This Monday, the interns at the National Marine Life Center started off their week with a visit to the New England Aquarium in Boston! It was quite the adventure exploring the exhibits with three other students interested in marine life. A small competition of who knew the most or the coolest fact soon surfaced. We enjoyed sharing facts and reading every description we could.
First, we visited the new Shark and Ray Touch Tank and met the bonnethead shark, yellow spotted ray, and cownose ray up close. This was the first time I ever felt a ray and I was surprised to feel a slimy mucus covering the skin. I was even more surprised to learn that this very mucus is being studied in the field of biomedical research. Scientists are currently studying this mucus and its ability to prevent infection in the animals’ wounds. Often sharks try to make a snack out of cownose rays, but if a ray is able to escape, it may be left with large wound. The mucus surrounding the skin helps the injury heal fast and without infection. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense decided to financially support the research regarding the mucus of elasmobranches at the Mote Marine Laborary. This holds the possibility of discovering new compounds which may help humans heal fast and without infection just like stingrays, sharks, and skates do.
Next, we watched their Northern fur seal program. As Brie mentioned in her previous blog What’s the Difference Between Seals and Sea Lions, fur seals are actually part of the sea lion family. While watching, I learned a new sea lion vocalization for my repertoire! GGGAAARRRRHHHH! It was interesting to see the difference between how the fur seals moved with the harbor seals we had seen before. The trainers were able to shape the behavior of the seal-like caterpillar crawl with the fur seals. This behavior showed just how differently these two animals moved on land. Unlike harbor seals, the fur seals were able to lift their front flippers off the ground and they could “clap” their front flippers together. Both animals love porpoising though! No species of sea lions are found living in the Atlantic Ocean, so it is unlikely that a sea lion will ever be a patient at the National Marine Life Center. However, there is a similarity between the New England Aquarium’s and National Marine Life Center’s freshwater patients. Both are part of the state’s Northern red-bellied cooter Head Start Program!
We ended our day at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank and met a few of their sea turtles. The hungriest of them all was their green sea turtle. Green sea turtles are named such for their green fat underneath their skin because of their diet of green algae. This green turtle loved romaine lettuce just like all the red-bellied cooters we have at the NMLC! We also saw their Kemp ridley turtle. The Kemp ridley is the smallest species of sea turtles. It is very likely that the NMLC will have Kemp ridleys as patients as it is common for this species to wash up on Cape Cod beaches cold-stunned in the fall. Cold-stunning is like reptile hypothermia and can affect the turtles if they are unable to swim around the arm of the Cape before the water temperature drops in the Fall. The NMLC is specially equipped to deal with this problem with an incubator that can slowly and correctly warm the turtles up.
I couldn’t think of a better way to begin the week than by learning more and more about marine life! More blogs to come about NMLC intern adventures, but we hope to see you in the NMLC’s Discovery Center, open daily 10 am – 5 pm, having a marine science adventure of your own!
Posted by Alexa S.
Alexa is a Summer, 2011 Intern at the National Marine Life Center.