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!

 

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.

Watt – The Tough Penguin at Moody Gardens

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.

Summer Job Fair: Moody Gardens Wants You!

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Looking for a fun place to work this summer? If you are committed to providing excellent customer service and want to gain valuable experience at a fun place, then Moody Gardens is the place for you. Our Summer Job Fair will be held Saturday, April 13 from 10am-1pm at the Pompano Room located downstairs at the Aquarium Pyramid. We are looking for friendly, outgoing employees for our Hotel and Attractions in the following areas:

  • Concession Attendants/Servers/Wait Staff/Cooks
  • Scanners/Ticketing Cashiers
  • Bartender/Hostess/Attendants
  • Palm Beach Greeters/Gift Shop/Operations
  • Life guards/Cabana Attendants
  • Housekeeping

Must be 16 years of age to apply (bring photo ID and Social Security Card). Attendees will receive complimentary admission to the Aquarium Pyramid with their completed application. In addition to these seasonal positions, we also have regular full-time and part-time positions available at http://bit.ly/MGJOBS

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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!

 

Why You Should Have Your Kid’s Birthday Party at Moody Gardens

Want to throw your kid an awesome birthday party? Do you not have enough time to plan and organize the party? Then Moody Gardens is perfect for you! We do the planning, setup, and cleanup! All you have to worry about is your kid having a fantastic time!

 

Each birthday party package includes a birthday cake, punch, paper goods, a party favor for each guest, twenty-four invitations, and a visit to one attraction. On top of all this great birthday fun, you choose from four exciting themes.

 

Wild Things: Aquarium. This package includes entry for your guests into the Aquarium Pyramid. Party guests get to dive into an ocean adventure and have a fun-filled animal encounter on your child’s special day.

 

Wild Things: Rainforest. Take the birthday party to the rainforest! Party guests get to meet the animals of the rainforest in a special animal presentation. The package includes entry into the Rainforest Pyramid for all your guests.

 

Beach Bash (seasonal). For summer parties, soak up the sun as your guests spend the day floating along the lazy river at Palm Beach. Entry into Palm Beach for your guests is included in the package.

 

Festival of Lights (seasonal). Celebrate your child’s birthday among the millions of lights at the Moody Gardens Festival of Lights. This package includes entry to the Festival of Lights and is only available at 6:00 p.m. because the sparkling lights can’t be appreciated in the daylight!

 

Reservations are required at least two weeks in advance, and packages are available for children turning a maximum of twelve years old. Parties are limited to two hours; however, visits to the designated attraction may extend beyond party time. Parties are available daily at 10:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. for a maximum of thirty-two guests.

 

Party Package Prices are for up to twenty-four guests, including adults. However, you may have additional guests for $8.00 a person.

 

Saturday and Sunday

Non-members: $300.00

Members: $255.00

 

Monday through Friday

Non-members: $275.00

Members: $233.75

 

To start planning your party, call 1-800-582-4673, ext 4325 or e-mail education@moodygardens.com.