Let’s have some science-related fun while we’re social distancing!
Tune in every day to the Aquarium’s facebook page to step behind-the-scenes and see how we take care of the animals at the Aquarium!
Each day will be accompanied by an activity you can do from home.
Tuesday, March 17: Keeping Clean in the Commissary
When our zoological staff prepare the food for the animals living at the aquarium, they use a room like your kitchen, called a commissary. This room is set aside just for food preparation and our staff work hard to ensure the cleanliness of this space, cleaning it multiple times each day. Because harmful microbes can make animals sick, just like in humans, it is important that all surfaces be scrubbed and sanitized regularly.
Do your chores ever include cleaning your kitchen at home? It may not be fish scales that make a mess at your house, but plenty of food can carry or encourage the growth of bacteria or viruses. By not only wiping down surfaces, but also removing particles of food from your counters and sinks, you are cutting down on the chance for these microbes to grow.
You can make a homemade surface cleaner with this easy recipe that will help to clean and maintain a sanitary cooking space.
- Mix equal parts water, vinegar, and alcohol in a fine-mist spray bottle.
- Add 2 to 3 drops of dish soap. Shake, spray on surface, and wipe off.
- To increase disinfecting ability, spray surface heavily with the solution and allow to sit for at least 30 seconds.
- Optional: add 10 to 15 drops of your favorite essential oils to cover up the vinegar scent.
Wednesday, March 18: The World of Water Testing
As part of the standard care of our animals, Aquarium staff test the water our animals live in. These tests help us to ensure that the exhibit conditions are optimum for the animals to live and thrive.
Depending on the exhibit and animals present, we may test the water every few days, every day, or several times per day. Some of the most important tests we run are for temperature, salinity, and pH.
Because we are a science-focused facility, we use the metric scale for measuring water temperature, known as Celsius. In the conversion chart, you will see some of the notable points such as the melting and boiling points of water.
(Click on the table to enlarge it)
- Which Fahrenheit temperature is it equal to 10° Celsius?
- At what temperature are the measurements for Fahrenheit and Celsius the same number?
- What is the coldest temperature measured on Earth in Fahrenheit?
- What is the boiling point of water in Celsius?
Many of our marine animals rely on saltwater in their environment and exhibit. To ensure the concentration of salt in the water is just right for them, we measure the salinity of the water. Some animals need water as salty as the ocean, while others may not be able to tolerate as salty of an environment and live in brackish or freshwater. Brackish water is a mix of salt and fresh water.
The salinity of the water can affect animals by changing how they regulate water within their bodies. It can also change how they may be able to move in the water. To see this effect, try this at-home experiment using various concentrations of saltwater and an egg.
If you have ever heard of acids or bases, then you have some idea of what pH is. Technically, pH is a measure of the amount of hydrogen (H+) and hydroxyl (OH-) ions available in water. If a substance has more hydrogen ions than hydroxyl ions it is considered acidic, and if it has more hydroxyl ions than hydrogen ions it is considered basic. If there is an equal amount of each of these ions, the substance is considered neutral. Pure water is neutral, freshwater ranges from slightly acidic to slightly basic, and seawater is slightly basic.
Changes in pH can greatly impact aquatic animals, causing problems with their physical development and maintenance, regulating waste, and egg production. In recent decades, some freshwater ecosystems have been affected by acid rain changing the pH of the watersheds.
To better understand what substances are acids and bases, follow the directions in this experiment to make your own testing solution at home and use it to test liquids you have around the house.
Thursday, March 19: Jellies, Jellies, and more Jellies
After seeing how we breed jellies, you may be a little confused about how the jelly life cycle works. It is more complex than most animals, which can be surprising considering jellies have rather simple bodies.
Jelly reproduction involves several different stages. In the medusa, or adult, stage, they can reproduce sexually by releasing sperm and eggs into the water, where the newly formed eggs will develop into a planula. The planula will settle and attach onto the bottom of a smooth rock or other structure and grow into another stage called the polyp, which resembles a miniature sea anemone. This stage can last for several months or even years, where the polyps eat, grow, and prepare for the next stage that involves asexual reproduction. The budding polyps clone themselves and strobilate, or separate, into another free-swimming stage called ephyra. This is the form that grows into the adult jelly. Medusa can survive between a few months up to a year.
Using this activity sheet, color the different stages of the jelly’s life cycle. You will then label each stage and add arrows in the direction that the life cycle moves. Can you think of any other animals that may have a similar life cycle?
Friday, March 20: Making Our Exhibits Sparkle
When creating an exhibit at the Aquarium of Niagara, there are many things to consider before the animals go on display. The first step is to come up with a theme, and think about what we want our guests to learn from seeing our exhibit. Do we want to connect them to places far away or show them the ecosystems in their own backyard? Do we want them to learn about endangered species? Or how we impact our aquatic ecosystems? Once we figure out what we want our exhibit to say, we can then plan on what it is going to look like and what animals will be included.
Find an empty box to use as your tank, then decide what you would like other people to learn from your aquarium.
Determine what kind of habitat you would like to replicate—a tidal pool, a pond, a mangrove, a coral reef, etc.- and figure out the following:
- will it need fresh water or salt water?
- what will the temperature of the water be?
- what kind of plants are found there?
- how many different animal species will live there?
Using items from around your home, create the plants and animals to add to your “aquarium.” Here are some ideas for materials to use:
- Modeling clay to make animal shapes
- Pipe cleaners to make corals or plants
- Gather natural materials from outside
Once you have created your exhibit, you can continue the fun by:
- making signs to place around it to explain the plants, animals, and what you want people to learn from the exhibit
- presenting in front of the exhibit like our aquarium educators
- figuring out how to clean the exhibit after the animals have lived there a while
- deciding what kind of food the animals would eat
- determining what you will do if the animals do not get along with each other?
- determining what you will do if an animal gets sick or injured?
Enjoy creating and caring for your “aquarium”!
Sunday, March 22: Enrichment — More Than Entertainment
Enrichment is an essential part of life for animals and people!
Our zoological staff work very hard to ensure all our animals at the aquarium are stimulated throughout the day. For this, our staff adds enrichment to their exhibit as part of their routine care. Depending on the animal, this can range from a couple times per week to multiple times each day. Enrichment helps to satisfy both the physical and psychological needs of an animal and allows them to make choices. It also brings out an animal’s natural behaviors and allows them to be more active and increase the animal’s control over their environment!
Do you think we use enrichment in our own daily lives? The answer is YES! You probably don’t play with car wash strips or fishy ice blocks, but there are many other things we considered as enrichment. Some of those include trips to the park, visiting your local library, playing in the pool, baking cookies, reading a story, playing basketball, or even watching a little TV!
You can make your own enrichment schedule just like our zoological staff at the aquarium! Use this schedule to plan out your own enrichment for the day. Try to come up with 6 different enrichment activities and write them in the spaces provided. Take some pictures of your favorite enrichment and tag us on Facebook at Aquarium of Niagara! Happy Enriching!!
Monday, March 23: Penguins Can Paint!
Painting is colorful and safe fun for our penguin colony!
Our penguin colony is filled with artists, as each of our birds has participated in the enriching activity of painting. This chance to dip their feet in paint and step out their own design across the canvases allows each of them the opportunity to make their mark and change up their daily routine. Not only do they experience something out of the norm, the paintings make unique artwork we can share with our guests.
Our staff has taken care to ensure the paint we use is water-based and easily removed from the penguins after the artwork is made. Some human artists prefer to use oil-based paints, but if we used those with our penguins, it could be problematic for the birds. While the birds produce their own natural oils to condition their feathers, the oils from paint could damage their feathers or irritate their skin, similar to how oil spills in their natural environment endanger penguin colonies around the world. Soaps and cleansers can be used to clean these oils, however they each have differing properties and do not work the same in all situations.
Oil spills can be devastating for marine animals. Penguins and other marine birds rely on clean feathers for waterproofing and insulation. When fouled with oil, the birds try to clean their feathers. Sadly, the birds often die of starvation, of hypothermia, or from ingesting the toxic oil. In June 2000 an iron ore carrier sank off the coast of South Africa, leaking tons of oil into the sea. The oil spill threatened the African penguins inhabiting Dassen and Robben Islands, which comprise about 40% of the total African penguin population. The Southern African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) relocated 19,000 un-oiled penguins and coordinated rehabilitation efforts for nearly 19,000 oiled penguins. SeaWorld penguin experts flew to Cape Town, South Africa to assist with the cleaning and care of the oiled penguins. They washed the penguins with a grease-cutting dishwashing detergent and rinsed them with fresh water, repeating the process until the penguins were oil-free. Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute scientists have studied ways to clean oil from marine animals. In this activity, your students perform a similar study.
· three large clean feathers (Examples: ducks, parrots, turkeys—from the beach, ponds, pet stores, local zoos, or craft stores)
· vegetable oil
· five large bowls
· 1 Tablespoon mild hand soap
· 1 Tablespoon powdered laundry detergent
· 1 Tablespoon dishwashing liquid
1. Fill all five bowls with water. Label three bowls: #1, #2, and #3.
2. Dissolve a tablespoon of mild hand soap in bowl #1, a tablespoon of powdered laundry detergent in bowl #2, and a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid in bowl #3.
3. Pour a slick of vegetable oil on top of the water in bowl #4.
4. Take the three feathers and have participants examine each feather’s texture and weight. Have them dip feathers in the oil and then examine them. Discuss how oil changed the feathers and the effects that oil might have on a bird.
5. Ask participants to hypothesize about ways to remove the oil.
6. Have the participants try to wash off the feathers in plain water (bowl #5). Ask them to describe what happens to the feathers.
7. Next, participants try to wash the feathers in each of the detergent solutions. (Use one feather per bowl.) Ask the participants to write down which (solution #1, #2, or #3) worked the best. Let the participants compare their results and record them.
8. Reveal the names of the detergents and show the containers they were in. Which of the three worked best? Which was the worst at cleaning the feather?
9. Discuss what would happen to a bird in an oil spill. Why are feathers important to birds? How do birds clean their feathers? What might happen if a bird ingests the oil?
Test other hypotheses that students suggest to remove the oil. Try other types of oils and detergents. Investigate why and where oil spills occur. What kinds of animals are found in these places?
You can join the penguins in creating art with this fun craft. Plus, you may have some extra toilet paper rolls around the house right now!
Tuesday, March 24: Animals, Quarantine, and You
When a new animal comes to the Aquarium of Niagara or if an animal gets sick, they must go into quarantine. This is probably familiar as we are all experiencing quarantine in different ways right now.
At the aquarium our animals must be in quarantine for 30 days, unless we are otherwise directed by a veterinarian. Sometimes the new or sick animal is alone, sometimes they are with other animals they already live with.
When our animal care staff work with animals in quarantine, they often must use personal protective equipment (PPE.) Some examples of PPE are gloves, face masks, safety glasses and special clothing. All this equipment helps our animal care team protect themselves from getting sick, as well as protect our other animals. In most situations the chance of spreading illness is low, but these measures are taken just to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy.
Our staff must also follow specific cleaning protocols:
· food for quarantined animals is prepared separately from the food for the other animals
· a separate set of cleaning supplies is used for quarantined animals
· our staff change their clothing between working with quarantined animals and other animals
· staff must wash their hands between working with each animal or group of animals
Another part of having animals in quarantine, is keeping them entertained, and our quarantined animals are no exception. We find ways to change up their day through training, play, novel sounds, smells, sights or tastes depending on the animal.
All these procedures are normal for our staff and usually normal for our animals too.
Considering our animal quarantine procedures, think about similar steps you or your family may be taking right now to stay healthy:
· What’s changed since social distancing and quarantine have become important?
· Have you or your parent/guardian’s cleaning routine changed?
· Do you wear PPE at home or when you leave the house?
· How are you staying enriched, and adding change to your day?
· What activities are you doing now that you are home to help keep the days from all feeling the same?
We asked some of the aquarium staff what they would like to do if they had to fill their time during quarantine and came up with a bucket list for that time.
Aquarium Staff Quarantine Bucket List
· Themed Movie Marathon, i.e. favorite actor, animal, fantasy, 80’s etc
· Eat dessert for a main meal, i.e. breakfast
· Build a fort
· Turn the house into a safari/zoo
· Create your own menu using your favorite food
· Bake cookies
· Do a scavenger hunt in/outside or play I spy
· Learn a new skill – painting, knitting, gardening, birdwatching, etc.
What would you put on your bucket list to do while you are quarantined?
Wednesday, March 25: Sea Lions Show Off Their Skills
Sea lions have some brilliant behaviors!
Wow! Aren’t our sea lions amazing!? During that show they showed off their intelligence, athleticism and trust in their trainers.
It is easy to describe what our sea lions do as tricks, but that just isn’t the case. All the behaviors our sea lions perform during shows are completely natural and have been observed in sea lions out in their natural habitat in California and the Pacific Ocean.
For Example, balancing a ball on their nose is reflective of sea lions in their natural habitat balancing items on their noses as a part of play and investigative behavior. What we do at the Aquarium of Niagara is put our animal’s completely natural behavior on a cue, that way we can ask for those behaviors to showcase for guests. This keeps our sea lions physically and mentally fit and reinforces their strong relationship with our trainers. And, hopefully inspires you to do what you can to protect our oceans and all the animals that live there.
How do our sea lions balance a ball on their nose? Are they balancing it on their nose at all? Try this activity to learn the secret to the sea lion’s balancing ability.
1. Try balancing a ball on your nose at home. It’s difficult, right? Our sea lions actually balance the ball on their whiskers or vibrissae. These vibrissae have muscles that allow the sea lions to control the rigidity and direction of their whiskers and balance the ball. Since we do not have whiskers, what could we use to help keep the ball on our nose?
2. Try placing your hands next to your nose like whiskers. Now try balancing the ball like a sea lion. Is it easier? Those vibrissae are also very sensitive much like your fingertips.
3. Can you walk in a straight line balancing a ball on your fingers like our sea lions with their vibrissae?
4. What else can you balance on your nose besides the ball? Sea lions do not usually find a ball in the ocean, but have been observed in their natural environment balancing sea stars and shells on their noses.
5. Now challenge your family- can they balance the ball? What other items can your parent, guardian or older sibling balance as compared to yourself?
Thursday, March 26: SCUBA, Swim Bladders & Buoyancy
Buoyancy is important for fish and scuba divers.
At the Aquarium of Niagara, our zoological staff are certified scuba divers and dive in several of our larger exhibits to clean them. Scuba diving allows a person to stay underwater for extended periods of time, because air is carried with them to keep them breathing. Divers carry a lot of gear with them to help in the process. You probably saw much of the gear listed in the diagram on our staff diving in Penguin Coast.
One of the most important pieces of equipment is the BCD, or buoyancy control device. This vest-like device has an air bladder in it and the diver controls whether it is inflated or deflated. By filling it or deflating it, the diver can change where they stay in the water, also known as their buoyancy.
Fish have an internal organ, called a swim bladder, that works in a similar way.
To better understand how a swim bladder or BCD works, try this experiment. (Note that if you do not have plastic tubing available, a flexible straw can be used instead.) Afterwards, think about how fish and divers would move through the water if they did not have a way to control their buoyancy. Would they sink to the bottom or float up to the surface?
Friday, March 27: Creating A Home For Sharks & Rays
When it’s finished, M&T Bank Shark & Ray Bay will resemble a coastal mangrove. That’s a wetland found in tropical and subtropical regions like the Southern tip of Florida and the Gulf Coast of Texas. The habitat is named for mangrove trees like the one that will soon be at the center of our exhibit! Mangroves are flourishing ecosystems full of crustaceans and fish that provide a bountiful food source for sharks like the white spotted bamboo sharks that will be in M&T Bank Shark & Ray Bay.
Designing an aquarium exhibit for a species is not as easy as picking what you like. Each and every animal has requirements for their habitat and space that must be met in order to create a healthy environment for them. In this activity, you will become the exhibit designer, picking a shark species and setting up the space to meet their needs.
Click here to read about five different species of sharks who all prefer different environments and try designing your own exhibit.
- Construction paper
- Transparent tape
- Crayons, markers, paint, etc. for decoration
1. Cut long strips of construction paper, making sure they are at least 1.5 inches wide. These will form the band around the head and the support for the fin.
2. Take 1-2 strips and wrap around child’s head to find the right fit. Staple the ends together, cutting off excess. You should have one band that fits like a crown.
3. Staple a third strip of paper at the front of the band, 90° to the rest of the band so it would stick straight up.
4. With the child wearing the band, wrap the third strip of paper down across the top of the head until it reaches the back of the band. Mark the spot and staple down to the back, cutting off excess.
5. On a larger sheet of construction paper, draw a fin shape. Make sure it is no wider than the length of the top band of the hat.
6. Cut out the fin.
7. Along the bottom of the fin, find the midpoint and make a ½ inch cut straight up into the fin.
8. Fold the flap on the left up toward the top of the fin, creating a small tab. Turn the fin over and fold that left flap up toward the top of the fin. Each folded tab should go in opposite directions.
9. Using the transparent tape, tape your fin to the top band of the hat, with one folded tab on each side.
10. Decorate the hat any way you want!
Saturday, March 28: Animals Need Vitamins Too!
Balanced diets and vitamin supplements ensure our animals are healthy.
Our animal care team oversees making sure all our animals at the Aquarium of Niagara stay healthy. Along with checking water quality and cleaning the spaces they live in, feeding them proper nutrition is one of the most important duties we have.
For our larger animals such as the seals, sea lions, and penguins, that means feeding them a variety of fish which comprise a balanced diet. Seals, sea lions, and penguins are all carnivores, and as such their diet is limited to meat or fish, but each fish provides something different to their diet. Herring provides healthy fats and protein, capelin provides plenty of vitamins, and smelt provides fresh water.
However, just like humans, sometimes the food in our diet doesn’t provide all the vitamins and minerals we need.
Through the process of thawing frozen fish, some vitamins and minerals can be lost, just like in frozen food at home. To counter this, our animals also receive vitamin supplements cleverly hidden in their fish. Just like you or someone you know may take a vitamin supplement to make sure we stay healthy, our animals get the same.
Since our animals have humans keeping track of their nutrition, they don’t have to worry about the amounts of nutrients they receive. However, as humans we often need to take a more active role in making sure we eat a balanced diet. A way we can do that is by “eating a rainbow.”
By varying the colors of the food we eat, we can ensure we are getting a variety of healthy vitamins and minerals in our diet.
See what foods make up every color of the rainbow with this fun art activity.
Another way we can take an active role in our nutrition is by reading food labels. They tell us the amounts of different vitamins and minerals we receive in that food. By following current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, we can all be sure we get all the nutrition we need from our food and from vitamin supplements, just like the animals at the Aquarium of Niagara.
Click here for a nutrition label scavenger hunt you can do in your kitchen!
Sunday, March 29: So Think You’d Like To Be An Animal Trainer?
Working with animals sounds like a lot of fun, but it takes a lot of dedication and training!
Being an animal trainer requires quite a bit of experience working with animals and understanding animal behavior. Besides earning a college degree and working at internships, trainers can also increase their knowledge by working with other trainers to share techniques, skills, and ideas. Whether it is at their own facility or other facilities, collaborating with other trainers helps everyone improve their knowledge and care of the animals they work with.
Two professional organizations that encourage and facilitate collaboration among trainers are the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA).
Download this worksheet to learn about two organizations that set the standards for animal care both in the United States and beyond.
After your research it’s time to have a little fun!
See if you can find some common animal-training related words in this word search game.
Monday, March 30: Mia Walks About the Aquarium
California sea lions like Mia have special adaptations that allow them to move, or “walk” on land.
Seals and sea lions are often confused, but a key difference can be found in the way they move!
Use this exercise to see how seals and sea lions are different… and then compare a sea lion’s skeleton to yours!
Tuesday, March 31: Lake Sturgeon — Saving a Species
The Aquarium of Niagara teams up with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to rear fingerling lake sturgeon before releasing them, with thousands of others, into the Genesee River every year.
The fingerling lake sturgeon housed at the Aquarium of Niagara are part of a wildlife management program run by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, but why does this species need help? Despite being a native fish that has lived in the Great Lakes for millennia, their numbers dropped dramatically in the last 200 years. They are so low in population size that they are currently listed as threatened by 19 of the 20 states they are found in and being considered for the federal Endangered Species List.
Download this activity sheet to learn what it means for a species to be threatened and endangered, and see what caused the decline of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes.
Wednesday, April 1: Meet Our Electric Eel & Other Species From The Amazon
The Amazon is home to some fascinating wildlife, including colorful fish, poison dart frogs, and the electric eel!
Electric eels are well-known by many, but do you really know the facts about them? Answer these questions to better understand this unusual fish.
- Do electric eels live in saltwater or freshwater?
- Where on Earth are electric eels found in their natural habitat?
- Do they only use electricity for stunning their prey?
- Is producing electricity their only adaptation?
Electric eels are found in the freshwater river systems of the Amazon. These waters can be very murky, thus eyesight is not the most useful sense to have. The eels have very poor eyesight, but their ability to create electricity gives them several advantages to counter this.
- Communication – Individual eels send out weak pulses to identify other eels and even determine whether they are male and female. This is helpful during the breeding season, as they can even find out if the other eel is ready to breed or not.
- Hunting – Producing electricity has the obvious benefit of shocking prey into easy submission so it can be swallowed safely, but it also helps the eel to identify the prey first. Weak pulses are sent out that cause muscle contractions in the prey, alerting the eel to its presence. Once identified, stronger pulses incapacitate the prey and the eel quickly swallows the animal whole.
- Defense – There are not many predators of electric eels, mostly large terrestrial mammals that may hunt eels during the dry season when there is less water for the eels to escape. To avoid these attacks, the electricity can be useful to shock the predator enough to change their mind.
- Navigation – By producing electricity, the eels create magnetic fields around themselves. These fields can act similarly to echolocation in bats and dolphins, where objects near them will distort the magnetic field and eels can sense this. They then use the information to identify the location, size, and shape of the objects and animals around them.
We cannot produce electricity ourselves, but we can sense it. The following activity can help us to understand how electric eels may use this ability to navigate their environment.
- Inflated balloon
- Bare arms of two or more people
- Have everyone pull up their sleeves to expose their forearms. Pick someone to hold the balloon and test everyone.
- The person holding the balloon rubs it on the carpet or some fabric to build up static electricity.
- Everyone else closes their eyes and holds out their bare arms.
- The person with the balloon hovers it over one person’s arm and has the them guess which arm it is. The balloon should not touch their arm, but the static electricity from the balloon should raise the hairs on their arms to help them determine where the balloon is.
Generating electricity may be the most notable adaptation electric eels have, but others include their coloration to help camouflage in muddy waters and their parental care of eggs with nests made by the males out of their own saliva.
Another important one is their one large anal fin that runs almost the entire length of the body. This fin undulates in a wave-like action to move the fish forward and backward without having to turn their body. Scientists and engineers have studied this swimming action and are even using it to assist robots with moving in water and on land!
Thursday, April 2: Sea Lions Can Paint, Too!
Our marine mammal trainers work with our sea lions to put natural behaviors to cues. Training is enriching for the animals and allows them to participate in their own care, show off their personalities, and stay mentally stimulated.
Mia paints by holding the brush in her mouth! Take a shot at painting this way. Are you able to create a design? What are some challenges you encountered while painting this way?
Paint with salt and glue: Salt can be a fun addition to painting. Try adding some texture to your designs with this technique:
Bubble Painting: Bubbles are fun to make and pop, but they can also make some fun designs. Click here for instructions on how to bubble paint at home.
Friday, April 3: Hungry Humboldt Penguins
Humboldt penguins typically eat 10-14% of their body weight in fish each day! At the Aquarium, penguins eat four different types of fish, and our keepers work hard to make sure every penguin gets the perfect combination based on their individual weights and needs.
Download Hungry Humboldt Penguins to learn how to create an ideal penguin diet, then create one of your own!
Saturday, April 4: Shark Feeding
At the Aquarium we feed our sharks three times a week, using a technique called “target feeding.” Our White Spotted Bamboo Sharks are trained to associate a target at the end of a long pole with food! When they respond to the target, our aquarist uses a whistle to reward the behavior. Our Black Tipped Reef Sharks are trained to take food directly from a pole.
In their natural environment, sharks depend on their teeth to capture and eat their prey. In fact, their teeth are one of the most defining features between different species of sharks.
Click here to learn about the characteristics of different types of sharks, and see if you can use the listed traits to identify the shark.
Sunday, April 5: Animal Husbandry Training
Do you remember the first time your teeth were brushed? The first time you visited the doctor or dentist? The first time your mouth, ears, and eyes were checked? The first time you had blood taken? You may or may not, but there is a good chance that first time was a little uncomfortable, strange, and maybe scary for you.
Just like how you go to the doctor or dentist regularly, the aquarium animals have frequent visits from our veterinarians and daily checks from our zoological care staff, but there was a first time for them, too. If you can remember how strange or scary the first time visiting the doctor may have been for you, imagine being an animal that does not understand our language and not knowing what is going on.
To help keep the animals calm during these check-ups, the animal care staff start working with the animals on husbandry behaviors well before they are medically needed. Husbandry behaviors are those that help our staff check the wellness of the animals – opening the mouth, holding still, and laying out flat are all examples of these. Once the animals are comfortable with these behaviors, the staff will introduce the tools or actions that maintain health – toothbrush, eye drops, or ultrasound device. After much practice, the animals will be able to stay calm during these check-ups and the staff better able to keep them healthy.
One of the most practiced behaviors for our seals and sea lions is opening the mouth to brush their teeth. Since the animals cannot do it themselves, our staff do the brushing for them.
You can probably brush your own teeth, but can you brush someone else’s? It’s not as easy as it sounds and requires practice. Try doing this with a sibling or parent. How did it go? Did you make a mess?
Now, attempt to brush the other person’s teeth, but the person should behave as if they have never brushed teeth before. How can you help them to understand what is happening? Did you practice each step before moving on to the next? Did you or them get frustrated? All of this is part of training an animal and even teaching children!
Monday, April 6: Meet Our Bonnetheads!
Bonnethead sharks are one species in a group of sharks easily identified by their unique head shapes – hammerhead sharks, also known as sphyrnid sharks. There are 8 species of sphyrnid sharks found around the world, each one with slight variations.
From a wider angle of viewing to more ventral surface area to detect prey, these unusual head shapes bring some interesting benefits that help the sharks survive.
Download this packet to learn how an oddly-shaped head strengthens the shark’s sense of sight and smell.
Can you help?
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the Aquarium of Niagara relies on ticket sales, programs, events and donations to operate. Even though we are closed, we are still committed to providing the exemplary standard of animal care that earned us accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. But as you can imagine, this closure will have a significant impact on our overall operating budget. Please consider a donation to assist us in the care of our animals and team members. Your support is more critical now than it has been in our nearly 55 years operating as an Aquarium.