Shark U Week: Know Your Sharks

How well do you know your sharks? Odds are most people only know the sharks that have been portrayed as vicious killers in Hollywood thrillers, such as the mighty great white shark in the 1975 blockbuster hit “JAWS.” But the truth is there are over 400 different types of sharks in our oceans and aquariums all over the world and, despite all the horror stories, sharks do not eat people.

Sharks come in all sizes from the massive whale shark, reaching lengths of 30 feet, to the dwarf lanternfish that’s less than 10 inches. Being able to tell the hammerhead from the nurse shark is quite easy, but others can be difficult. Can you spot the difference between a leopard shark and tiger shark?

How can you tell one from the other?

IT’S ALL IN THE BITE:

IMG_5603Sharks’ teeth are adapted for what they eat. Sharks like the great white and tiger shark have triangular teeth with jagged edges. This keeps hold of larger fish and animals, tear chunks of meat or slice through a turtle’s shell. A sand tiger’s teeth, on the other hand, are long and narrow which make them look frightening, but in fact these types of sharks are not very aggressive. The shape of their teeth is ideal for grabbing a hold of prey. However, the whale shark has very small teeth and it’s not used for biting because they simply filter their food.

SHARK MARKS:

IMG_5627Coloration and patterns play an important role in identifying a shark. Their special marks allow them to camouflage perfectly into their environment. Mako sharks, for example, inhabit tropical and offshore water and are normally a bluish color. On the other hand, the nurse shark has a tan pigmentation ideal for hiding on the ocean’s floor. Tiger sharks can be identified by their stripes and leopard sharks for their spots.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Know the sharks that lurk in the water. Sharks can be found all over the world from the warm waters of the Caribbean to the freezing temperatures of the arctic. The Gulf of Mexico alone houses more than 50 different species of sharks including, on the rare occasions, the great white shark. The bull shark and blacktip shark are quite common off the shores of Galveston while the Caribbean reef shark is obviously in the Caribbean.

 

Shark U Week: The Secret World of Shark Finning

By Greg Whittaker
Moody Gardens Animal Husbandry Manager 

In early 1999 I found myself in Taiji, Japan working on a marine mammal acquisition for the Beijing Aquarium.  The conservation ethics surrounding “The Cove” are another story deserving its own chapter at another time. While we were working at a Dolphin encounter resort on the outskirts of Taiji, we were staying in a fishing community just to the north called Katsuura.  Every day we drove past the waterfront in Katsuura through the bustle of activity around the fishing markets.  On one of my few days off, I visited the market to see what was being caught and auctioned.  The sheer number of top level predator fishes that were laid out in organized stacks in the football-field-sized warehouse space was amazing.  Tuna, mackerel, billfish and ocean sunfish made up the bulk of the daily catch.  There were also several piles of shark fins stacked 4’ high and spreading over perhaps a 12’ diameter area.  I couldn’t locate any shark bodies in the entire market area, just three or four large heaps of fins.

The shark finning problem had not been as apparent back then, but the lack of carcasses hit me as a tremendous resource waste in a culture that had up to that point appeared contrary to such practice.  We were scrutinized by neighborhood mama-sans for not removing all recyclable materials from our trash.  The few occasions where we ventured through the Taiji waterfront were an incredible lesson in efficiency where the harvested dolphins and whales were carved up for consumption with nearly no waste evident.  How could a people so intimately linked with existing on the natural resources of the sea be so wasteful of their harvest?  It wasn’t until I later learned of the international demand for shark fin soup, that I fully understood what I had encountered in Japan.

Over the course of 3 months, we passed the Katsuura waterfront market daily and a subliminal counter was clicking in my mind.  Six days a week, thousands of tuna, dozens of billfish and those uncountable piles of shark fins every day, rain or shine.  Between the seemingly unscrupulous harvest of entire pods of cetaceans in Taiji and the daily take of finfish in Katsuura, the efficiency of removing these natural resources was mind numbing, and the ocean’s ability to sustain this level of take was something I struggled to understand.

What is Shark Finning?

On one spring morning shortly before our departure from Japan with our dolphins and whales, we had some free time to explore the area.  We happened upon a complex of houses a few streets behind our own that was a processing facility for shark fins.  The entire area was perhaps an acre with a large open space between 3 houses.  The central yard space was filled with 3 tiered clotheslines with two horizontal racks beneath them.  Shark fins were hung on the lines like laundry and all of the horizontal shelving was filled with trays containing drying fins 4 or 5 deep.  There were lines strung between the houses, both first and second stories with similar triangular, gray fins hanging in the sun to dry.  The entire roof surfaces of all 3 houses, including the shorter sheds attached to them, were completely covered with shark fins of all sizes, looking like roof tiles.  There were 2 vans parked in the driveway that were completely stuffed with baskets of dried shark fins inside, and completely covered with drying shark fins on top.  My Australian buddy Wayne and I took pictures and tried to count just a small portion of what we were seeing, but couldn’t even begin to estimate how many sharks were represented by what we saw.  There were likely 10,000 fins drying at that one complex the day we happened upon it.  The staggering thing is that we went back a few days later and there was a completely new batch of fins being processed.

Get schooled about SHARKS at #SharkUWeek at Moody Gardens!

 

Growing Green with Solar!

We’re happy to announce that the Moody Gardens grew a bit greener today with the addition of some new solar-powered donations from the Green Mountain Energy™ Sun Club™!

The Sun Club‘s dedication of solar-powered recycling stations, trash compactors, and a solar-powered maintenance cart to our grounds was funded in part by Galveston-area residents who are customers of Green Mountain Energy. With these new solar additions, we expect to reduce our landfill-bound waste production by 75% in the next two years. Our new solar items were dedicated in a special ceremony with Mayor Rosen and Mr. Doug McLeod, who spoke on the importance of conservation and environmental-consciousness in Galveston.

“This is a unique application of solar energy, and we’re thrilled to see it come to life at an organization as environmentally friendly as Moody Gardens,” said Tony Napolillo, Sun Club program manager, Green Mountain Energy Company. “We’re proud to help Moody Gardens in its quest to reduce its landfill-bound trash so dramatically. I also encourage our Houston/Galveston-area Sun Club members to visit the attractions to see how their contributions are helping a worthy organization reduce its environmental impact while promoting solar power.”

Applications are now open for other non-profits interested in working with the Sun Club to receive a solar donation in 2014. Apply online at greenmountainenergysunclub.com/apply-for-a-donation/ before the August 2nd deadline and see how solar can help enhance your mission!

Eagle Scout Project: Offatts Bayou Wetlands Improvement

Ever since Hurricane Ike, Moody Gardens and Galveston Island has been on a slow but successful recovery. But the wetlands by Offatts Bayou close to Moody Garden’s parking lot sustained much damage on the shoreline. Debris became stuck on the land and it was a long way from being a habitat for some of the Island’s animals.

On May 18, Neil Stegman launched an Eagle Scout project to change the area for better. He and a large group of volunteers worked closely with Danny Carson, Moody Gardens’ Horticultural Manager. Together, they installed an improved, raised pathway with two Osprey nesting platforms.

Moody Gardens hopes to eventually create a three-quarter mile long path with interpretive signs, resting benches, gazebos and more. As these features become complete, the habitat will thrive on its own and become one of Galveston’s birding hot spots.

We’re Going BLUE for World Oceans Day!

One World One Ocean Foundation Display outside of MG 3D Theater
One World One Ocean Foundation Display outside of MG 3D Theater

We’ll be celebrating World Ocean Day on June 8 with ocean-themed activities across the property to raise awareness about ocean conservation.   Guests can dive into aquatic movies, a special presentation at the MG 3D Theater, keeper activities at the Aquarium Pyramid®, special discounts and live concerts.

Like Moody Gardens, the One World One Ocean Foundation hopes to inspire generations to help protect the ocean.

“Earth Day is the ideal day to make an announcement about World Oceans Day activities,” said Moody Gardens President John Zendt. “The ocean plays a vital role in our conservation efforts.”

In partnership with the Foundation, Moody Gardens created an elaborate exhibit at the MG 3D Theater exit and donated $1,000 to the Foundation. The exhibit highlights the importance of ocean conservation with staggering statistics and beautiful imagery.

Beginning at 10 a.m., visitors can join Marine Biologist Sarah Bedolfe via Skype at the MG 3D Theater. Bedolfe, who works with film producers MacGillvray Freeman, will highlight the importance of conservation. Families can learn about whale sharks, sea turtles, coconut octopus and other exotic animals featured in upcoming films.

Audiences ages 12 to 18 can get involved by producing a video telling judges what the ocean means to them. Grand prize winners will receive $100 and a Go Pro HD HERO3 camera. For more information, visit www.worldoceansday.org.

Visitors can also help support ocean conservation when Bands on the Sand kicks off at Palm Beach with the popular beach group, the Intercoastal Pirates. Visitors can donate to the One World One Ocean Foundation, with Cadillac matching the donation up to $1,000. The summer concert series is sponsored by Cadillac with fireworks.

Guests can also watch a diverse range of ocean-themed movies throughout the day or visit the Aquarium Pyramid for presentations. A special World Oceans Day combo will be offered, featuring admission to the Aquarium Pyramid and MG 3D Theater for $24.95.

About World Oceans Day

Coordinated by The Ocean Project and World Ocean Network, World Oceans Day was recognized by the United Nations in 2008, encouraging people around the world to celebrate how water connects the globe and impacts all life forms. 

GREEN ACTIVITIES FOR EARTH DAY

MainPic-Gree

In celebration of its mission of conservation, Moody Gardens will feature free presentations, activities and fun, as well as special discounts this Earth Day weekend, April 20 and 21.

Join the Galveston County Master Gardeners in the Herb Garden by the Discovery Pyramid® to learn about easy gardening tips on Texas butterfly gardens. Guests can also pick up a homemade pot and learn how to make one of their own with materials found around the house. Children can enjoy plenty of activities including make-and-take butterfly crafts and recycled seed starters. In the Visitors Center, the Oleander Festival will feature more than 60 varieties of oleander flowers.

At the Aquarium Pyramid, Moody Gardens biologists will be holding special keeper presentations throughout both days. Visitors will be amazed by the massive seals as they are rewarded with fish for completing training exercises at 10:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.

Biologists will begin penguin feedings at 11:00 a.m. and 3 p.m., so families can adore and spot the newest King penguin, Watt. In the South Pacific exhibit, biologists will suit up and dive in at 11:30 a.m. to feed sting rays, sharks and more than 200 species of fish.  In the one million-gallon Caribbean tank, guests can watch divers feed the tropical fish, sharks and barracudas at 2 p.m.

As guests tour the Rainforest Pyramid, the Society for the Advancement of Volunteer Youth group (SAVY) will have educational carts out to teach visitors about the importance of conservation and preservation. At 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., biologists will release beautiful butterflies in their netted exhibit on the top canopy of the Rainforest Pyramid. Guests can also take pictures of the newborn Prehensile Tailed Porcupine, before heading over to the Ocelot’s exhibit for a keeper presentation at 1 p.m.

The Earth Day activities and Oleander Festival are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 20 and 21, and admission is free to the public. A special $24.95 combo pass to the Aquarium and Rainforest Pyramids will be available during the festival. For more information, call Moody Gardens at 800-582-4673 or visit www.moodygardens.org and www.oleander.org.

Spring Break Keeper Presentations

Here at Moody Gardens we have an amazing  curatorial staff that take great care of our animals on a daily basis. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes from feedings to training to medical care and much more! You can get a sneak peek into some of those interactions by checking out any of our Keeper Presentations during Spring Break. Just show up at the time listed in front of the corresponding exhibit and you’ll be able to see how our staff works directly with some of  our animals.

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DAILY SCHEDULE
(through March 16)

10:30 a.m. Aquarium Caribbean

10:30 a.m. Seal Exhibit

11:00 a.m. Penguin Exhibit

11:00 a.m. Otter Training

11:30 a.m. South Pacific

11:30 a.m. Butterfly Exhibit

1:00 p.m. Otter Training

1:30 p.m. Butterfly Exhibit

2:00 p.m. Aquarium Caribbean

2:00 p.m. Seal Exhibit

2:30 p.m. South Pacific

3:00 p.m. Penguin Exhibit

Monarch Madness: Not Just a Pretty Face

Source: http://www.flightofthebutterflies.com/the-butterfly/

We’re celebrating #MonarchMadness here at Moody Gardens® in anticipation of the grand opening of Flight of the Butterflies 3D  on March 9 at the MG 3D Theater. First things first…let’s learn the basics about this amazing little creature with a little crash course on Monarchs, starting with a brief biology lesson!

A Monarch butterfly isn’t just your average pretty face, they are complex migratory insects with powerful body parts that help them navigate and migrate long distances. In other words, they were born to travel! This is quite impressive considering they weigh less than a paper clip (or less than half a gram).

MALE vs FEMALE

Your typical Monarch is made up of four wings and have six jointed legs. Not all Monarchs are created equal though. There are some very visible differences between the males and females, starting with their wings. Females have a bit of a darker color and their veins are wider. In contrast, the males are smaller and have two distinct black spots near the bottom of each wing. Males might have been shortchanged when it comes to their body size but they make up for it with an added level of charm–special glands that release pheromones to attract the females.

 

VISION 

One of the Monarch’s most impressive feature is their vision. What might look like one eye is actually called a compound eye and it’s made up of thousands of tiny circles called ommatidia. Its purpose is to gather light and process visual information. Butterflies can perceive ultraviolet and polarized light or  light waves that move in only one direction and the Monarchs have the ability to sense that direction. Imagine how useful that would be if your main purpose was to migrate! 

SENSES

Another impressive feature is their senses. Chemoreceptors are spread out all over them and gives them the ability to taste and smell using their entire bodies, including their antennae and wings. They like to use this ability to smell nectar and pheromones (in the case of the female).  The females are equipped with extra Chemoreceptors on their legs which aides them in the search of milkweed plants, the home of their newborn eggs. Another way they sense is through hairs that cover the majority of their bodies. These hairs let them “touch” and give them important information about movement such as wind, gravity and the position of their other body parts. Being hairy is a good thing in the butterfly world since this is extremely important information to have when in flight.

Next time you see a Monarch, see if you can spot some of these features. And remember, these delicate looking insects are more powerful than they appear. We’re not saying they’re super heroes or anything but we’re also not saying they’re not…

Tune in tomorrow to learn about the Monarch Butterfly Life!