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.
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.
Join us to 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.