Take a Ride on the Polar Express

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With the weather getting colder and the holidays closer, one of our favorite things to do is watch Christmas movies with our family and friends. At Moody Gardens we bring holiday films to the next level by showing them not only in our 3D theater but our 4D Special FX Theater as well.

This year Moody Gardens is thrilled to present The Polar Express in our 4D Special FX Theater  which combines 3D projection with audio and timed sensory elements. While watching one of the newer holiday classics guests can feel the wind in their face as the locomotive speeds down the rails and smell hot chocolate when it is served to the excited children aboard. Perhaps the most enchanting part of the experience, however, is the snow that falls inside of the theater at the same time that it falls in the film. The 4D experience engages all the senses and leaves guests wishing that they would wake up to the train outside of their house to bring them to the North Pole. There is no doubt that after the film children and adults alike are left still believing in the Christmas spirit… and hearing the bell!

To experience the sensory adventure of The Polar Express in our 4D Special FX Theater guests can purchase tickets in the Visitor Center for $10.95 for adults, $8.95 for children and seniors, and free for children under 3. If you have a day pass or membership the theaters are included for you to enjoy!

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.

The Story Behind our Chinese Lanterns

Coming to Moody Gardens for the holidays is an enchanting experience that offers worlds made of ice, lights, and adventure. Part of the enchantment is due to the collection of pandas, jellyfishes, and cherry blossom tree lanterns that we have along Hope Boulevard.

These lanterns are just some of the many that we have in honor of the Chinese Lantern Festival. The connection between the Chinese Lantern Festival and Moody Gardens is rooted in our ice carvers that come to us all the way from Harbin, China. Our skilled and talented ice carvers came to America sharing their cultural with staff and guests alike and we thought it was only fitting to represent them on their property.

The Lantern Festival has been part of Chinese New Year celebrations since the Han Dynasty of The Chinese Empire (206 BC- 221 AD). The Chinese Lantern Festival is usually held on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar and marks the end of New Year festivities. The people of the Han Dynasty believed that fire contained mystical properties that would ward off evil and prevent natural disasters as well as bring blessings such as a bountiful harvest to the people.

Over the past centuries the lantern festival has evolved and now features lanterns in all shapes and sizes. These modern lanterns come in elaborate sets of vibrant color, dazzling lights and eye-catching design like the ones found on our property.

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When you come to Festival of Lights be sure to check out this unique cultural aspect that also makes for the perfect backdrop for photos with our playful pandas in a bamboo forest!

The Festival of Lights is a mile-long trail of more than 1 million lights. It runs daily until Jan. 10.

Admission to the Festival of Lights is $10.95, including ice skating admission. Guests can bring their own skates or skate rental is available for $7 with the purchase of a Festival of Lights ticket.

A frosty new addition to the Festival of Lights this year is ICE LAND: Ice Sculptures with SpongeBob SquarePants. Being the only holiday ice exhibition on the Gulf Coast, this vast and magnificent display of 900 tons of ice creations has transformed Moody Gardens into the largest holiday destination in the Southwest. Chilled and held at a temperature of 9 degrees, guests can witness these works of art through January 4. Admission to the exhibition is $26.95 for adults and $21.95 for seniors and children.

Food Drive Thursdays for Festival of Lights

Bring a little holiday cheer to those in need by participating in Moody Garden’s annual Food Drive Thursdays! Every Thursday night from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. beginning on November 19 – January 7, guests can bring a non-perishable food item and receive a 2 for 1 admission to the Festival of Lights. The food drive program will benefit Galveston County and Houston Food Banks.

Now in its 14th year at Moody Gardens, the Festival of Lights is the Gulf Coast’s largest holiday event! The attraction consists of a mile-long walking trail that features over 100 sound-enhanced animated lighting displays. Satisfy your hunger with some of our mouth-watering food stands or take a stop at our gift shop.  Admission is $10.95 for adults, children and seniors including ice skating.  Guests can bring their own skates or skate rentals are available for just $7.

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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.

Taking Time for Turtles

Volunteers Raise $2,300 for Sea Turtles at Moody Gardens.

A special group of young volunteers spent the summer spreading awareness and raising money for sea turtles at Moody Gardens. While informing the public about the importance of marine wildlife, the SAVY volunteers raised over $2,300 to be given to the Turtle Island Restoration Network of Galveston Island.

The SAVY, the Society for the Advancement of Volunteer Youth, program at Moody Gardens provides students 14 to 17 years of age with the opportunity to volunteer within their community while participating in conservation efforts and gaining experience in various fields. Volunteers worked as advocates on behalf of sea turtles and other marine species that are jeopardized by various human practices around the world. They focused on potential problem Sea Turtles face in the wild and the importance of protecting their species. Their outreach efforts helped them raise over $2,300 for their cause.

Money raised went to the Turtle Island Restoration Network of Galveston Island, a leading advocate for the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. They work to protect endangered species while encouraging the government and public to take action and responsibility in improving choices that effect critical ecosystems.  Turtle Island Restoration Network is a nonprofit organization that saves thousands of sea turtles and other marine species through projects such as the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

Thanks to the SAVY volunteers, the Island Restoration Network is another step closer to changing the lives of many sea turtles.

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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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BrewMaster’s Craft Beer Festival: Let’s Get Crafty

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Tap into your inner-craftsmen this Labor Day weekend, September 4-6, at the 6th annual BrewMaster’s Craft Beer Festival. The event brings over 400 specialty beers to the Moody Gardens Convention Center, making it the largest craft beer festival in Texas. Join hundreds of beer enthusiasts from expert to novice for a foam-filled weekend.
The event kicks off Friday, September 4 with the BrewMaster’s Pub Crawl. The festive party bus departs at 8 p.m. for an exclusive tour of the trendiest bars on the island. Each stop will feature meet and greet opportunities with a “Brew Brain” that will give guests an inside look at the art of brewing. Tickets are $25 in advance.

Sample some of the best brews made available to beer lovers at the BrewHaHa Grand Tasting held at the Moody Gardens Convention Center on Saturday, September 5. The Grand Tasting will feature 400 craft and specialty brews as well as a Wine Escape with wine samplings. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door. VIP tickets are available for $85 as well as multi-event Hopper Passes. The BrewHaHa Grand Tasting will run from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and includes access to multiple beer seminars for those interested in expanding their knowledge of craft beer.

Thirsty for more? The Brewlicious Brews & Foods Pairing, happening on Sunday, September 6, gives foodies time to get to the island. This event is for the serious beer and culinary enthusiast. Every featured beer will be paired with a divine food dish, creating the perfect culinary combination. BrewLicious Brews and Foods will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are $75.

Palm Beach is the place to be for live entertainment during the festival. After tasting some of the top craft beers in the world, head down for the Beach, Brews and Bands. Get ready for some fun in the sun as Moody Gardens rolls out a beach blast with live music in the sand followed by a special fireworks show. Saturday night, Line Up will entertain the crowd, while Rock band, Rat Ranch, will rock the stage Sunday night. Beach, Brews and Bands will run from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the gate and $6 online as an add-on to any BrewMasters ticket purchase.

The Moody Gardens Hotel is offering a 20% savings on room rates over Labor Day weekend with a $50 resort credit for a weekend stay. To book a stay, visit www.moodygardenshotel.com or call 888-388-8484.

For more information on the BrewMaster’s Craft Beer Festival, or to order tickets, visit www.brewmastersbeerfest.com

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!

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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.