Heidi celebrating an 80 degree San Diego Christmas
Lemon sharks in holding shortly after arrival
2011 was a good year for aquariums at the VLM. We lost a couple of excellent employees to the beaches of Southern California (Newport News vs San Diego? Come on Heidi!) and another to the corporate world (an unnamed amount of money vs. two times that unnamed amount of money? Come on Jessi!), but were fortunate to replace them with two more excellent employees. Also in 2011, we acquired our lemon sharks, completely renovated the Skate/Ray exhibit, completely renovated the Mtn. Stream exhibit and acquired 10 Roanoke logperch to become the only public facility to display them, completely renovated the Coral Reef exhibit - and its life-support system - with all new corals, anemones and fishes, and that's just SOME of the major projects that we successfully completed. So what do we have planned for 2012?
We will likely improve or completely replace the ghost crab exhibit. Admittedly it is hard to create something more inspirational and awe-inducing than an exhibit full of holes in the sand and the possibility of catching a glimpse of the leg of a ghost crab, but ...we may need something new.
Several of the fishes in CBA, including the cobia, need to be downsized
We will definitely need to down-size CBA; to what degree remains to be seen. This will be a daunting task, but one I have been continually preparing for over the past several years, actually just "continually" is more accurate. Because we collect 99.5% of all our fishes here (with the exception of our reef species), fishes for the Chesapeake Bay Aquarium must be either caught large enough to hold their own against the grouper, shark, sea turtle and jacks (> 20"), or must be raised to that stage. In many cases this process takes years. But we are at the point where it would be prudent to de-accession the lemon shark as he is growing very rapidly (for the safety of the divers and the turtle), and several of the animals (red drum, crevalle jacks, cobia) have become very large and aggressive towards other fishes. They will be replaced by animals currently in holding that are smaller and can be displayed safely (for them and other fishes) for many years to come. We actually have four cobia, two bluefish, four crevalle jacks, several permit, stripers that should be big enough by summer, and a tarpon, spotted sea trout, and red drum that may be ready within a year. Every year we collect many other potential fishes as well, but the available species vary yearly and their availability fluctuates seasonally.
In conjunction with down-sizing CBA is replacing the lemon shark. The lemons are the squirreliest sharks we have had, the most aggressive, but also my favorite. Not only are they beautiful animals, but our lemon has a lot of personality. I will certainly miss him. I will either have to acquire a replacement shark from another institution (of whatever species comes available - usually sandbar, blacktip, bonnethead, lemon) or catch one myself. More on that in the spring.
We also may be changing other exhibits to...well simply have something new, perhaps even changing some of them on a regular basis. Although we are happy with the majority of our exhibits, change excites interest for the visitors and keeps the staff engaged and learning. A wish list from my own head? Here are a few ideas:
A juvenile blue angel I collected on vacation in Nags Head
Tropical migrants - many tropical juveniles are brought passively up the gulf stream into VA an NC where they survive until fall. They are temporary, but are getting more common and may become permanent. (species - grey angel, blue angel, french angel, goatfish, tang sp, wrasse sp., etc)
Continental shelf - a cold water exhibit with replica whale bones and deep water species such as deep water isopods, cod, golden crabs, lumpfish, squirrelfish, sea robins, tilefish etc.
Green moray - a replica ship wreck/reef with a large green moray (eerie lighting, feedings for the public)
Sea turtle hatchling nursery - there are many obstacles for this and i must be careful what I "wish for"
These are just a a few ideas. In the meantime we have thousands of animals to care for and existing exhibits that must be cared for and displayed with our highest standards. I cannot promise what new ventures we will undertake for 2012, but I do promise that whatever exhibits we do have we will keep them clean, attractive, and provide the animals (including holding) the best possible care.
Oh, and I resolve to write about it! And I DID shoot a video during the dive (to those who read the previous blog) which will be coming this week.
We wish you a happy healthy 2012.