Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Even when the Aquarium of the Pacific is closed to the public for the hubbub of the Long Beach Grand Prix, the work inside continues. In fact, for some of us the work INCREASES, because we have the opportunity to do some bigger projects that we can’t do during regular working days.
Each Saturday I work closely with staff aquarist Michelle, tending the Southern California/Baja area of the Aquarium, and she had big plans for us that weekend. I first took care of our normal Saturday duties: feeding, cleaning, and maintaining aquarium filter systems. Without the usual sounds of guests in the building, the staff could easily hear the roaring engines of race cars as they made the sharp turns right in front of the Aquarium. I’m not a huge racing fan, but those engines sound pretty cool!
Meanwhile Michelle worked on the Lobster display. After removing the lobsters, fish, eels, and other inhabitants, Michelle removed all the water, rocks, and gravel from the aquarium to work on the plenum.
A plenum is an open area between the actual bottom of the aquarium and the area where the sand or gravel is held up by thick rigid plastic and netting. This empty area allows certain helpful bacteria to grow where they can help break down nitrogenous waste. Fish and invertebrate waste naturally creates ammonia. The bacteria that thrive in the plenum turn that ammonia into a more harmless chemical state of nitrite and nitrate, and then into nitrous oxide and nitrogen gas.
Over time the seals that keep gravel and display animals out of the plenum can become loose and allow material or animals inside. Lobster aquariums can be prone to that because lobsters love to pick and pull at things, looking for food. They are expert scavengers!
Our next project was to move some new sea jellies into our sea jelly display in the Southern California/Baja hall. Well, not necessarily NEW sea jellies. These West Coast Sea Nettles were living in luxury behind the scenes in two of our many kreisel aquariums for sea jellies.
Now, moving sea jellies to a new aquarium is a bit different than moving fish. You can’t just scoop them up in a net - it would severely injure them! You also have to be extremely careful not to expose them to the air. In fact, even simple air bubbles in the water can hurt a sea jelly, if it gets into their bell.
Of course, we also have to be concerned for our own safety. While the West Cast Sea Nettle wouldn’t cause any permanent damage if it stung us, it would still hurt a lot! An interesting rule of thumb about sea jellies: the less tentacles a jelly has trailing off its body – the more powerful it’s sting. Jellies with lots of tentacles have more opportunities to grab onto and sting prey. Jellies with only a few tentacles have to make each opportunity count, so their stinging cells are much more powerful.
So what do we use? You may laugh. We use simple pitchers, just like the ones you use for juice and water at home. We place the pitcher in the water and herd one sea jelly at a time into the pitcher. We wear rubber or latex gloves to protect our hands and arms. Once the little guys or gals swim into the pitcher, we simply lift them out and slowly lower them into their new home.
Sounds pretty easy, no? We wish! The hard part is convincing a jelly to swim in the direction you want, and then making sure their whole body and all their looooong tentacles make it into the pitcher safely. Requires a good deal of patience :-).
Even with all the work going on, we still couldn’t ignore the fun happening outside. One of the benefits of working the weekend of the Grand Prix is that we each get a pass to check out the races. For our lunch break, I joined a few of the aquarists to watch the celebrity race – which was one of the best celebrity races I’ve seen at the Grand Prix! Lots of action and a few good and (thankfully) harmless crashes. I think the girls agreed the race was good, but that might just be because their favorite driver won (Keanu Reeves).
Next time you come by the Aquarium, please stop by and see the West Coast Sea Nettles in their new home. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor!
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