Let’s “Squawk” About a Moody Gardens Legend

Moody Gardens has a whole bunch of animals ranging from Madagascar jumping rats to giant Amazon River Otters but only one of our animals has been with us the longest. Cookie, our Sulfur Crested Cockatoo, has the distinct honor of being the longest resident on property.


Before we get into Cookie’s story here is some general background information on his species. Sulfur crested cockatoos, Cacatua galerita, are native to Australia, New Guinea, and some of the islands of Indonesia. The species conservation status is currently listed as least concern meaning that their numbers are healthy in the wild and they do not currently face the threat of extinction.

Cookie arrived at The Moody Gardens Education Department, then called Seaside Safari, in 1988 and has been here ever since. For the 28 years Cookie, who is at least 33 years old, has been here he has been an animal ambassador. Animal ambassadors represent their counterparts in educating our guests about animal biology and conservation.  These animals are not usually viewable to the general public, as their appearance for special programs is by reservation only.  The animal keepers work with the ambassador animals for presentations and events such as camps, sleepovers, birthday parties and a wide array of learning opportunities through our education department.

You can get a chance to get up close with Cookie and learn more about him and our many other animals on property by checking out one of our education programs. To get all the details and to book your own party click here!

Quench Your Thirst!

It’s been less than two weeks since their arrival and the CAA Harbin Ruijing Carving Team has already completed the all-new Shivers Ice Bar, the only bar made completely out of ice in the Lone Star State and beyond! Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy this cool attraction with a Texas flare when ICE LAND: Ice Sculptures, A Caribbean Christmas opens to the public on November 12th.

Those 21 and up are invited to take a break from their aquatic journey and cozy up to the bar for some cool holiday spirits provided by Texas Tail Vodka as well as other beverages that will be offered. For those who may not be familiar this company hails from Alvin, TX and has truly set the standard for premium signature alcohol. Texas Tail Vodka was created in 2007 by two men who met at a field party looking to create a hand-crafted spirit made in Texas for Texans. After three years of finding the perfect blend of wheat and corn the local men knew they had set the standards for the best Texas vodka! Cheers to an amazing holiday season with friends and family!


Moody Gardens is also offering a new Ice Carver VIP Experience daily through November 6. This behind-the-scenes tour offers special access to see the CAA Harbin Ruijing Carving Team of master ice carvers from Harbin, China as they transform 2 million pounds of ice into magnificent towering ice sculptures. Next, you will be escorted to the Aquarium Pyramid for a Penguin Encounter during which you get to meet a real penguin! This is followed by an authentic Chinese lunch accompanied by a A&A session with members of the ice carving team. This $199 per person package also includes a Penguin Art painting by a Moody Gardens Penguin and a ticket to visit ICE LAND and Festival of Lights once these attractions are completed and open for the holiday season. For reservations, please call 409-683-4368. (Reservations are required one week in advance. Prepayments are required at the time of your reservation. This package is discounted to $179 per person for Moody Gardens Members).

You can watch all of the action live on our webcam.

Buy your tickets in advance as they are now on sale! The holiday season at Moody Gardens will kick off on November 12, 2016 and run through January 8, 2017.

It’s Getting Chilly!

With a little over a month before opening day of this year’s ICE LAND: Ice Sculptures, A Caribbean Christmas the CAA Harbin Ruijing Carving Team has already completed the towering Aquarium Pyramid within Scene One of your aquatic adventure!  Be one of the first to check it out in person by booking an Ice Carver V.I.P. Experience to see the ice carvers in action as they create this amazing art ice endeavor.

We don’t want to ruin all the surprises, but the CAA Harbin Ruijing Carving Team has set the stage for a dramatic welcome as you enter ICE LAND to see Scene One. The main entrance to this unique ice attraction features a replica of the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid along with a vibrant color wall that reads, “Moody Gardens, A Caribbean Christmas.” Currently in progress is a replica of the R/V Manta, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary research vessel. The 82-foot, high-speed Teknicraft catamaran is used primarily as a research platform, conducting research and monitoring activities in the waters of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, but mostly within sanctuary boundaries. Guests will climb aboard this ice structure to begin their aquatic journey to their Caribbean destination for the holiday!


For the first time ever, Moody Gardens is offering an opportunity of lifetime as you can receive a personal behind-the-scenes tour of these master artists transforming these huge blocks of ice into magnificent towering ice sculptures. Next, you will be escorted to the Aquarium Pyramid for a Penguin Encounter during which you get to meet a real penguin!  This is followed by an authentic Chinese lunch accompanied by a Q&A session with the master ice carvers themselves!  This $199 per person package also includes a Penguin Art painting by a Moody Gardens penguin and a ticket to visit ICE LAND and Festival of Lights once these attractions are completed and open for the holiday season. For reservations, please call 409-683-4368. (Reservations are required one week in advance. Prepayment is required at the time of your reservation. This package is discounted to $179 for Moody Gardens members).

You can watch all of the action live by our webcam.

The holiday season at Moody Gardens will kick off on November 12, 2016 and run through January 8, 2017.

Calling All Islanders!

Galveston Appreciation Day is October 16! In addition to inviting people that work and live on the island to come to Moody Gardens for free admission to various attractions, we are excited to offer a plant giveaway!


For the past seven years Moody Gardens has given away over 7,000 plants to people looking to add a little island flair to their yards and homes. For this year’s Galveston Appreciation Day we have 2,000 plants up for grabs! We will be giving away Washington Fan Palms, Date Palms, Sago Palms and Mexican Oleanders. In order to grow that many plants over the years the Moody Gardens ground crew collects seedlings from all around property and brings them to our onsite Nursery Holding Yards. Our Nursery Holding Yards are made up of green houses and storage tents that are tended to by an employee named Poncho who weeds, prunes, fertilizes, and waters the plants.

In addition to Galveston Appreciation Day, we also donate compost, mulch and some plants to schools, churches, and other non-profits in the area.

If you live or work on the island and would like to have a palm tree or oleander for your own yard, register online here! Palms can be redeemed on property from 11:00 a.m. through 2:00 p.m. on October 16.

Seas the Day: Corals

Being home to one of the largest aquariums in the Southwest, Moody Gardens has so much more than amazing aquatic life to showcase to its guests. Located in the Aquarium Pyramid’s South Pacific and Caribbean exhibits are large habitats with beautifully colored artificial corals. Who knew it was even possible to create something nature made by hand you ask? We decided to ask one of our experts about this marine marvel.soft-coral-close-up

“Larger coral habitats can be created using tinted concrete that’s hand carved or textured using latex pads to create the surface look of a coral reef,” says Greg Whittaker, Animal Husbandry Manager; who explains the coral process in greater depth.  “Smaller, individual corals are made using fiberglass or epoxy resins that are tinted and surface painted.  These individual corals can then be attached to a reef structure with spaces in between textured and painted to look like encrusting algae, sponge or encrusting corals to create a dynamic, realistic habitat.” Oh but not to worry, these chemicals are 100% fish friendly!

Most aquariums have opted to the creation of their own tropical reefs as maintenance for live coral is challenging. Live corals are typically slow growing and require very specific water quality and high intensity UV active lighting. The logistics of maintaining water quality and providing enough lighting to grow coral can be tedious and costly.  The lighting needed to grow corals consumes a lot of electricity and produces a lot of heat as the sun is being replicated in most facilities. Although it is possible to extract live coral, it’s not often encouraged as it is vital to the ocean’s ecosystem. Since 2005 the Moody Gardens staff has participated in workshops with Project SECORE in an effort to assist in coral conservation. The project focuses on sexual coral reproduction by collecting and growing embryos in aquariums all over the world. The staff has increased their annual monetary contributions since 2012 and just recently became a facility partner.

Be sure to join us this holiday season as the Aquarium Pyramid will reopen on November 12 – January 8th. Currently the aquarium is undergoing a $39 million dollar renovation. There will be a few more waves of the renovation as it will be open for Spring Break with more work to follow. The work in the Aquarium Pyramid will be completed in time for the Grand Reopening in May 2017. Displaying the various oceanic regions of the world, guests will plunge to the depths below to view penguins, seals, sharks and so much more, including a new, expanded exhibit of vibrant live corals!

What You “Otter Know” About our Otters!

The giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) is the longest of all the otter species that live throughout South America, but are concentrated along the Amazon River.   Giant otters, an endangered species, are sometimes referred to as Lobos del rio or ‘River Wolf’ and are considered to be a top apex predator.

Here at Moody Gardens we have two giant river otter sisters that are named “Ella” and “Dru.” We work with our giant river otters in what is called protected contact which means we do not share the same physical space with them.  This protected contact is for our safety as well as the otter’s when interacting with these strong and formidable animals. To learn more about the mysterious (and cute) giant river otters we talked to Paula the Assistant Curator at Moody Gardens.

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Q: Why can only one of our otters be out on exhibit at a time?
A: An otter family in the wild is typically made up of one mating pair and a litter or two.  Once the pups are grown and reach maturity, the females tend to leave to breed.  Ella and Dru are not able to be housed together on exhibit because adult females can be extremely territorial with each other.  With this being said, while they are in their off exhibit, in what we nicknamed their bedroom area, they have visual and olfactory communication with each other, but cannot be held together physically.

Q: What makes up the outdoor exhibit area?
A: Our giant river otter home at Moody Gardens was specifically designed for their aquatic and terrestrial lifestyle.  With 50,000 gallons of freshwater, sandy beaches and water slides, our girls make use of the complex and enriching environment.

Q: What do their “bedrooms” look like?
A: Their ‘bedrooms’ off exhibit were also specifically designed, with 3 rooms, a built-in swimming pool and the ability to heat the floors in order to provide top notch care.

Q: How long do the otters spend out on exhibit?

A: Daily they are shifted out onto exhibit multiple times a day through a random shift routine.  Sometimes they spend half a day each on exhibit, sometimes they are come in and out more than 3-4 times a day.

Q: What do we do to keep out otters active?
A: We offer a variety of training and enrichment opportunities to our two otters.  Our staff biologists train the otters at every feeding session which occur at least 2-3 times a day and often more on the order of 4-5 times a day.  It really just depends on how much fish they eat; we base their diet on consumption and feed anywhere from 1.5-2.5 kg of fish per otter per day.

Q: What type of fish do they eat?
A: Ella and Dru are fed a variety of fish including tilapia, trout, smelt, and catfish.

If you want to learn more about giant river otters check out our new giant river otter encounter. During your encounter our keepers will take you behind-the-scenes of the Rainforest Pyramid for the rare opportunity to meet our otters. While behind the scenes you can learn more about otter biology, conservation, and how these amazing animals are cared for in their private interior Otter Exhibit.
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This 45-minute Otter Encounter is offered only on Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. Space is limited to only six guests per encounter and reservations are required the Thursday prior to your encounter date. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult at all times on the encounter and children under the age of six are not permitted to participate. Click here to buy your tickets.

School Is In Session!

Summer was fun, albeit short, and now it is time for the kids to go back at school. While the kids had the summer off from classes, here at Moody Gardens school is always in session!

To celebrate kids going back to school we enlisted some help from Porter our harbor seal to participate in some problem solving enrichment activities. Enrichment activities help keep all of our animals, like Porter, not only in good physical shape but in good mental shape as well. For this enrichment exercise our biologists constructed an apple out of harbor seal friendly items and asked Porter to bring it back to the trainer after it was thrown into the water. Of course, here at Moody Gardens our animals can choose if they want to perform a task or if they would rather not. During our enrichment activities if an animal completes the task they were given, they get rewarded through positive reinforcement. As you can see from the video below, Porter was very willing to partake in the activities and was positively rewarded with fish for completing his task. This added activity into Porter’s everyday life helps keep him sharp and in him best physical and mental health.

Please note that although enrichment experiences for our animals occur year round, the Aquarium Pyramid will be closed for Wave 6 of our renovations August 22 through November 11. The renovation will be complete in May 2017!

Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival



Whether or not you are beer aficionado or a brew once in a Blue Moon kind of person, Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival has something for you!

This is the 7th year for the annual event that is once again being held at the Moody Gardens Hotel over Labor Day Weekend (September 2-4). As the largest craft beer festival in Texas, the event boasts more than 400 different craft beers, live music, and delicious food making it one of the top ten best festivals in the country. In fact, Brewmasters was just named as USA Today’s “Best Destination Event” making it known just how much of a big deal it is!

Everything kicks off with a new event, Nach-Yo Ordinary Tequila Tasting, on September 2. That same night there will also be the very popular BrewMasters Friday Night Pub Crawl that brings guests to some of the coolest bars on the island while traveling in style on a party bus.

The weekend is jammed packed with the BrewHaHa Grand Tasting on Saturday which in addition to the 400 beers available, will feature a “Taste it First” section. The “Taste it First” section allows guests to be the first to get their hands (and taste buds) on brand new craft beer selections as they are released to public for the first time. On both Saturday and Sunday guests can look forward to Beach, Brews, and Bands at Moody Gardens Palm Beach featuring live music from The Line Up on Saturday night and Rat Ranch on Sunday night. The last event up to bat is Brew-B-Que on Sunday which once again features a wide variety of beer in addition to live music, and as the name suggests some good ole Texas BBQ.

The festival also provides an opportunity for those interested in the craft to learn about what goes into a good brew and what foods make the best pairings through seminars scheduled throughout the weekend.

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Tickets for the event range from $15 – $165, which includes a wide range of ticket options including Designated Driver Ticket options as we encourage everyone to enjoy themselves responsibly.  Tickets can be purchased online here. More information including hotel packages can be found at moodygardenshotel.com.

Welcoming Sam the Sea Lion!

Moody Gardens is pleased to welcome our newest addition to our North Pacific Exhibit! We introduced Sam the California sea lion, from the Utica Zoo, to his new aquatic friends in the Aquarium Pyramid.Sam_entering_AQ_exhibit_for_first_time

Sea lions, Dino and Squirt along with Porter, the harbor seal, are quite intrigued with their new friend and staff will be monitoring them closely to see how their chemistry builds. As an Association of Zoos & Aquariums facility, cooperation and assistance amongis a cornerstone of the zoo and aquarium community which is why Moody Gardens staff is quite excited about the new opportunity with the Utica Zoo.

“Getting Sam was a great opportunity to add to the North Pacific Exhibit,” said Diane Olsen, Assistant Curator of Seals and Penguins, who discussed the anticipation of his arrival. “Utica Zoo was expecting a new pup and needed to move Sam and we were able to help by providing him a home.”

California sea lions are usually found on islands off of Southern California and Baja California in Mexico, up the U.S. West Coast to Vancouver Island, Canada. Spending his entire young life at the Utica Zoo, Sam will be joining a very fascinating group of mammals. Squirt, a rescued blind sea lion who was found off of the Santa Barbara shore, Porter, a harbor seal who was also rescued off of the coast of Maine after being abandoned and Dino, the over 800 pound California sea lion who was acquired from the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo back in 2010. As Dino enters into his senior years, Sam is expected to be a social and active addition for the other seals and sea lion in the exhibit.


Although it will take a little bit of time for Sam to get acclimated to his new environment, you can now go check him out at the North Pacific Exhibit. If you cannot make it to Sam’s new habitat at the Aquarium Pyramid you can watch him live on the seal cam at www.moodygardens.com which is available 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Baby Fever at Moody Gardens!

Moody Gardens is Experiencing a Baby Boom in the Animal Kingdom!

Our Rainforest Pyramid staff recently welcomed three Rodrigues fruit bats, two of which can already be seen in the Upper Canopy of the exhibit. Rodrigues fruit bats are a critically endangered species found on Rodrigues Island off the coast of Madagascar. They belong to a group of fruit bats knows as flying foxes.

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We also have the pleasure of welcoming a baby porcupine known as a porcupette that was born around four weeks ago. Prehensile tail porcupines or tree porcupines inhabit tropical forests in South America. Female porcupines give birth to a single porcupette after six months gestation.


Last but certainly not least, a new leaf tailed gecko joined the Rainforest Pyramid family yesterday! Leaf tail geckos or Uroplatus are native to Madagascar. Their large eyes are a clue to the fact that they are nocturnal. As their name indicates, their tails look like leaves and foliage, which aids in their camouflage abilities. These large geckos are insect eaters.Photo 1

The Rodrigues fruit bats, prehensile tail porcupine and leaf tail geckos are all part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding programs. Everyone at Moody Gardens is excited to announce our contributions to the success of conserving these animals.

Stay tuned for updates on these adorable newbies and a set of pygmy slow loris twins that are expected to arrive very soon!