Rescued Juvenile Cowfish Video

Here’s some video footage of the rescued cowfish we met a while back, swimming around in his new home at the Aquarium’s seahorse exhibit. Watch the way he swims; cowfish have hard, bony armor surrounding their bodies that keeps them from turning and flexing the way many fishes do. They move by fluttering small fins that extend out of their armor, so although they’re very well-protected, they’re not particularly quick or maneuverable.

At one point in the video, the cowfish ties to catch up to one of the mysid shrimp that are sprinkled into the exhibit for the seahorses to eat. The fact that he has some trouble catching up to a frozen shrimp is evidence that swimming isn’t his strong suit, although the fact that he picks a shrimp that’s almost as big as he is also doesn’t make things any easier.

You do have to admire his heart.



Bark Worse than Their Bite?

If you mention the word piranha to people, images of razor-sharp teeth and ferocious feeding frenzies are pretty much the norm. These fish have been showcased in films and media as fierce meat-eating machines that will attack in a moment’s notice! And like most monstrous myths, that is quite an exaggeration from the truth.
Red-bellied piranah (via WikiCommons)
Most piranhas, including the red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri) featured at the New England Aquarium, aren’t out looking for a nice human to eat. Instead, they eat small worms, insects or fish, all items they can find throughout the Amazon River Basin. And while many times there is an abundance of food, sometimes there is competition between these fish for a snack! And how do they tell the other fish to back off? They bark!
Those are some teeth!

Researchers in Belgium wanted to look closer at the strange noises that piranhas make when the fish were picked up or caught in a net. They suspended a hydrophone into a tank containing piranhas and recorded any sounds made and documented what the fish were doing at the time. And for the most part, the fish were silent and pretty chilled out. However, when food was introduced, it was a different, and very noisy story! [Here's a link to the abstract of this study.]

The first noise the researchers documented was a bark-like noise. When two fish swam directly at each other, it sounded like a dog park: barking everywhere! The researches interpreted this as a warning signal between the dueling fish, with the goal of trying to intimidate the opponent. But it didn’t stop there! In addition to the barking, researchers observed the fish making drum-like percussive sounds when the piranhas were fighting for food as well as a “croaking” sound when the fish would snap their jaws at each other. So when no food is around? It’s quiet. When there’s food around, piranhas are quite loud! National Geographic has posted a video where you can hear some of these noises.

Wonder if he speaks piranha...

So come visit our Freshwater Gallery located on the third level of the Aquarium. Our red-bellied piranhas are usually calm and collected. But if you catch a feeding session and you just may just get a lot more bark for the bite!


[Jo is part of the Aquarium's Visitor Education team. She just returned to Boston after spending several weeks in South Africa working with African penguin rescue efforts. Read her posts about the experience. She also traveled to Antarctica in 2013 and took some amazing pictures.]


Mystery Shark Egg

A fun aspect of visiting The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank is the possibility of getting to see shark eggs. Many shark species give birth to live young, and some species create internal eggs that then hatch inside of the mother. Some species, though, like those in our exhibit, lay good old-fashioned eggs. Just as they would in the wild, many of the sharks here lay their eggs among clusters of mangrove roots, which makes it hard for larger predators to get at them.

Shark eggs in the touch tank

You may have seen similar--but empty--egg cases wash up on local beaches. Those eggs are laid by small sharks called dogfish, and also by fish called skates. Skates are similar to stingrays, one of the differences being that stingrays give birth to live young while most skate species lay eggs. Many people call these egg pouches 'Mermaid's Purses.'

Sometimes the shark eggs in our exhibit aren't fertile, but the sharks lay them anyway, the same way chickens would. Unlike chicken eggs, though, shark egg cases are clear enough that sometimes you can see right inside:

A (probably) infertile shark egg in the touch tank

The yolk, which is clearly visible, feeds the developing shark embro until the shark is big enough to emerge. Although the bamboo shark egg pictured above is likely not fertile, every now and again we find an egg that is. Can any Touch Tank veterans tell which of the exhibit's shark species will emerge from the egg below? Check back sometime in the next two weeks to find out.

Can you guess what species of touch tank shark is growing up inside this egg case? 

Continue on to Part II!


Tropical Fish in Rhode Island?

Imagine that you're scuba diving off of the New England coast. The ocean is cold, but bearable, and as you make your way through the murky water, you begin to see familiar sights like sea stars, sea urchins and mussels. As you swim past a rock formation, you happen to see a tiny fish the size of your thumbnail wobbling along, and looking sorely out of place:

Photo: John Correa

As you get closer, you realize that what you're looking at is a tiny, lost cowfish--a fish that would normally live in the warm waters of the Bahamas, a thousand miles away.

Photo: John Correa

As dreamlike as this sequence sounds, it actually happens to divers from the New England Aquarium every Fall, when they travel to Jamestown, Rhode Island to search for what they call "southern visitors." Each year, the powerful Gulf Stream current sweeps small tropical fish up from the Caribbean and carries them north, often depositing them close to the New England shore.

These tiny warm-water fish would not survive a New England winter, so the Aquarium's annual dive trips are almost like rescue missions. The fish are brought to the safety of the Aquarium, where often you can even come to visit them: The cowfish pictured above is actually now swimming comfortably in our seahorse exhibit. Come say hello to him next time you're here, although he's growing so quickly that if you don't hurry, you might not recognize him.

Photo: John Correa


Our Visit to the Aquarium by Catherine Van Arnam

This is a guest post written by frequent Aquarium visitor Catherine Van Arnam. She offered to share her family's memories and images on the Exhibit Galleries Blog. 

Every couple of months I sit the kids down and say, "It's time. It's been too long since we visited the New England Aquarium." They don't remain sitting long and, usually on a quiet weekend morning, we pop into Boston and soon are nose to nose with the liquid-eyed harbor seals that glide peacefully in their habitat on the plaza by the Aquarium's front door.

I've learned to resist my urge to hustle us inside and proceed with our rounds inside the building. This is now where I pause and smile, and where the kids kneel and put both their hands on the glass. "He looked at me!" they yell. "They're so bendy!" Our eight-year-old daughter Anya recently said this is her favorite sight, "because their eyes are really cute! If I were a seal I would just like to go up to people and look at them with my cute seal eyes." When pleading for an extra cookie or bedtime story, she now barks, "SEAL EYES," to her brother, Erik, seven. Their prompt imitation of cute seal eyes has compelled quite a few cookies in their direction.

Anya and Erik get front row seats for a Northern fur seal training session at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.

We're hardly ever a few steps inside the Aquarium before something fascinating is witnessed in the penguin exhibit. Our most recent trip had us flabbergasted with the care and work involved in feeding each penguin by hand the correct amount and in good time, before getting the rock-scrubbing underway. We like to pick a penguin to watch for a few minutes, and already feel we've an excellent grasp of penguin psychology. They don't seem so different from us.

Up next is Daddy's favorite, those charming curmudgeons, the groupers. Peacefully dour, they enjoy the company of lobsters, just like Dad. Then Erik pulls us along to find one of the very-bright-green moray eels in the Giant Ocean Tank. Shyly concealed along the bottom, they emerge when ready and rivet us with their beady, penetrating gaze and bounty of small, knifelike teeth. “Were I an eel I would like to eat little fish, and I would not like to look at the sharks,” notes Erik.

Anya looks into the Giant Ocean Tank.

Now it's my turn to lead the way and we soon arrive at my very favorite, the giant Pacific octopus tank. It is a hard truth that there's been a succession of these beautiful creatures here through the years, as they only live for about two years. Of late I've savored my nose-against-the-glass time with Octavia. She is not mysterious to herself, and just goes about her day as I stare, captivated.

Anya (in blue) and Erik reach into The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank.

There may be thousands sea creatures at New England Aquarium, but we can't seem to exit the place without running into many of the human species that keep the place going. Besides the many organized demonstrations available, we usually buttonhole several cheery staffers during our visit and the kids share observations and questions. The friendliness of the staffers extends to those at The Café--with my favorite view of Boston Harbor--and the speedy cashiers selling admission tickets to people from all over the world.

As we drive home the whole family is tired but so satisfied, and we all dream of the gurgling wonders of the deep until we can see them again.

Anya drew these pictures after our adventure. Clockwise from top: Octavia the octopus, a shark feeding, Myrtle the green sea turtle, a unicornfish, a moon jelly.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Aquarium Catherine! Visitors who would like to share their Aquarium memories can use our Tumblr submit form.