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.
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.