Page 1


OCEAN’S SEVEN Seven species of sea turtle have withstood the test of time, but they need our help. PAGE 14

PAGE 20 Meet the Masters of Disguise PAGE 22 10 Easy Ways to Save the Planet


Spend a night at the Aquarium with our toothiest residents! Our Sleepover with the Sharks Immersion Tour takes you behind the scenes.



OCEAN’S SEVEN Against all odds, seven species of sea turtle fight for survival.

20 22 F EAT URE S






Camouflage makes underwater

Aquarium CEO John C. Racanelli

Feeding the rain forest is no easy

life a high-stakes game of

shares inspiring ways to care for

task. Get a peek at an exhibit’s


our blue planet.

food prep.




Be a superhero for our planet

Introducing the newest members

Students get creative about climate

with these 10 easy tips.

of the Aquarium family.

change and other ocean issues.



Explore our new app and meet

Get your backyard certified, attend

the director of our sustainable

our extreme lecture series and more.

seafood program.



Unlike most sea turtles, green

Caroline Gabel is giving species

turtles are herbivores, feeding

a second chance through her

on seagrasses and algae.

commitment to animal rescue.

Who knew horseshoe crabs were medical marvels?

25 PHOTO FINISH Check out one of Australia’s coolest lizards: the Mertens’ water monitor.



Lately, the word “care” has been popping up in various conversations, driven by what has become a rallying cry here at the National Aquarium: We exist to inspire humanity to care about the ocean that sustains us. It’s a powerful statement of our purpose, and one that we embody every day. With six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle either threatened or endangered, it’s clear that every turtle we rescue, rehabilitate and return to the wild is worthy of our care (don’t miss our article on sea turtles on page 14). This belief is shared by philanthropist Caroline Gabel, a supporter of the National Aquarium who personifies what it means to care through her involvement with organizations like ours. I invite you to read more on page 6 about her remarkable work on behalf of this earth we all share. I hope you’re as inspired by her efforts as I am. In these pages, we are also introducing our 2015 “48 Days of Blue” campaign, a There’s no doubt movement that started here at the Aquarin my mind that ium. Each day between Earth Day on every turtle we can April 22 and World Oceans Day on June rescue, rehabilitate 8, you can take a simple, effective action to demonstrate your care for our precious blue and return to the planet. Check out the story on page 22, and then I hope you’ll sign up to join our wild is worthy of movement at our care. There’s no question that our National Aquarium team members care—about the animals in our care, our environment, our guests and each other. Our recent recognition in Baltimore Magazine as one of the region’s “Best Places to Work” attests to the fact that we care about our talented staff as well. We literally couldn’t do it without these devoted members of our team, both paid and volunteer, who dedicate their lives to inspiring people to care. As a donor, member or supporter, you have already demonstrated your care and commitment through your engagement with us. We’re grateful that you’ve chosen to join us in our quest to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. Thank you.


Chair Vice Chair

Jane W. I. Droppa, Timothy Adams Marc Bunting Casey Brent Keith Campbell David Churchill

Colleen Dilenschneider Michael Dunmyer Nancy Grasmick Frank A. Gunther, Jr.,

Life Director

Charles Knudsen, III Donna Morrison Mark Mullin Joseph Nigro Marianela Peralta Charles A. Phillips J. Scott Plank,

Vice Chair

John C. Racanelli Diana Ramsay The Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Jennifer W. Reynolds,

Immediate Past Chair

Thomas E. Robinson Tamika Langley Tremaglio,

Vice Chair

Jaki Ulman C. Elizabeth Wagner

A copy of the National Aquarium’s financial statement is available at Documents filed in accordance with the Maryland Charitable Organizations Solicitation Act may be obtained from the Maryland Secretary of State. © 2015 National Aquarium Inc.

CFC #11251 MCC #4099 CCC #4099

EXECUTIVE EDITOR Amanda Forr EDITORS Melissa Marshall, Ashley Goetz CONTRIBUTOR Nabila Chami ART DIRECTOR Natalie A. Castaldo DESIGNERS Ashley Stearns, Aimee Swartz


PHOTOGRAPHERS J. Bryan Barnes, Tracey Brown, David Coffey, George Grall, Chris Mattle COPY EDITOR Chris M. Junior

— John Racanelli Chief Executive Officer ACCREDITED BY 100% RECYCLED FIBER




Horseshoe Crab Babies We recently welcomed baby horseshoe crabs from Adventure Aquarium, which had collected them as eggs last spring. Though no bigger than a coin, the largest ones have already molted eight times to reach their current size. We’ll be featuring adult horseshoe crabs in Living Seashore, a new exhibit slated to open in May.

More Animal News Loggerhead Hatchling A juvenile loggerhead sea turtle is now a resident of Maryland: Mountains to the Sea. Sugar Turns 17 Our umbrella cockatoo, Sugar, celebrated his 17th birthday with peanuts and coconuts in December. Harlequin tuskfish


Choerodon fasciatus

Selene vomer

We added a stunning harlequin tuskfish to our Blacktip Reef exhibit last fall. This fish’s name is derived from the pairs of alternating orange, blue and white bands on its body and its prominent sharp, blue teeth. Its new home closely resembles that of its native habitat: the reefs of the Indian Ocean and Australia.

Ten lookdown fish were added to our Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit. This naturally schooling species inhabits the shallow coastal waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean and gets its name from the way it appears to “look down” as it swims. Its slim shape allows it to dash after prey—including small worms, fish and crustaceans—and expertly escape predators.

Dolphins in the Mirror We introduced our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to an exciting enrichment device: their own reflections!

Visit to get upto-date animal news, follow our animal rescue initiatives, go behind the scenes and more.



FIVE GAME-CHANGING VISITOR TIPS A sneak peek into our new app’s awesome features. Visit the Want to know the secrets behind each exhibit in the National Aquarium? All you need is your phone.

App Store or

The National Aquarium recently released its official app for iOS and Android, providing guests with all the

Google Play to

information they need for the ultimate experience. To give you an idea of what to expect, we selected a few

download the

visitor tips to share with you.

free app today and discover more visitor tips. Plus, get animal profiles, daily schedules, guide maps and more.

The grey-headed

Want to see our

If you arrive at

The sloths in

Don’t miss our tarantula! He’s

flying fox in Animal

sharks chow down

opening time,

Upland Tropical

Planet Australia:

on breakfast? Get

there’s a good

Rain Forest can

hiding in a log just

Wild Extremes is

to the Aquarium

chance you’ll be

be tough to spot.

before the bridge

often overlooked.

bright and early to

greeted by our

Be sure to look up

exiting the Upland Tropical Rain For-

The trick? Look up!

watch a live feeding

hyacinth macaw

into the trees from

They’re hanging

of our Blacktip Reef

in the Harbor

the exhibit’s upper

est and heading to

from the ceiling.




Hidden Life.

WE’RE MAKING HEADLINES! The National Aquarium recently received two exciting recognitions. Baltimore Magazine recently named the National Aquarium one of Baltimore’s “Best Places to Work,” confirming our organization’s commitment to providing the best work environment for our many dedicated employees and volunteers. As if this distinction wasn’t enough, we can now officially say we have one of the most influential Marylanders. The Daily Record named National Aquarium CEO John C. Racanelli as one of its 2015 “Influential Marylanders,” an annual list dedicated to recognizing individuals who have impacted the state’s business community and brought services and success to the region. To see the full lists, visit and



Food for Thought TJ TATE TALKS ABOUT


SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD. The National Aquarium is tackling eco-friendly eating through a new sustainable seafood program, funded by the J.S. Plank and D.M. DiCarlo Family Foundation. Director Tj Tate, who was recently named one of SeaWeb’s six Seafood Champions, couldn’t be more excited and recently spoke with us about her plans.

Q: WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO EAT SUSTAINABLY? Think about it this way: We take care of our cars so that they will run to 200,000-plus miles. We watch our bank accounts so that we can pay our bills, take vacations and someday retire. We ensure that the things that matter are secure and sustaining. Food is no different. We have to plan and adopt real food strategies and become very smart when it comes to what we eat.

Q: WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS PROGRAM? The National Aquarium has thought leaders, scientists, communicators and dedicated and loyal members. We are a destination for millions of people who love the ocean. The development of a seafood initiative is a natural and logical progression that in my estimation is a way of giving back to an area steeped in seafood culture and history. People embrace seafood in this region—we should, and will, be the leader to hear their voices and answer their questions.

Q: WHAT KIND OF EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH WILL BE INVOLVED? We are connecting with local chefs, seafood distributors and schools. We are planning a series of local and regional events that focus on the fact that we all live upstream—meaning our actions impact our ocean and our seafood choices.

INTRODUCING THE NATIONAL AQUARIUM SOCIETY The National Aquarium Society is an elite group of philanthropists who make an annual donation N AT I O of $2,500 or more. AQ U A N A L RIUM When you join the National Aquarium SociSOCI ETY ety, you demonstrate your committment to the Aquarium and to critical aquatic environments around the world. You strengthen efforts to protect our global waters. Additionally, it comes with a host of benefits, including a concierge service to help plan visits and access to exclusive lectures, behind-the-scenes tours and more. For more information or to join, visit or call Jessica Donahue at 410-576-8535.

Constellation, an Exelon company, has strengthened its longtime support of the National Aquarium through efforts that will further the Aquarium’s education programming and overhaul its facilities to be more energy-efficient. The energy company bolstered the Aquarium’s conservation education programs and its Chesapeake Bay Initiative with a $1 million grant that provides unique science-based experiences for guests, volunteers and students over the next five years. This includes sponsoring the Aquarium’s on-site education carts, which use hands-on experiences, such as live animal interactions and artifact presentations, to connect guests with the environment on a personal level. The 33-year-old Aquarium facilities are also getting an eco-friendly makeover with $3.7 million in energy and water conservation upgrades designed to prevent the creation of more than 12,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Through a 15-year energy performance contract with Constellation, the improvements are guaranteed to save $235,000 in operating costs every year and require no upfront capital from the National Aquarium. “We are committed to helping our customers, like the National Aquarium, conserve energy, save money and better manage their energy usage,” says Constellation CEO and National Aquarium board member Joseph Nigro, “not only to help them achieve their business goals but also as part of our vision of creating a brighter, more sustainable future for the communities we serve.” Adding to these efforts, the Aquarium has also jumped in on a solar electric project with OneEnergy Renewables and Constellation New Energy. The three organizations are developing an off-site system on the Eastern Shore called Cambridge Solar, which will provide power for approximately 45 percent of the Aquarium’s electricity requirements for the next 25 years. AQUA.ORG 5


PUTTING AN END TO ENDANGERED Caroline Gabel is giving species a second chance with her commitment to conservation and animal rescue. BY MELISSA MARSHALL


ome people would have second thoughts about climbing down a 10-foot ladder onto the narrow ledge of a partially filled pool. But Caroline Gabel isn’t some people. She was already making the precarious descent before we finished asking her about her comfort level. The only incentive she needed was the 22 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles swimming below. In a way, National Aquarium Animal Rescue patients are Gabel’s patients as well, so it’s no wonder she was eager to visit them. She’s been helping to fund their care for more than a decade. Gabel is president and CEO of the Shared Earth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports endangered species and their habitats by funding institutions that share the same mission. Every year, Gabel asks National Aquarium Animal Rescue for its wish list and follows up with a specific donation covering the cost of certain pieces of equipment or travel expenses. “I don’t believe in torqueing programs and saying, ‘Here’s this money; do this,’” Gabel explains. “I figure my partners—I call them my partners—know what they’re doing, and they just need some help.” And help she gives. Her contributions have ranged from VetScans, iStat Blood Analyzers and biofilters to washers, dryers and satellite tags. As with humans, medical care for sick and injured sea turtles doesn’t come cheap. Each rescued reptile receives several veterinary exams during its three- to six-month stay. At $50 a pop and sometimes more than 30 patients at a time—well, you do the math. That price tag doesn’t even cover tests or the technology required to perform them. National Aquarium Animal Rescue patients are given multiple radiographs to check for pneumonia or broken bones; ultrasounds to determine intestinal health; blood tests to monitor for infection and examine basic blood chemistry; plus several eye exams to look for changes and any signs of cataract development. As a souvenir of their stay, many turtles receive a tag, similar to a microchip, upon release. In addition to all these medical expenses, the organization must find the funds to maintain a safe and clean facility for its patients. It’s because of dedicated people like Gabel that the National Aquarium has succeeded in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing more than 100 animals since 1991. “Philanthropic donors are integral to the ongoing success of our animal rescue efforts,” says National Aquarium Animal Rescue Manager Jenn Dittmar. “Caroline is doing her part to help promote sea turtle conservation efforts in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.” 6


Gabel has always had a soft spot for the world’s endangered animals. She fondly remembers playing with stuffed-animal bears rather than dolls as a child and recalls the moment she developed a passion for conservation: A family trip to Alberta, Canada, led to a life-changing trail ride through the Rocky Mountains. “It was spectacular,” she says. “It was kind of a conversion right there.” Nearly 45 years later, Gabel’s dedication to protecting endangered wildlife has taken her around the world: to Mexico, where she contributes to the restoration of critical jaguar habitat; to Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, where she works to protect sun bears and their forest habitat; and to Burma, where she assists with elephant care.


However, nothing could top one experience in particular: encountering a snow leopard in the wild. Gabel’s voice radiates with excitement as she describes the moment. Her role as chair of the Snow Leopard Conservancy had brought her to the Himalayas to support efforts advocating for the protection of this endangered species. “He was maybe 100 yards away, across the river,” she remembers. “There he is, lying on a rock, looking at us. But he wasn’t afraid of us. He knew he was safe because of the Snow Leopard Conservancy’s work.” It’s impossible to estimate how many animals have been saved by Gabel’s dedication and generosity, but we know of 22 that are particularly grateful to be on the road to recovery at National Aquarium Animal Rescue facilities. Visit to learn how you can contribute to the National Aquarium’s conservation and animal rescue efforts.

Photographed by Tracey Brown

Caroline Gabel gets some quality time with the many Kemp’s ridley sea turtles she’s helping to rehabilitate through her philanthropy.




T Sloths have a dis-

he moment you step into the Aquarium’s Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, you’re immersed in the tropics. Sloths lounge upside-down high up in the tree canopy, golden lion tamarins perch on overhanging branches and an array of tropical birds take flight. Staff start their day much like a restaurant’s kitchen staff: slicing vegetables, chopping fruit and carefully measuring portions. With 86 species to feed, it takes an incredible amount of planning and a coordinated effort to ensure every animal thrives. “Everybody gets fed something different and is fed differently,” says Ken Howell, curator of the Upland Tropical Rain Forest.

tinct set of claws.



Whether it’s a piece of squash or a carrot, slicing their vegetables into long wedges ensures they’ll be able to pick them up come mealtime.



Tamarins enjoy prepared food accompanied by vegetables and nuts; boat-billed heron eat fish; and turquoise tanagers get a combination of fruits, insects and more. “While pellets may provide appropriate nutrition, many animals find them boring to eat,” Howell says, discussing the exhibit’s soft-bill birds. “To ensure our birds thrive, we mimic their wild diets by mixing fruits, vegetables and insects with their pelleted foods.” You might be surprised to find out where those ingredients are sourced. “We like to feed the freshest, ripest and most nutritious food we can,” Howell says. It’s the same food you’d find at the neighborhood grocery. The only exception is cosmetic—the team won’t shy away from a bruised apple. But it’s not just what the animals eat that’s important. “Food not only has to be nutritious. It also has to be appealing to the animal, and it has to be provided in the appropriate size and, sometimes, shape,” Howell explains.

From proportions to placement and even down to the way a single piece of food is sliced, every step matters. MORE THAN A MEAL

Food plays a role beyond nutrition. Mealtimes help staff monitor animal health and habits. Each morning during a “bug drop,” the birds are fed live insects. With binoculars and an inventory sheet in hand, staff can observe each bird that flies down from the trees to eat. When animals are free-roaming, this type of observation is crucial. Behavioral changes alert staff to critical events, such as when a bird is about to lay eggs. They can then locate the nest, adjust diets and monitor any newborns. Meals can also be tools for enrichment. Birds are naturally territorial. To ensure each individual has access to food, their bowls are placed strategically around the exhibit. Not only does this limit competition, but it also encourages natural foraging behaviors. TRICKS OF THE TRADE

In the exhibit, different species frequently interact. This is where it gets tricky—most animals have access to each other’s meals. So, how do staff keep a blue-crowned motmot from snacking on a sloth’s supper or a golden lion tamarin from stealing bird food? Sometimes, it’s as simple as waiting for one species to go off exhibit before feeding another. But often, they have to get creative. Given the opportunity, tamarins will raid the birds’ bowls for sweet treats. The solution? A bit of hot pepper. “The birds don’t taste it,” Howell explains, but this secret ingredient’s kick is enough to deter a curious monkey. Getting dinner on the table suddenly doesn’t seem so difficult anymore, does it? Just some food for thought.

TASTE THE RAINBOW Variety matters! Our soft-bill birds are fed a range of fresh fruits, vegetables, dry food and worms.

EAT LOCAL In the wild, dart frogs are poisonous because of the alkaloids in the leaf litter invertebrates they eat. The Aquarium’s dart frogs are


fed pinhead crickets and

Staff has to consider more

fruit flies, making the tiny

than just the individual animal

amphibians nontoxic.

they’re feeding. A sloth can eat a grape, but that same grape is a choking hazard for a curious bird. So, the team is careful to cut each grape in half.

CAREFUL CUTS Fish are cut on a diagonal to ensure birds, like the sunbittern, can swallow their food without a hitch.




EMPOWERING THE NEXT GENERATION OF OCEAN ADVOCATES High-school students are invited to participate in the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit 2015. B Y T H E YO U T H O C E A N C O N S E R VAT I O N T E A M

The Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS) was created by Sean Russell, a devoted advocate for ocean conservation, in 2011. It has since spread with the first satellite YOCS held on July 22, 2014, in Annapolis, Maryland, in association with the National Marine Educators Association 2014 Conference and the National Aquarium’s Aquarium on Wheels program. Aquarium on Wheels students want to continue implementing the YOCS in order to provide high-school participants from the Baltimore area and beyond the opportunity to learn from marine scientists and conservationists about the current threats facing marine ecosystems, both locally and globally. The YOCS event also teaches participants about the ways other youth are currently working to protect marine ecosystems,

Students Take on Climate Change A new competition is bringing creativity to the classroom.

The heat is on for Maryland students wanting to showcase their talents through an exciting new contest called “Climate Change: the Science, the Impacts, our Future.” Conceived by Climate Central, the competition invites students statewide in grades 5 through 8 and 9 through 12 to get creative about climate change. Entrants can address this topic through artistic expression; in the form of a news report or weather forecast; or as a science poster or presentation. The sky’s the limit when it comes to entry forms—artistic expression can include dance, song, drama, poetry or art. On May 16, 2015, all participating students will have the chance to win free admission to the Aquarium for our Weather + Climate Day event, where the winners will be announced and will perform or display their entries. Entrants have the chance to win up to $500. Entries must be submitted electronically by April 15. Visit to learn more.


and then allows them to work with their peers to develop action plans for their own ocean conservation projects. Workshops offered at the summit help participants to gain the skills necessary to successfully implement conservation projects, teach participants about career opportunities in conservation and expose them to opportunities in which they can help protect our planet’s ocean and its inhabitants. Aquarium on Wheels students are in the process of planning their next YOCS for high-school students to be held on April 19, 2015, at the National Aquarium. The application deadline is April 6. Applications may be found on our website. Visit to learn more, or contact


Maryland Tackles Ocean Acidif ication Just decades ago, scientists thought that the buffering capacity of the world’s ocean was so great that it could absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide without much consequence. Unfortunately, a growing body of research links dramatic changes in ocean chemistry, or ocean acidification, to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Recognizing the potential consequences of this problem, Maryland is taking decisive action to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Last year, the Task Force to Study the Impact of Ocean Acidification on State Waters was formed, with the Aquarium’s own chief conservation officer, Eric Schwaab, acting as Task Force Chair. The task force issued a report calling for better monitoring, industry partnerships and collaboration with federal agencies. “This is a much-needed first step, as we make important recommendations to the general assembly and new administration to protect Maryland’s $1.65 billion blue crab, oyster and striped bass seafood industry,” Schwaab says. The Aquarium’s role doesn’t end at the state level. Through a new in-school outreach program, staff is helping to educate students about ocean chemistry and its effect on local waters. These young environmentalists will also brainstorm potential solutions. Teachers can register their class for the program—offered October through March—by calling Central Reservations at 410-576-3833.

WE’RE GOING TO EXTREMES Explore the unfamiliar this spring. We kicked off the 2015 Marjorie Lynn Bank Lecture Series—titled “Ocean Extremes: Wild Underwater Worlds”—on March 19 with guest speaker Dr. Doug Allan, one of the world’s most respected and experienced natural-history cameramen. Join us as we dive deeper into the wildest, deepest, coldest corners of the ocean in the next two lectures. On April 28, we’ll hear from renowned environmental scientist Dr. Jesse Ausubel as he recounts his experience studying some of the most dramatic changes in the history of our ocean. Up next, in “Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime: Celebrating our Ocean’s Oddities,” Dr. Ellen Prager will share her entertaining tell-all about the ocean’s strangest species on May 13. Visit to learn more.

Certifiably Wild CREATE YOUR OWN CERTIFIED WILDLIFE HABITAT. The National Aquarium has teamed up with the National Wildlife Federation to make Baltimore more livable for the many animals—and people—that inhabit the area. Local residents can now establish certified wildlife gardens in their backyards, parks, schools and community spaces by providing the most important habitat components and practicing sustainable gardening techniques, such as eliminating pesticides, conserving water and planting native species. Not only will this create a healthy habitat for critical species like Baltimore orioles and monarch butterflies, but it will also help improve our water resources by reducing the polluted runoff that ultimately ends up in the Chesapeake Bay and our ocean. Visit to take the next steps toward certification.



THE TRUE BLUE BLOODS At $15,000 per quart, a horseshoe crab’s blood is valuable, but its riches reach far beyond a price tag. The crab’s unique blood holds tremendous worth in the medical community—and for each of us. BY ASHLEY GOETZ


ith an armored body and spiked tail, you might mistake the muddy-colored horseshoe crab for a prehistoric creature crawling from the ocean’s depths—and you wouldn’t be too far off. Horseshoe crabs have more than 445 million years under their belts, so there is no doubt these ancient animals are resilient. To what do they owe this astonishing staying power? An incredible immune system. Our iron-based blood is bright red, but a horseshoe crab’s veins are coursing with blood made pale blue by the presence of copper. The truly remarkable thing about a horseshoe crab’s blood, however, isn’t its color. In fact, if you’ve ever had a shot, vaccine, implant or even stitches, you probably have a horseshoe crab to thank. MEDICAL MARVELS

Unlike humans, horseshoe crabs don’t have white blood cells to stave off infection. When bacteria make their way past the crab’s exoskeleton and into the bloodstream, amoebocytes rush to the rescue. They release a chemical compound called limulus amoebocyte lysate, or LAL, which causes the blood to coagulate. The clot surrounds and traps the dangerous bacteria, preventing the spread of infection. Scientists recognized the value of this unconventional defense. They began using LAL to detect bacterial endotoxins in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and it’s since become an essential part of modern medicine. 12


The test can detect endotoxins at a staggering one part per trillion. In the presence of bacteria, it acts just as a horseshoe crab’s blood would, coagulating into a gel-like substance around the contaminant. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1970, the LAL test is used to detect bacterial contamination in everything from intravenous drugs and vaccines to prosthetics, implants, medical devices and more. Each year, horseshoe crabs are harvested to donate blood for LAL test manufacturing. Up to 30 percent of their blood is collected, and the crabs are released back into the wild. A K E Y S T O N E C R E AT U R E

The horseshoe crab’s importance is not limited to its role in human health. As a keystone species, its existence and numbers impact the entire ecosystem. Countless other species depend on the horseshoe crab to survive.

Like bulldozers, horseshoe crabs disturb the sand beneath them as they forage for food. Fish follow the crabs, pecking and feeding on what’s dragged up in their wake. “They’re like bioengineers,” says General Curator Jack Cover. “They sort of change the area they’re living in with their movement, so they’re benefitting a lot of other species.” Horseshoe crabs also play host to a number of other organisms, including bivalves and slipper snails, which take advantage of the crab’s tough outer shell. Because other hard surfaces in the stretch of water they inhabit are limited, it’s an opportune place to attach and grow.

THE SHOREBIRD CONNECTION Opening this spring, our newest exhibit, Living Seashore, features shore hero and biologist Amanda Dey. Dey has spent years working on the Delaware Bay, studying the relationship between red knot birds and horseshoe crabs.


Red knots are a migratory bird, traveling from the southern tip of South America and the southern U.S. to the Arctic to breed. On their voyage north, they stop to refuel on Delaware Bay beaches. The critical stopover happens to coincide with horseshoe crab spawning season. Red knots gorge on excess crab eggs, garnering enough energy to finish their northern trek to recharge and nest in the Arctic. “This horse-

In the early 1990s, horseshoe crabs were collected by the truckload from spawning beaches. And in just five years, from 1992 to 1997, their harvest increased from less than 100,000 to more than 2.5 million annually. Luckily for horseshoe crabs and the species that depend on them, including humans, regulations have been set to limit their harvest. Fishery regulators are continually making adjustments for a better, more sustainable take. And in 2001, the waters off the mouth of the Delaware Bay became the first designated horseshoe crab sanctuary, helping to bolster the area’s principal spawning population. Even the biomedical industry is doing its part. Scientists are already exploring synthetic solutions for the LAL test, so that one day the horseshoe crab may not have to be a blood donor.

In addition, female horseshoe crabs lay an astonishing 80,000 eggs each year. Shorebirds, various fish and invertebrates feed on this bounty of eggs, while loggerhead sea turtles feed on both juvenile and adult horseshoe crabs. THE HORSESHOE CRAB HARVEST

In recent years, the horseshoe crab has had its challenges. It requires a special kind of beach to breed—one where it won’t be overturned by harsh waves. These nestled coastal beaches, like those found at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, are few and far between. As a result, horseshoe crabs tend to gather by the thousands on a beach to lay their eggs. This assembly is a spectacular sight, but it also makes them easy targets. In the past, the crabs were ground up and used as fertilizer. More recently, they’ve been taken as bait for eels, minnows and whelk.

shoe crab and shorebird connection is an amazing natural event of global importance happening in our own backyard,” says General Curator Jack Cover. But as horseshoe crabs disappear, so do red knots. Dey, along with a cohort of scientists and volunteers, works to protect horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. The team’s research has been instrumental in implementing horseshoe crab harvest regulations, but they can’t do it alone. As an advocate for citizen science, Dey continually recruits volunteers for spawning surveys, horseshoe crab tagging, tracking and shorebird surveys. Protecting these important species doesn’t have to be left to the scientists—every person can help.


Against the odds, seven species of sea turtle have withstood the test of time and captured the hearts of humans, but they could soon be ancient history without our help.



arth was a different place 150 million years ago. The continents were drifting, the earliest flowers were just beginning to evolve and dinosaurs roamed the land. Few plants and animals from this period would endure the catastrophic events to come. But what survives that which the dinosaurs cannot? As it turns out, one of Earth’s most long-lived creatures isn’t the fearsome pred-


ator you might imagine. We’re talking about the sea turtle, a beloved marine marvel whose tenacity would have made Darwin proud. These prehistoric reptiles face overwhelming odds from the get-go, with only five out of 100 making it through their first day in existence. After hatching, they emerge from their sand-covered nests to make a run for the waves. Our beaches are their battlefields, laden with enemies occupying land, air and

sea. If the hatchlings evade the beach’s birds and crabs, they begin round two—this time against the predatory fish and seabirds combing the water’s surface for snacks. The lucky ones that escape an early fate will likely go on to live long lives—sometimes 60 years or more. Like salmon, the females eventually return to the same nesting grounds where they were born, laying up to 12 nests— with about 100 eggs each—per season.

Green sea turtles can grow to an average of 420 pounds on a diet of seagrasses and algae.


Habitat Heroes While hatchlings face countless risks, adult sea turtles managed to get on Mother Nature’s good side. Other than the occasional shark attack, they’re relatively immune to predation. But this coveted place on the food chain doesn’t come without responsibilities. “Sea turtles play a vital role in the health of many marine ecosystems and are what we call ‘keystone species,’” says National Aquarium General Curator Jack Cover. “These are key species that other species in the ecosystem depend on and whose disappearance would bring changes to that ecosystem.” In reef habitats, for example, coral and sponge species are always competing for dominance. Thankfully, coral has an ally in the hawksbill sea turtle. These guys feed on a few predominate sponge species, keeping their numbers in check and giving coral the upper hand.

eggs can be laid by a single sea turtle at one time, and only 1 percent of those will survive to sexual maturity. Additionally, some sea turtles also moonlight as underwater lawnmowers. “Their grazing creates open areas and a mosaic of different microhabitats that support a larger number of species,” Cover explains. Without these landscaping efforts, seagrass beds could become dominated by other plants of a single species and overgrown with decomposing leaves. Sea turtles’ constant cropping creates large patches of new growth, which is more nutritious and easier for herbivores to digest. Are these marine reptiles starting to sound like the good Samaritans of the sea? Because they are. Even their waste does the 16 WATERMARKS | SPRING 2015

ocean good. Take loggerheads, for example. Equipped with powerful jaws made for crushing, this particular sea turtle survives on a diet of hard-shelled prey, such as crustaceans. The discarded “crumbs”—as well as the feces created from the meal—serve as an efficient nutrient recycling program for the seafloor. Sea turtles also help maintain healthy prey populations. Jellies, for instance, are the choice cuisine of many marine turtle species. This includes the giant leatherback, which can down more than 440 pounds of jellies in a single day. To put things in perspective: That’s nearly the weight of a full-grown pig. Now imagine what happens when that insatiable species disappears. “In recent years, commercial fishermen have observed an explosion of jellyfish populations in different parts of the world,” Cover explains. “This means less fish and more jellyfish in their nets.” Seafood lovers of the world, be warned: This could spell trouble for your favorite aquatic cuisine. With the help of overfishing and a lack of predators, these gelatinous opportunists could have significant environmental and economic implications in the future.

Canaries in a Coal Mine The sad reality is that we’re fast approaching a world without sea turtles. After relentlessly persevering through 150 million years of evolutionary hurdles, these incredible animals have finally hit a snag that could end their streak—and it’s not because of birds, crabs, fish or other natural threats. It’s because of us.

Sea turtles face most of their natural threats as hatchlings making the trek from their beach nests to the open ocean.

Today, six out of the seven sea turtle species are endangered or threatened. No. 7, the flatback, is simply listed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as “data-deficient.” There’s a term for statistics like that: a red flag. An indicator of a larger problem. So what destroys what should be indestructible? Dedicated sea turtle researchers have some answers. Entanglement in commercial fishing gear takes the cake for deadliest threat facing these resilient reptiles. Hundreds of thousands of turtles are accidentally caught in shrimp trawl nets, on longline hooks and in fishing gillnets each year. Those that don’t escape drown, unable to return to the water’s surface for air. Some of the survivors are repeat offenders. With the help of satellite tagging, National Aquarium Animal Rescue Manager Jenn Dittmar has noticed the same turtles returning to the same nets. “They’ve unfortunately learned that if they get into the nets, it’s a seafood buffet for them,” she says. Commercial fishing isn’t the only culprit. Recreational fishing can affect these populations as well. “We’re seeing an increase in the number being hooked by recreational fishing line,” she explains. “We’ll see turtles that have swallowed hooks when they come in.” Other threats are more deliberate. Outside of the United States, tens of thousands

Sea Turtles Come in All Shapes and Sizes Talk about shell shock! From the Kemp’s ridley’s 2.5-foot shell to the leatherback’s 5.8-foot shell, sea turtle sizes vary dramatically.

Archelon 7-foot shell 4,900 pounds BIGGEST THREAT

Environmental changes




Leatherback sea turtle

5.8 feet tall 196 pounds

5.8-foot shell 1,100 pounds



Heart disease LEAST CONCERN

Bycatch and pollution VULNERABLE

Loggerhead sea turtle 4.1-foot shell 375 pounds BIGGEST THREAT

Habitat loss and human disturbance ENDANGERED

Green sea turtle 4-foot shell 420 pounds BIGGEST THREAT

Commercial harvest for eggs and food ENDANGERED

Flatback sea turtle 3.25-foot shell 198 pounds BIGGEST THREAT

Insufficient data DATA DEFICIENT

Hawksbill sea turtle 2.9-foot shell 154 pounds BIGGEST THREAT


Kemp’s ridley sea turtle 2.5-foot shell 108 pounds BIGGEST THREAT:

Poaching and bycatch CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Olive ridley sea turtle 2.5-foot shell 100 pounds BIGGEST THREAT

Harvest of adults and eggs, bycatch and nesting habitat loss VULNERABLE


How You Can Help

National Aquarium Animal Rescue Manager Jenn Dittmar holds one of her Kemp’s ridley sea turtle patients.

Your individual actions can help turn the tide for endangered sea turtles. Start today by following these tips. Reduce your plastic use, recycle what you do use and properly dispose of your trash. Floating fishing line, six-pack rings, metal cans and plastic debris can have deadly consequences.

of endangered sea turtles are being hunted every year for their eggs, meat, skin and shells. Even one of the National Aquarium Animal Rescue’s rehabilitated patients was taken for food after its release into the ocean. Dittmar knew something wasn’t right when she noticed its satellite tag suddenly transmitting from Honduras after a slow and steady migration south. Contacts in Costa Rica followed up and confirmed her suspicions: A local fishing village had the tag. Illegal trade has also played a role in dwindling sea turtle populations. In fact, it’s the biggest threat to hawksbills, which are prized for their beautiful brown and yellow carapace plates. These stunning turtle shells are used to create jewelry, ornaments and other souvenirs.

“The solutions and knowledge to rebuild and recover our sea turtle populations exist—we just need to implement them before it’s too late.” — JACK COVER, General Curator

Lastly, sea turtles don’t have the habitat they once had. The beaches they require for nesting grounds have been destroyed and disturbed by coastal development, vehicle traffic and other human activity, including 18


armoring beaches with rock sea walls to prevent erosion. Pollution has infiltrated the waters they call home, throwing new risks into the mix. Leatherback sea turtles, for example, commonly mistake floating plastic bags for tasty jellyfish, resulting in a potentially deadly meal.

Fixing the Future Part of the problem lies in the lack of international protection. Sea turtles travel great distances in the course of a year. “A female leatherback sea turtle may be laying eggs on a French Guianan beach at one point in the year; be swimming off of Ocean City, Maryland, at another time of year; and feeding on jellyfish in the chilly waters off of Nova Scotia at another time of year,” Cover says. It will take international conservation efforts to change the fate of these critical species, giving them a chance to thrive once again. The good news is there’s still time to make that happen. “The solutions and knowledge to rebuild our sea turtle populations exist—we just need to implement them before it is too late,” Cover says. “The years of exploitation and ignorance must be put behind us; the years of enlightenment and population recovery must continue into the future. I don’t think anyone wants to live in a world without sea turtles.”

Eat sustainable seafood. Commit to only buying seafood that’s certified as being raised and farmed sustainably. Download the Seafood Watch app to stay informed. Volunteer for a local cleanup to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in our waterways. The Aquarium Conservation Team is always looking for more volunteers! Be a responsible boater. Stay alert and keep a lookout for turtles surfacing for air. A meticulous eye and quick thinking could save an endangered sea turtle’s life. Fertilize sparingly, and plant native plants, which require less care. Fertilizers wash into our waterways, causing algal blooms that damage critical aquatic habitats. Travel sustainably. For your next vacation, consider visiting a natural area that promotes conservation, has a low visitor impact and provides socio-economic benefits for locals. Make informed purchases while traveling, and avoid buying products like tortoiseshell souvenirs and coral jewelry.

For more ways to help protect marine animals, visit protect. To learn more about the National Aquarium’s conservation events and volunteer for a cleanup, visit

Travel to the wildest, deepest, coldest corners of the ocean.

Please visit to learn more and reserve your ticket today.

PREPARE TO GET YOUR HANDS WET THIS SPRING We’re taking you to the beach with an exclusive opportunity to explore our new exhibit! Join us for a Member-Only Evening on May 14, May 18 and May 21 from 6:30 pm to 9 pm to tour Living Seashore and get hands-on with horseshoe crabs, skates, stingrays and more.

Please RSVP by visiting or by giving us a call at 410-659-4230.


MASTERS OF DISGUISE Under the water, things aren’t always as they seem.


The pygmy seahorse’s knobby bumps allow it to seamlessly blend in with its coral habitat.


The blue-ringed octopus


uses chromatophores to change the color

Not much. The orca is a muscular marine mammal, a social apex

of its skin.

predator; the cuttlefish is a territorial shy spineless cephalopod. But what they have in common is the use of camouflage. The scientific definition of camouflage is “the use of any combination of materials, coloration or illumination for concealment, either by making animals hard to see or by disguising them as something else.” The colors, shapes and patterns of camouflage can be gorgeous wild beauty, but camouflage is an evolutionary tool, an


edge up in the game of survival. Prey animals need to conceal themselves and avoid being eaten, and predators need to hide

Dapples. Speckles. Patchy spots and lines. The orca’s distinguishing

their true intentions.

black and white coloration can obscure its exact size and is visually

The decorator crab, for example, does its best to resemble a rock. It chooses bits of seaweed and other adornments—even

confusing to seals, its preferred prey. Disruptive coloration is a type of camouflage designed to con-

small sponges and anemones—and attaches them to the Velcro-

fuse the eye and muddle the outline of an animal’s body. Human

like surface of its back to become a living landscape, to fool its

hunters use it, too—in the patchy lights and darks of the patterned

predators into believing there’s “nothing to see here” but another

fabric called camo. Without it, we would stick out in the woods.

rock among rocks. In the predator-prey relationship, animals try to outwit each


other by being stealthier, more covert and by looking more and more like things they are not. Many types of camouflage have

Possibly the most extreme example of camouflage is mimicry,

evolved, including color change, disruptive coloration, mimicry

whereby an animal resembles another creature. Incredible mimicry

and countershading.

is exhibited by the inch-long brightly colored pygmy seahorse, which lives its entire adult life attached to a tropical coral called a


Gorgonian sea fan.

Some species possess the unique ability to change color, bright-

coral’s polyps. Who can say where coral ends and inch-long fish

ness, hue and even the texture of their skin. They can match

begins? It blends into its home so well, it’s almost invisible.

The knobby bumps on the seahorse’s body look exactly like the

any background instantly and exactly, from bumpy red coral to the wavy pattern of sun on sand. Certain cephalopods—squids,


octopuses and cuttlefish, for example—exhibit some of the most flamboyant visual camouflage in the animal kingdom. These color-change magicians have thousands of specialized

Countershading is common among animals that live in the sea. It is a useful type of camouflage because it mimics the effects of sun-

cells in their skin called chromatophores that engineers and

light in seawater. Even the mighty great white shark uses camo. In

materials scientists are studying for human use in buildings and

counter-shaded animals like the great white, the dorsal side of the

even clothes as cloaking devices.

body is dark and the ventral, or belly, side is light.

Flounder also have chromatophores. But unlike the cephalo-

When seen from above, the shark appears murky and blends

pods, most flounder have only the brown pigment melanin, which

in with the deep shade of the water. When seen from below, the

we also have in our skin. All we can do with it is tan; a flounder

lighter-shaded belly of the shark dangerously slides into the brighter,

can match a checkerboard.

sunny surface water. A prey fish might look up—or down—and not register “shark.” How wrong it would be! In the race to become ever more finely adapted to their environments, to lurk unseen and to hide, predator and prey animals continue the evolution of camouflage in beautiful patterns, stripes, dots and stunning skin morphs.



but it can be tough to commit to big changes. Doing good for the environment doesn’t have to be daunting. IT’S OK TO START SMALL. Here are a few simple ways you can do your part. Pick one or two, or tackle the whole list.

It’s completely up to you! BY ASHLEY GOETZ


SKIP THE SINGLE-USE PLASTICS Whether it’s ditching the straw in your soda at lunch or designating a reusable cup for the office, ridding your routine of single-use plastics can have a profound impact on the health of the ocean and its inhabitants.

DECLUTTER YOUR LIFE Tired of junk mail? Free up some space in your mailbox. Removing yourself from junk-mail lists and opting for electronic bills are two great ways to save paper and energy.

EAT LOCAL Find your closest community garden, or skip the grocery store altogether and head to the nearest farmers market instead. Not only does it tend to be cheaper, but eating local also limits the distance food travels to your plate, reducing carbon emissions.

KNOW WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM Our ocean is being dangerously overfished, and only 2 percent of the seafood imported to the U.S. is inspected. With Seafood Watch, getting to know your sustainable seafood options is easy. Visit to download the app.

BRING YOUR REUSABLE BAGS CUT YOUR SHOWER SHORT Cutting just two minutes from your shower (and skipping baths) will help curb the amount of water your household uses each day. The daily average for an American household of four is a whopping 400 gallons!

BEWARE OF PHANTOM ELECTRICITY LOSS Even if your cable box and power strips are turned off, keeping them plugged in still uses energy. In fact, unplugging can reduce your monthly electricity use by about 10 percent.

MAKE SURE YOUR HOME IS IN TIP-TOP SHAPE Set aside a weekend for a home energy audit to identify where you could be saving energy. The average home has the equivalent air leakage of leaving a medium-sized window open for 24 hours a day.

We’ve all heard this one, but reusable bags don’t have to be exclusive to the grocery store. Keep a bag in your purse, backpack or car, so you’ll always have one on hand for impromptu shopping trips.

UNPLUG FOR 20 MINUTES In any given day, we spend most of our time connected— watching TV, texting, scouring the Internet. It’s easy to get distracted by all that noise. Take a 20-minute break to go radio silent and turn off electronics. Take a walk, read your favorite book or just take some time to reflect. It’s good for the mind and even better for the environment.


JOIN THE MOVEMENT The ocean is our life-support system, supplying more than half the oxygen we need to survive, moderating our climate and feeding more than 1 billion people each year. And our connection with water reaches far beyond necessity. Its sounds soothe, its stories astound and, for many, it holds countless treasured memories. Embark with us on a journey to give back to our remarkable, life-sustaining ocean with 48 Days of Blue.



For the 48 days between Earth Day (April 22) and World Oceans Day (June 8), we’ll send you daily challenges like the ones on this list so you can learn simple strategies that will yield powerful results. Join us in adopting better habits for a blue planet.




Mertens’ water monitor Varanus mertensi The Mertens’ water monitor moves slowly, swaying its head and flicking its forked tongue. These lizards spend their days basking on rocks and overhanging branches or among aquatic plants. At night, they shelter in burrows at the water’s edge. Omnivores, they feed on fish, frogs, crabs and insects. A superb sense of smell helps them track down and eat the buried eggs of freshwater turtles and crocodiles. Their nostrils are conveniently located on the top of their heads, allowing them to remain partially submerged while hunting for prey. The Mertens’ water monitor is found in the coastal and inland waters of northern Australia and can grow upward of 3 feet. These reptiles are excellent swimmers and can retreat underwater remaining there for minutes at a time. It takes nine to 10 months for a water monitor’s eggs to incubate, but once hatched, the lizards instinctively know to head straight for the shallows. Last year, the Aquarium welcomed a few baby Mertens’ water monitors into its family.


Non-profit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Baltimore, MD Permit No. 7625

501 East Pratt Street | Baltimore, Maryland 21202


Adopting an animal is a great way to show you care, and it helps to ensure we can continue to educate our visitors about the world’s aquatic treasures. Adopt in honor of a friend or loved one and we’ll send them a card celebrating your contribution. ››  Personalized Aquadopt certificate ››  Glossy photo of your adopted animal ››  Cuddly plush version of your animal ››  Fascinating fun facts Visit

ADOPT A FEATHERED FRIEND THIS SPRING! For a limited time, you can adopt an animal at the National Aquarium for as low as $40! Adopt a puffin, shark, turtle, frog or dolphin by visiting or calling 410-576-8840.

Watermarks spring2015 web  
Watermarks spring2015 web