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.
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!
Let’s give a shout out to the newest addition of our Scarlet Ibis family. Hatched on June 30, this adorable little fuzzball has been one of many Scarlet Ibis hatched in the Moody Gardens’ Rainforest Pyramid.
Weighing in at 100 grams and standing several inches tall, this little cutie has dreams of flying. Months from being ready, the overly ambitious chick attempted flight, but sadly fell from its nest just days after hatching. Luckily, no major injuries occurred and it is now in the care of Moody Gardens’ finest biologists, awaiting its next voyage.
This endearing and very vocal chick loves its gruel, which is a liquid diet made up of fish, shrimp, pellets, water and vitamins which is hand fed five times a day. Biologists are hoping to introduce him to whole fish this week.
The gender of this hatchling is unknown and cannot be determined until much later in its life. While off exhibit, a feather will be collected and sent for lab work to determine its gender. Its bright red plume will not be visible until roughly eight months.
This little one will be hand raised and sent to our on-site learning place where it will become an educational ambassador.
Don’t forget to check out our other free roaming birds in our Rainforest Pyramid.
Moody Gardens® is a public, non-profit educational destination utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation and research.
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!
Dino is turning 18 today! His favorite food is herring and doesn’t quite like squid. As the biggest sea lion in our exhibit, he currently weighs roughly 800 pounds! Come visit him at the Aquarium Pyramid and wish him a happy birthday.
Visit http://bit.ly/MGAquarium for more information about the Aquarium Pyramid!
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.
The toughest penguin at Moody Gardens is growing into a big guy just like his namesake.
Watt, a King Penguin named after Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, has already grown to around 3-feet tall and 30 pounds in just 2 ½ months.
Watt absolutely loves fish, which has helped him grow so big in such a short about of time. He is a curious little guy, but his dad still watches over him. He’s definitely not ready for his son to be exploring on his own.
Watt suffered a cut on his back shortly after breaking out of his shell. Under the care of Moody Gardens biologists, Watt proved he was one tough chick and made a quick recovery. Now he is on exhibit joining the nearly 100 penguins housed in the Aquarium Pyramid
J.J. Watt is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and one of the most popular athletes in Houston.
Come see Watt and the other penguins at the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid. The Aquarium is currently open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.