Sea Cucumbers: East Meets West

Our new Olympic Coast exhibit features marine animals native to the rugged coastline of Washington State in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. From giant Pacific octopuses to rockfish to swaying anemones, the exhibit dazzles with bright colors and movement. It's fascinating to compare these residents with their East Coast counterparts just steps away in the Gulf of Maine exhibits! Both live in colder water, but many are wildly different.

Olympic Coast exhibit, can you spot any cucumbers?

Let's take a pair of similar — and, perhaps, under-appreciated — residents from both exhibits and compare. Meet, the sea cucumbers! There are hundreds of species of sea cucumber, and the ones you find in our local waters have significant differences from ones you'll find along the Olympic Coast.

First up, the West Coast variety: the California sea cucumber (Parastichopus californicus

In this image you're looking at its undersides, which is a jumble of tube feet. These tube feet help this animal cling to surfaces and (slowly) navigate coastal habitats from Baja, Mexico, to mid-Alaska. Sea stars and urchins also have tube feet. The shock of pink at one end is its mouth surrounded modified tentacles that sift through sediment as it creeps along the seafloor — or along the crystalline glass of the new exhibit.

West Coast: Bristling tube feet
The back of the California cucumbers are leathery brownish, orange color studded with soft spikes. These invertebrates can grow to an impressive length of 40 cm (1 ft 4 in).

West Coast: The soft spines on the back of the California sea cucumber
Now to East Coast to meet the orange-footed sea cucumber (Cucumaria frondosa).

The East Coast sea cucumbers that you might find in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary feature five orderly rows of tube feet around their entire cylindrical body. They serve the same purpose: to get around and cling to surfaces. The feathery appendages are those modified tentacles on the mouth-end of the animal. Unlike their West Coast cousins that have downward-facing tentacles that graze along the seafloor, the tentacles of the orange-footed cucumbers are flayed out in the currents to ensnare passing plankton.

East Coast: Lines of tube feet on the undersides
of these orange footed sea cucumbers
This species maxes out at 20 cm (8 in) and found in the North Atlantic Ocean all the way up to the Barents Sea (near Norway and northeastern Russia).

East Coast: Orange footed cucumbers also have lines of tube feet on their back.
This helps grab on to any surface, above or below. Also note the fringe of feeding tentacles. 
Sea cucumbers are not the only animals you'll encounter in our Northern Waters gallery. Hardly! Come visit and meet the giant Pacific octopus that inhabit the new Olympic Coast exhibit near the California sea cucumbers. Then saunter down to take a look at the goosefish and lobsters in the boulder reef of the Gulf of Maine exhibits. The Aquarium is a great place to explore our blue planet — from East Coast to West!

Aquarist Bill Murphy cradles California sea cucumbers as he transports them
from their transport container to the new Olympic Coast exhibit.  


Egg Veil 2016: She's done it again!

Our beloved goosefish has done it again. She's spun a gossamer shroud of eggs that is currently billowing through her exhibit. A million eggs woven together in a single sheet 60 feet long and only a single egg thick. A natural masterpiece!

Goosefish eggs in a veil
Bill Murphy, the aquarist in charge of the cold water exhibits, had been expecting the eggs as the fish usually swells up before the veil arrives. The egg veil arrived Tuesday afternoon in the blink of an eye. (In fact, our aquarists missed her actually laying the eggs! If anyone snapped a pic or video please share on social — FacebookTwitterInstagram, whatever! We'd love to see them.)

The aquarists can always tell when the goosefish is about to lay another egg veil. Look how fat she was!
She looked much more comfortable after the eggs arrived, sitting flat on the bottom as she usually does.
Without a male in the exhibit, the eggs aren't fertilized, so no baby goosefish. But the veil will remain in the exhibit with her for a couple days. After that it starts to fall apart and the aquarists remove it from the exhibit. Plan a visit soon because this beautiful event (usually) happens only once a year and it's exquisite.

Bill expects Collette (yup, the goosefish has a name) to be pretty hungry over the next couple days after all that work of producing the eggs. Besides admiring the egg veil, don't forget to take a close look at this pretty lady! She has an enormous mouth, a fishing "lure," and intricate skin fringing her body.

Pretty lady
We never tire of the goosefish and her natural masterpiece. In fact, previous egg veils have also been well documented. Take a look back at some of her previous works of art.


Flamboyant Cuttlefish All Grown Up

Cast your mind back to last fall, when we were touting the happy arrival of a clutch of flamboyant cuttlefish eggs. The small, clear orbs were taken behind the scenes and carefully aerated and doted over by our aquarists. Weeks later, one of the eggs hatched. And now...

We're thrilled to introduce you to our very first home-grown flamboyant cuttlefish!

Flamboyant cuttlefish, all grown up and on exhibit in the Living Coral exhibit 
This solo cuttlefish was the only one to survive to maturity — no small feat since the Aquarium is only one of a handful of aquariums across the country to successfully rear this species. It is on display in the vibrant Living Corals exhibit. Look for it crawling along the bottom by the euphyllia (hammerhead coral) or resting mid water on the rock work. Yup, this little guy gets around!

Living coral exhibit: Look for the little cuttlefish along the bottom,
at the waterline, or anywhere in between!

Like all cuttlefish, it can change color in the blink of an eye from drab browns to vibrant purples and yellows. When it is hunting, it'll shoot out a pair of clear, retractable tentacles to grab its prey. The menu includes tiny live mysid shrimp and juvenile grass shrimp.

Subdued colors
As soon as a fish comes along, "Watch out, I'm poisonous!"

Full size flamboyant cuttle fish grow up to three inches long, this little cuttlefish is barely an inch long. But last fall it was barely the size of your pinky nail!

Here's the cuttlefish as a wee hatchling, barely the size of your pinky nail!

The New England Aquarium is one of very few places that exhibit this species in a living reef habitat. These animals are so exquisite, they're usually on display all by themselves. So it's exciting to see them in a vibrant reef habitat. Come see one of our tiniest tentacled residents as Tentacles take hold at the Aquarium this summer!


Even Camouflaging Cuttlefish Need to Eat

We just added 16 common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) to the cuttlefish exhibit. Yes, 16!

Common cuttlefish
But sometimes you might have to exercise your powers of observation to see these little guys. The juveniles often settle into different nooks and burrowed into the sand throughout the exhibit. We've pointed out just a few of them in this handy GIFs.

These little guys have had quite the journey, starting their life at the Ripley's Aquarium in Tennessee (Fun fact: this species has black eggs. When the females lay the eggs, she places a small amount of ink into each egg!) and coming to us via Monterey Bay Aquarium. When they arrived back in January, they were just 2 cm long. They've grown to be 4 – 5 cm long!

While they love to hide out, even timid juvenile common cuttlefish have to eat. They are fed a mixture of krill and small pieces of shrimp, and each one is slowly getting used to eating from a stick. Check out this short video to watch one of the wee cuttlefish creep past a hiding cuttlefish and grabbing a shrimp snack from the gravely bottom of the exhibit.

We slowed down a portion of the video so you could get a better view of those tentacles. If you want a real treat, check out this super-slow motion video of a cuttlefish grabbing a meal.

More amazing cuttlefish facts are on the blogs. Dive on in, the information is fascinating! Click on a link below for more pictures and video to learn more.


Right Place, Right Time, and a Shark Egg Case

Recently, a staffer had his camera phone recording as a brown banded bamboo shark laid an egg in The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank one evening. It was a special moment that not everyone gets to see, so we're happy to share it here! This short informative video shows where the adult sharks live, what the eggs look like as the tiny sharks are growing inside, and where juvenile sharks mature.


Learn even more about shark egg cases in the shark and ray touch tank! Check out these blog posts: