Although they are just one of the dozens of species in the Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank, our schools of smallmouth grunts make up more than half of the total fish population in the Caribbean reef habitat.

By Jake Stout
Boston Sea Rovers intern
Jake was the 2018 intern for the Boston Sea Rovers, one of the oldest dive clubs in the world, and got the chance to travel and dive around the country and world, including in the New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank. While here, he took an assortment of photos and wrote about some of his experiences. Read more from Jake here.  

When walking around the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) it’s hard to miss the large group of smallmouth grunts (Haemulon chrysargyreum) swimming in schools.

There are more than 500 smallmouth grunts in the Giant Ocean Tank collection, which make up just over half of the total individuals in the tank. Smallmouth grunts are native to the Caribbean.

While the animals in the GOT’s collection have come from a variety of sources, including other zoos and aquariums, expeditions to the Bahamas, and aquaculture efforts, nearly all the smallmouth grunts have been cultured by the New England Aquarium and Roger Williams University.

smallmouth grunts in the GOT
A group of smallmouth grunts swim in the Giant Ocean Tank.

Depending on the species being raised, eggs can be collected inside the GOT or from special aquaculture systems designed to filter out the eggs without damaging them. For smallmouth grunts, eggs were collected from adults living at Roger Williams University and after hatching, grew up at the Aquarium’s Quincy Animal Care Center. After reaching an appropriate size, they then moved up to Central Wharf and onto exhibit in the GOT. 

Of all the species in the GOT, 89% are acquired from the wild, 2% are raised through the New England Aquarium, 5% are raised through other institutions, and 4% are collected as part of the Gulf Stream Orphan Project. However, the 2% of species raised at the Aquarium accounts for 60% of all the individual fish in the GOT.

By targeting the most numerous species in the collection, the New England Aquarium has a more self-sustaining animal population. Aquaculture of schooling species allows the Giant Ocean Tank to display what a reef teeming with life would look like in the natural environment.

See more photos of the grunts.

Learn more about some of our other larval fish programs.

Conservation Context

For years, our aquarists have been quietly working behind the scenes to raise fish from eggs, through the larval stage, and into adulthood. In addition to the smallmouth grunts, our aquarists, in collaboration with researchers at Roger Williams University, have raised yellowhead jawfish (Opistognathus aurifons), lookdowns (Selene vomer), planehead filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus), striped burrfish (Chilomycterus shoepfi), and blue chromis (Chromis cyanea). We have shared our findings with other organizations. By using these techniques to raise larvae, we all can reduce the number of fishes collected from wild populations for the ornamental fish trade.