating in the scavenger hunt:

  • Humans aren’t the only ones that give presents when they are wooing a lady. Male penguins give their potential love interests a pebble. They search for the smoothest rock, and if the female accepts, she puts it in her nest and parenthood soon follows.
  • When piranhas find themselves in love, they turn almost completely black to discourage others from courting. Think of it as a clear sign of “Hey, I’m taken.”
  • Some women wish men would experience the ups and downs of pregnancy. In the seahorse kingdom that’s exactly what happens, as the male delivers the babies. Scientists aren’t 100 percent sure why it occurs – maybe it is to help make more babies or just share some of the load from females – but it certainly is one of the most unique relationships under the sea.
  • A scarlet ibis believes in true love. When a male successful woes a female, they will remain partners for life.
  • Harbor seals flirt by rolling and bubble-blowing. You can read about our Moody Gardens harbor seal couple, Porter and Presley, here.

Learn about these and the other animals at Moody Gardens when you visit on Valentine’s Day weekend. Be sure to download the Sweetheart Scavenger Hunt and get your cameras ready to win a great prize!

And don’t forget to dive into a romantic underwater dining experience at the Aquarium Pyramid with the Sea of Love Valentine’s Dinner on Feb. 13 or 14.

Enjoy a special menu created exclusively for the Sea of Love Dinner. You can reserve a table with a view of one of the unique locations throughout the Aquarium Pyramid.

Dinner for two is $140 on Friday and $180 on Saturday. It also includes rose for her, souvenir photo and Aquarium Pyramid admission. Saturday’s dinner also includes a bottle of wine or champagne. Biologists will also be in attendance to answer any questions you may have about the spectacular residents of the Aquarium Pyramid.

To reserve your spot, please call 1-800-582-4673 ext. 4368. Reservations are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Calls will be answered and returned daily. RSVP by February 11. Click here for menus.