The Aquarium Lecture Series is presented free to the public through the generosity of the Lowell Institute. Look back at some of our recent speakers; some lectures have been recorded.
Extreme Events and Climate Change: What We Know and What We Can Do
Ellen Marie Douglas, PE, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Hydrology, School for the Environment, University of Massachusetts Boston
There are three truths that climate science tells us about what we can expect from climate change. The first is small changes in an average value, such as average global temperatures, will have bigger effects on the extremes. We have seen this play out in the extreme weather events that have wrought havoc across New England and the nation over the last decade or longer. Record-breaking events will always occur, but the time between these events should increase. Under climate change, records are getting broken in record time! The second truth is that our history of carbon dioxide emissions has embedded a certain amount of change into the climate system, to which we will need to adapt. The third truth is that if we don’t account for our changing climate in planning and designing, our plans and designs will be wrong. In this presentation, Ellen Marie Douglas will discuss observations of our changing climate, what changes may be in Boston’s future, and some plans for how to adapt to these changes.
This lecture was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of Boston and Massachusetts and the University of Massachusetts Boston School for the Environment.
African Manatees and Sea Turtles: Conservation Challenges and Successes
For more than two decades, scientists Lucy Keith-Diagne and Tomas Diagne have been studying manatees and turtles and advocating for their protection. During the last 11 years, Lucy has focused her research on the African manatee, which is one of the least understood of the world’s marine mammals and is often referred to as the “forgotten sirenian.” African manatees live in 21 countries on the western side of the continent, along coasts, and up to 3,000 kilometers inland. They are highly susceptible to accidental capture in fishing nets and are hunted almost everywhere they occur. Lucy will speak about her efforts to determine the number of manatee populations across West and Central Africa, to better understand their diet, and to lead the first assessments of manatee threats and the search for solutions across the species’ range.
Tomas Diagne researches threats to sea turtles in Senegal’s coastal waters, which are a migratory hub for five species of sea turtles. In recent years, Tomas has documented a troubling number of dead sea turtles washing up on Senegal’s beaches. Tomas will share how in addition to assessing this disturbing trend, he is working to use the data to advocate for the reduction of sea turtle bycatch in Senegalese fisheries and to collaborate with fisheries authorities to achieve this. He will also speak about his work with sea turtle geneticists to understand from which populations the stranded turtles are coming. Join us to hear Lucy and Tomas share the challenges and successes they have experienced while working to study and protect these iconic and threatened species.
The MCAF Ocean Conservation Fellows Program is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Robo-Shark: How High-Tech Tags Are Revealing the Secret Lives of Sharks
Nick Whitney, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium
Have you ever thought about how much your Fitbit® or smartphone tracks your behavior and wondered if scientists could use the same technology to study wild animals? Well they do. Dr. Nick Whitney has applied this technology to study sharks off the coasts of Hawaii, Florida, and Cape Cod. This new technology goes beyond the traditional goal of tracking sharks and begins to reveal what they do. Like your Fitbit, these tags can provide clues about how much energy sharks use in the wild, critical information for understanding their impact on the ecosystem.
Dr. Whitney will speak about his research, including fine-scale information on how sharks swim, rest, mate, and die. He will also explain some of the unique challenges that come with using these tags on sharks, as well as how this technology is providing crucial information for managing shark fisheries. Please join us for an exciting evening of learning about the secret lives of sharks.
Sharks – From Shadow to Light
Brian Skerry, National Geographic photographer and New England Aquarium Explorer-in-Residence
Brian Skerry saw his first shark in the wild in 1982 and was instantly captivated. Over several decades, he has spent countless hours underwater in locations around the world photographing these fascinating animals.
In 2016, National Geographic Magazine published Brian’s stories about sharks in three consecutive monthly issues–June (Tiger Sharks), July (Great White Sharks), and August (Oceanic Whitetip Sharks). In July 2017, his fourth in this series, Shortfin Mako Sharks, will be published.
In the June 1 presentation, Brian will share his personal journey with sharks, from the ways they inspire him to his approach with photography and what he has learned along the way.
Seeing Deeper into the World of the Great White Shark
Greg Skomal, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
Despite its well-established presence in the North Atlantic Ocean, the white shark is not considered an abundant species, and efforts to study its ecology have historically been hampered by the inability of researchers to predictably find these sharks. However, the rebounding population of gray seals off the coast of New England is drawing white sharks in greater numbers to our shoreline. Cape Cod has now become the only known aggregating site for white sharks in the North Atlantic. To take advantage of this opportunity, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries initiated a long-term white shark research program in 2009 to study the ecology and natural history of this species in the western North Atlantic. With more than 100 white sharks now tagged with sophisticated technology, Greg Skomal and his team are piecing together an incredible story of how this shark lives in the North Atlantic.
Diving Deep: How Do Seals Protect Their Hearts and Brains Without Oxygen?
Allyson Hindle, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Anesthesia, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School
Manu Buys, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments of Anesthesia and Ophthalmology, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School
Seals dive deep into the ocean to hunt while holding their breath. To do this, their physiology is highly specialized compared to other mammals; the hearts and brains of seals are protected from hypoxic injury that would be detrimental to terrestrial species, including humans. To learn about some of the most extreme, deepest diving seals in the world, a research team traveled to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and tracked down the southernmost mammal on the planet. Join Drs. Allyson Hindle and Manu Buys from Massachusetts General Hospital in discovering what Weddell seals can teach us about new possibilities to treat heart attack and stroke, as well as their own physiological limits in a changing habitat. Science artist Maris Wicks will be a special guest.
Amazing Aquatic Athletes in the Anthropocene
Jodie Rummer, Ph.D, Associate Professor, Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Globally, coral reefs are at risk from human-induced stressors – such as ocean warming, acidification, and hypoxia – now more than at any time in recorded history. Dramatic effects on fish performance, distribution, and overall ecosystem health are predicted. While the evolutionary success of fish is credited to their adaptations to challenging environmental conditions, whether they can keep pace with the large-scale, rapid changes plaguing their habitats today is not known. Coral reef fishes may be at greater risk as they diversified during a time of relative stable environmental conditions, and today’s rapidly changing conditions may heighten their vulnerability.
Through her research, Dr. Jodie Rummer is tracking metabolic and swimming performance of fishes under climate-change relevant conditions, across development and species, and over multiple generations. This information is crucial for making predictions as to which species and/or populations may be most at risk from climate change and whether the fishes’ long evolutionary history will be enough to protect them from future changes in their habitat.
A Stroll through the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
Peter Auster, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, Mystic Aquarium, and Research Professor Emeritus of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut
Scott Kraus, Ph.D., Vice President of Research, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which was designated by President Barack Obama on September 15, 2016, is the only marine national monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean and the only one located off the continental United States. With words and pictures, Drs. Scott Kraus and Peter Auster will recount their many years of research on marine mammals and deep-sea ecology in this region beyond the edge of our continental shelf. The research was gathered using ships, aircraft, and deep-sea submersibles.
Beach Babies – White Shark Nurseries of the Northeast Pacific
Christopher G. Lowe, Ph.D., Professor of Marine Biology, California State University Long Beach
Coastal waters can be important feeding grounds for white sharks, particularly areas with high densities of seals and sea lions. In addition, female white sharks also visit coastal waters to give birth to their young. Baby and juvenile white sharks have been found to use shallow open beach habitats and bays as nurseries. So, what does a white shark nursery look like? Probably like your favorite beach. And, why are they there? Probably for the same reasons you are; it’s safe in shallow waters, there is plenty of easy-to-obtain food (not to worry, that doesn’t include you), and it’s warm! Just like any summer beachgoer, baby white sharks don’t like the cold, so they quickly migrate to warmer waters, following the coastline when the temperature drops. We’ve learned all this using a variety of new technology such as acoustic and satellite transmitters, autonomous underwater and aerial vehicles (spybots), and underwater camera (selfie) stations. We’ve even learned about how El Niño can change their migration behavior and how that effects public perception of sharks. Come learn what we think makes for a good white shark nursery and where we might predict the next ones to pop up.
Sharks in Our Backyard: The Resurgence of Sand Tiger Sharks in New England
Jeff Kneebone, Ph.D., Associate Research Scientist, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium
Despite their scary appearance, sand tiger sharks are docile ocean animals that pose no real threat to humans. Although it has a rich history in New England, this species has declined due to threats like overfishing, and was rarely observed in our region during recent decades. However, a significant number of juvenile sand tigers returned to local waters in the last five to 10 years. Come learn about the biology, conservation, and fascinating resurgence of this species in our own backyard.
Sharks in Danger: Silver Fins and a Silver Lining?
Mark Smith, Vice President of Animal Care, New England Aquarium
John Mandelman, Ph.D, Vice President, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium
Shark! We hear the word, and our senses heighten with fear-inducing images of scything fins and serrated teeth. But what is the truth about these frequently vilified denizens of the deep? Join New England Aquarium scientists Mark Smith and John Mandelman for a deeper look at the shark: their cultural impact, their diversity and biology, and, in the context of marine conservation and human interactions, how we should be terming it “shark attacked” rather than “shark attack.”
Finally, learn more about some of the amazing scientific and tireless advocacy work fighting to counteract the mounting conservation threats facing these majestic animals around the globe, as well as a preview of shark-related offerings in the spring lecture series, and work out of the Aquarium’s new Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life.
A Clam’s-Eye View of Climate Change: How Do Intertidal Organisms Experience Their Shifting World?
Brian Helmuth, Ph.D., Professor, Northeastern University Marine Science Cent
The impacts of global climate change on ocean ecosystems are now pervasive. But how well do we truly understand the ways in which a shifting climate affects nonhuman organisms, and how might our anthropocentric view of the world cloud our understanding of what to expect in nature? For example, the vast majority of plants and animals, unlike humans, make no metabolic heat and, as such, they have body temperatures that can fluctuate by 30 degrees Fahrenheit or more over the course of a few hours.
Using a unique combination of computer modeling, field instrumentation, and virtual reality technology, Brian Helmuth gives a worldwide tour of how climate change is affecting coastal ecosystems from the perspective of marine invertebrates and explores how many of the most significant effects of global climate change can only be predicted when we step outside our biased perceptions of how weather and climate affect natural ecosystems. His results suggest that while many coastal ecosystems may be much closer to collapse than initially expected, in some cases, climate change can lead to positive responses at some locations. Discerning among these possibilities is therefore crucial if we are to find novel ways of adapting to a warmer planet.
Invasive Species and Carbon Cycling in Coastal Dunes of Cape Cod
Robert Vincent, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sea Grant College Program and
Rose M. Martin, Ph.D., Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Postdoctoral Researcher at EPA Atlantic Ecology Division
The MIT Sea Grant College Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been working with the National Park Service to study carbon cycling in coastal dune habitats, as well as the effects of historic peat deposits on the establishment and persistence of invasive plants (Phragmites australis). With the increased risk of erosion from coastal storms exposing the once-buried peat deposits, and the challenge of controlling an aggressive invasive species, this dynamic system faces an uncertain future. The research findings from this study will inform future conservation efforts in the region as well as provide a deeper understanding of carbon cycling in coastal dunes.
The Conservation of Devil Rays
Daniel Fernando; Co-founder of Blue Resources; Associate Director of The Manta Trust; Ph.D. student at Linnaeus University; New England Aquarium Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellow
Devil rays, also known as mobula rays, are closely related to the more iconic and better known manta rays. In recent decades, all these species have been facing increasing threats driven by unsustainable target and bycatch fisheries, seeking to supply the international demand for their dried gill plates in Chinese medicine. Growing awareness and concerns for the survival of these species resulted in some level of international protection. However, further work is required. Daniel Fernando tells us about his research efforts to better understand these animals and about his work to promote their conservation.
Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction
Michele Gomes and Jennifer Ting – Filmmakers
Panel discussion with:
- Dr. Charles Innis, Director of Animal Health, New England Aquarium
- Constance Merigo, Marine Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Manager, New England Aquarium
- Bob Prescott, Sanctuary Director of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, and NOAA’s Mass. (Quincy south) Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator
- Kate Sampson, Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region (VA through ME)
Late each autumn, hundreds of sea turtles strand on Cape Cod due to hypothermia. For more than 25 years, the New England Aquarium and the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have worked together to rescue, rehabilitate, and release thousands of these turtles, mostly Kemp ridleys. Over the last decade, the number of stranded turtles has steadily increased, but the late autumn of 2014 saw an unprecedented event as more than 1,200 cold-stunned sea turtles washed ashore. This massive wildlife emergency marshaled an inspiring response that reached from individuals to the federal government.
Fortunately, two independent filmmakers from Seattle, Michele Gomes and Jenny Ting, were on hand to document this phenomenon. They also traveled to Mexico and Texas to tell the larger natural history story of the world’s most endangered sea turtle and how humans pushed a healthy population to the precipice of extinction and are now slowly helping it to recover. Attendees watched Michele and Jenny’s film, “Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction,” (watch the trailer) and a panel discussion.
The Sea-Run Fish of Massachusetts
Bradford Chase, Marine Fisheries Biologist, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
Diadromous, or sea-run fish, have the risky life strategy of leaving the ocean to migrate toward coastal rivers where humans and many types of fish and wildlife predators challenge their quest. Less than one percent of the fish on the planet have adapted to this reproductive life history, but many, such as salmon and eel species, are well known for their high value and cultural importance. Join Bradford as he discusses the diadromous fish of Massachusetts with information on their biology, management, and threats to survival, with a special focus on the iconic river herring and American eel.
Jellyfish: Are They Taking Over?
Lisa-ann Gershwin, Ph.D., Director, Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services
Author, Jellyfish: A Natural History
Jellyfish! The mere mention of the word sends shivers down the spines of those who have been stung—or don’t want to be. Whereas once only swimmers feared their stings, more and more, it seems, jellyfish are demanding attention in a variety of ways.
Whether they get sucked into the water intake pipes of nuclear power plants and trigger emergency shutdowns, capsize fishing trawlers, kill tourists, or surreptitiously take over ecosystems, reports are drifting in from all the world’s oceans. Join lively and passionate Australian scientist and writer Lisa-ann Gershwin as she explains why we are seeing more jellyfish and what it means for our future.
Fish Blowing Up? Handling Barotrauma in the Gulf of Maine
Matt Ayer, Recreational Fisheries Biologist, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
Barotrauma is an injury caused by a change in gas pressure. In many fish species, barotrauma occurs when the swim bladder expands or ruptures as fish are brought to the water’s surface. In the recreational groundfish fishery in the Gulf of Maine, there are multiple species that exhibit signs of barotrauma when caught. In some cases, these symptoms can be severe and significantly increase the mortality of discarded fish. One method of increasing the survival of released groundfish is to assist their descent and recompression using a “release device.” Such devices are commonly used in other parts of the country, but have been only recently introduced to Gulf of Maine anglers. Learn from recreational fisheries biologist Matt Ayer about fish filled with air and how anglers may be able to help them.
Epizootic Shell Disease in the American Lobster, Homarus Americanus
Professor of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, The College of William & Mary
Populations of the American lobster, Homarus americanus, off southern New England are threatened by epizootic shell disease (ESD). The disease causes a rapid necrosis of the shell making infected lobsters unmarketable. The disease has negatively affected the fishery, but it has been difficult to quantify its impact on lobster populations. ESD is caused by a shift in the bacterial community (dysbiosis) that occurs in relation to changes in environmental and anthropogenic stressors. Temperature is a key variable in ESD but its effect has not been well characterized.
Join Jeff Shields as he discusses environmental diseases in lobsters and what can be done about them. He will present an overview of the disease and give new findings on his recent studies. He will also address aspects of the dysbiosis, the effect of temperature on individuals and projected effects on populations, as well as new insights into the epidemiology of the disease. Understanding the complex interplay among temperature, disease dynamics, and lobsters is critical for assessing the risk of expansion of the disease into the Gulf of Maine.
Stress in Wild Animals: From the Arctic to the Equator
L. Michael Romero, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology, Tufts University
In contrast to stress-related disease in humans, the stress response is vital for helping wild animals survive in their natural habitats. The hormonal and physiological responses to stress are similar in all vertebrates. When these systems are activated at the wrong times for the wrong durations, disease can result. However, these same systems allow wild animals to survive natural stressors such as storms, predation attempts, and starvation. Join professor Michael Romero as he presents highlights from more than 25 years of research on stress in wild animals. Furthermore, he will discuss how understanding the stress response may also show us how animals cope with human-created changes in their habitats.
Lessons from the Gulf of Maine on How to Live in a Warmer World
Andrew J. Pershing
Chief Scientific Officer, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Waters all over the world are warming. However, due to its unique oceanography, the Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming regions of the global ocean. The warming of the waters off New England has led to declines in important commercial species such as northern shrimp and cod, but it is also creating new opportunities as warmer-water species move northward. Join Dr. Pershing to hear how the rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine gives us a unique opportunity to understand how ocean animals respond to changes in temperature and how we can prepare for the changes that we know are coming.
Big Ice: Antarctica, Greenland, and Boston
Sixth Annual John H. Carlson Lecture Presented by MIT’s Lorenz Center and the New England Aquarium
Dr. Richard Alley
Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
An ice sheet is a two-mile-thick, continent-wide pile of old snow, spreading under its own weight and sculpting the land beneath. The ice sheet that buried Boston 20,000 years ago melted when slowly acting features of Earth’s orbit raised summer sunshine and atmospheric carbon dioxide, warming the climate. The history of that ice Age can still be read in Boston Harbor and in the layers of the surviving ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland. Join Dr. Richard Alley to learn how more warming may melt those ice records, as break-off of huge icebergs and outburst floods speed sea-level rise.
Pioneering Manta Ray and Community-Based Conservation in Peru
Founder and Director, Planeta Océano, Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellow*
One of the world’s largest populations of giant manta rays migrates into the waters off of Peru. However, mantas in Peru had been severely overlooked and were exposed to unregulated fisheries. Since 2012, Kerstin Forsberg has been leading initiatives to pioneer manta ray conservation in Peru in partnership with local fishing communities and international organizations. Her team’s comprehensive efforts have included researching manta harvest and occurrence, building local awareness, and engaging artisanal fishermen in community-based manta eco-tourism. Building upon this work, and after two years working with the Peruvian government, Forsberg led the effort to secure full legal protection for manta rays in Peru. Join Kerstin Forsberg as she shares the story of her groundbreaking work with mantas, and describes how her organization, Planeta Océano, is growing into a model for community-based conservation.
* The MCAF Fellows Program is supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Rigs to Reefs: A Blue Solution to Repurpose the World’s Offshore Oil and Gas Platforms
Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson, Co-Founders of Blue Latitudes
There comes a time when the useful life of an oil platform comes to an end, at least when it comes to drilling for oil, and that’s when Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson, co-founders of Blue Latitudes, dive in. They are marine scientists on a mission to re-purpose offshore oil and gas platforms as artificial reefs around the world. The oil platforms found in their home state of California, like most offshore oil platforms around the world, are home to some of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. As the world’s natural reefs are overfished, over-trawled and polluted, Amber and Emily believe that re-purposing these structures, some the size of the empire state building, as artificial reefs, may be the best decision for the future of our oceans. It’s time to think creatively about the resources we have, and proceed forward boldly with radical new tactics for ocean management. Join Callahan and Jackson to hear how Rig2Reef Exploration has successfully conducted research expeditions in the North Sea, Gulf of Mexico and California, investigating the ecological, economic and cultural benefits of re-purposing these offshore platforms in a variety of ways, from eco-tourism hot spots, to national marine sanctuaries.
Can We Save Coral Reefs and If So How?
Jeremy Jackson, Professor of Oceanography Emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Senior Scientist Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution
Reef corals are declining worldwide. Climate change dominates the headlines, especially in relation to the recent mass bleaching and death of corals along the northern Great Barrier Reef and throughout the Pacific. But climate change is only half of the story. Up to now, the destructive impacts of climate change on reefs have been much less than the localized effects of overfishing, land-based pollution, and loss of habitats due to coastal development. A recent study of changes on Caribbean reefs over the past 50 years demonstrates that reefs with effective local protections and governance have double the amount of living coral, more fish, and clearer waters than reefs without protections. These new findings show that there are things we can do right now to help reefs recover. We need to stop all forms of overfishing, establish very large marine protected areas, and impose strict regulations on coastal development and pollution while at the same time working to reduce the use of fossil fuels. It’s not either/or, but all of the above.
Searching for Sea Monsters
Dr. Ruth Leeney, Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellow, Sawfish Conservation Officer for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Simon Fraser University, and Director, Protect Africa’s Sawfishes
Sawfishes are some of the most unique and bizarre-looking of all aquatic animals. They are also the family of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) most threatened with extinction. One of the major constraints to protecting the few remaining populations of sawfishes worldwide is that there is remarkably little information available on where sawfishes can still be found. Since 2012, Ruth Leeney has conducted baseline data on sawfishes in eight countries through her organisation Protect Africa’s Sawfishes, to help identify where conservation and research efforts for sawfishes should be focused. Ruth will share some of her findings from recent research projects, as well as the highs and lows of travelling and working in some fascinating and hard-to-reach regions.
The Impact of Invasive Lionfish on Bermuda’s Marine Ecosystem
Corey Eddy, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Lionfish have become the poster animal for invasive species, and they fit the definition perfectly; they were introduced by humans to the Atlantic Ocean, where they do not belong and could potentially cause significant environmental harm, possibly decimating entire ecosystems. Naturally found in the Indo-Pacific, they were first reported off the Florida coast in the 1980s, and in less than 30 years spread throughout the entire northwestern Atlantic.
Join us to hear from a local researcher about his study of their potential impact on Bermuda’s coral reef ecosystem. You’ll learn how their biology and ecology make them an incredibly successful predator and why we are so concerned with this invasion.
Harvesting Fish for Aquariums: How Many Is Too Many?
Dr. Michael Tlusty, Director of Ocean Sustainability Science, New England Aquarium,
Dr. Andrew Rhyne, Assistant Professor, Roger Williams University and Research Scientist, New England Aquarium, and Ret Talbot, Host of the Fisheriescentric blog www.GoodCatchBlog.com
Each year, millions of fish are collected from reefs to place on exhibit in homes and public aquariums. It was only recently that New England Aquarium staff have figured out a way to collect data on the numbers and species of fish involved in the marine wildlife trade. Join our speakers to understand the diversity of this marine trade, and how the volume of the trade can be calculated. They will also discuss how the data can better inform the management of the marine species, and why these fisheries are important to small reef-side economies. Finally, they will describe the role of aquaculture as an aid to this trade and how the Aquarium is leading the effort to use public aquariums as a new source of fish for exhibits.
Diagnosing Leviathan: Adventures of a Whale Veterinarian*
Rosalind M. Rolland, DVM, Director of Ocean Health and Senior Scientist, New England Aquarium
In the late 1990s, the number of calves born to highly endangered North Atlantic right whales plummeted, declining to only 1 calf in 2000. Seeking to understand why right whales were not having more calves, Dr. Rosalind “Roz” Rolland, a research veterinarian, developed a variety of new ways to study health and reproduction in 50-ton whales in the wild. Over the past 15 years, Dr. Rolland has pioneered methods to measure an array of hormones in whales using novel samples including feces, respiratory vapor, and baleen. She oversaw the creation of an approach to monitor whale health using photographs, and studied red tides and disease. Her research has led to many adventures including an expedition to the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands, and training as a scent detection dog handler.
Dr. Rolland will be presenting her work on whale health and what whales tell us about ocean health, including some of her adventures along the way. Following the lecture, Dr. Rolland will be signing copies of the book she co-edited on right whales, The Urban Whale: North Atlantic Right Whales at the Crossroads.
Real Mermaids: Dugongs in Australia
Elizabeth Burgess, Postdoctoral Researcher, New England Aquarium
Christopher Columbus believed he was looking at a mermaid when he saw his first manatee. However, it is the dugong that is the more likely suspect of most mermaid stories. Closely related to portly manatees, the dugong is an unusual marine mammal. It has a vast global range that spans the Indo-Pacific region, but it relies on inshore habitats, which places it in close proximity to humans — and their associated impacts.
Elizabeth Burgess will take you on a trip to Australia — the dugong’s last stronghold. She will focus on the need to obtain vital reproductive information on populations surviving along a heavily impacted urban coastline. Dugongs are notoriously difficult to study; dugong research in the past had been obtained through carcass analysis from incidental drownings and indigenous harvests. The research that Elizabeth will present took on the challenge of using a hands-on approach to study live dugongs, which has allowed for a better understanding of pregnancy, seasonality, reproductive strategies and stress responses in a free-ranging population. Join us for a talk on this unique marine species, and novel research approaches.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area: X Marks the Spot
2015 Expedition Team: Randi Rotjan, PhD, Associate Research Scientist; Julie Cavin, DVM, Associate Veterinarian; and Peter Gawne, Senior Aquarist, New England Aquarium
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is the largest and deepest World Heritage Site on earth, and it is located in the Central Pacific, where the international dateline meets the equator (X marks the spot). The New England Aquarium has been involved with this special place since 2000, and a 2015 expedition conducted research on climate change and the current El Niño, the impacts of old shipwrecks on coral reefs, and the health of shark populations (among other things). Come hear a subset of expedition members tell their tale of time spent on the high seas, and their adventures (and findings) from one of the most remote reefs on the planet.
Ocean Country: Hope for the Seas*
Liz Cunningham, author and environmental activist
*Book signing to follow
Ocean Country, by Liz Cunningham, with a foreword by Carl Safina, is an adventure story and a meditation on the state of the seas. Most of all it is the story of finding true hope in the midst of urgent environmental crises.
After a near-drowning accident in which she was temporarily paralyzed, Liz Cunningham crisscrosses the globe in an effort to understand the threats to our endangered oceans. This intimate account charts her thrilling journey through unexpected encounters with conservationists, fishermen, sea nomads, and scientists, in the Mediterranean, Sulawesi, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Papua, New Guinea. Join us to hear Cunningham share stories and photographs about the amazing people she met, who showed her what true hope can be.
Twenty-one percent of royalties from Ocean Country are being donated to the New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), which funds small-scale conservation projects around the world – from protecting manta rays in Peru to saving sea turtles in Florida and Costa Rica. MCAF Manager, Elizabeth Stephenson, will also share remarkable stories of hope for the oceans that have been catalyzed by this long-standing micro-funding program.
Climate Ready Boston
Bud Ris, Senior Advisor on Climate Change, Barr Foundation, Green Ribbon Commission
Boston faces significant challenges from the impacts of climate change. Former New England Aquarium President and CEO, Bud Ris will review newly updated projections for the impacts anticipated over the next several decades and discuss a major project the city has launched to begin planning for these changes. Anyone living or working in the city or concerned about the future of Boston’s waterfront will benefit from this informative session.
The Mystery of Whale Eyesight and (Big) Things that Go Bump in the Night
Dr. Scott Kraus, Vice President of Research, New England Aquarium
Both right and humpback whales get entangled in fishing gear along the east coast of the U.S. at rates that are unsustainable for these endangered species. Failure to solve this problem may jeopardize the viability of several fisheries. Dr. Kraus and his team set out to study why whales don’t see ropes and avoid them. Then they wondered if ropes can be developed that provide whales a visual deterrent, thereby averting entanglements. In addition, they knew that most knowledge about whale behavior is primarily derived from daylight observations. Since most terrestrial mammals exhibit diurnal changes in behavior, it is reasonable to expect changes in whale behavior at night. Do those changes put whales at risk of encounters with fishing gear? The questions then multiplied! Do they see color? Can they see at night or in the darkest depths of the ocean? How small an object can they see?
Whales live in a world where visibility is rarely more than 40 feet, and most people believe they find their way around by sound. In fact, their use of sound is critical, but for close-up interactions with neighbors, feeding, and collision avoidance, vision may be even more important. Over the last five years, we have been doing field and laboratory experiments to develop an understanding of what whales see. Join Dr. Kraus to find out how their findings may help reduce fatal entanglements by large whales in fishing gear.
The Ocean’s Most Spectacular Color Change Artists
Roger T. Hanlon, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole and Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University
Nature has evolved elegant solutions for manipulating ambient light to create patterns and coloration for a wide range of functions, such as communication and camouflage. Nowhere is the diversity and speed of change in color patterning better developed than in the cephalopods (squid, octopus, cuttlefish). Using high-definition video and still photography, Dr. Roger Hanlon will illustrate the beauty and complexity of skin patterns that cephalopods and fishes use throughout the world’s oceans.
Dr. Hanlon will introduce the audience to “rapid adaptive coloration” and some gorgeous details of the skin of these animals – a rich array of pigments and reflectors that will make any artist envious. In that context, he works together with artists to try to understand how patterns and colors create such optical illusions that enable the soft-bodied cephalopods to deceive the visual capabilities of their many fish, bird, and marine mammal predators. Throughout this presentation, he will emphasize the complex and often extravagant behaviors of these amazing oceanic animals.
Pingers, Spools, and Crooked Hooks: Modifying Fishing Practices to Prevent Marine Extinctions
Timothy B. Werner, Senior Scientist and Director of the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory, New England Aquarium
Demand for seafood is emptying the sea of its most iconic and ecologically important animals, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, and corals. The nets, hooks, ropes, traps, and pots that fishermen use to capture their target catch also injure and kill these other animals in the hundreds of thousands every year. As a consequence, many of these species are being depleted to such low abundances that they face premature extinction, and no longer provide critically important ecosystem services.
While closing parts of the ocean to fishing can help mitigate the problem, it is only part of the solution. The Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction, a unique collaborative research program between fishermen and scientists based at the New England Aquarium, has been retooling fishing techniques; discovering new ways to fish that can reduce the bycatch of endangered marine species. From the northern U.S. to the tropical Pacific and Patagonian seas, Werner will share examples of our cooperative research to modify fishing gear and practices, and highlight the challenges we must overcome to eliminate the most immediate threat to many endangered marine species worldwide.
Movie Premiere: Sonic Sea
Followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with:
Michael Jasny, Director, Marine Mammal Protection, Natural Resources Defense Council
Brandon Southall, Senior Scientist, Southall Environmental Associates, Inc.
Scott Kraus, Vice President of Research, New England Aquarium
Chris Clark, Johnson Senior Scientist, Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell University
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales, International Fund for Animal Welfare
Moderated by Leila Hatch, Ph.D., Marine Ecologist, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA
The ocean is not a silent world, but a dynamic, living symphony of sound. In water, sound travels five times faster and many times farther than it does in air. Whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals have evolved to take advantage of this perfect sonic medium. Just as we rely on sight to survive, they depend on sound to hunt for food, find mates, and detect predators.
Over the last 50 years, our increasing ocean presence has drastically transformed the acoustic environment of these majestic creatures. Undersea noise pollution is invisible but it is damaging the web of ocean life.
Sonic Sea is about understanding and protecting the vast symphony of life in our waters.
Using Technology to Save the World
Shah Selbe, Conservation Technologist, National Geographic Society Explorer and Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellow *
Earth is currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, where poaching, overfishing, and habitat destruction are driving wildlife populations to critically low levels. Conservation needs better methods to help mitigate the effects of climate change and human impact. Thankfully, we are living in age where technology has improved nearly everything we deal with on a daily basis. Shah Selbe has, through his work as a National Geographic Explorer, developed innovative conservation technologies to deal with protecting wildlife and protected areas globally. This work has taken him from the beaches of Palau, wetlands of Botswana, mangroves on Caribbean islands.
Hear Selbe tell stories of using drones, satellites, and the Internet of Earth Things (focused on connecting ecosystems using the same technology as “smart homes”) to help stop wildlife crime and ensure a future full of iconic animals like elephants, bluefin tuna, and tigers.
* The MCAF Fellows program is supported in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.