The New England Aquarium – Shark Transfer and Giant Ocean Tank

My passion for our oceans began during the time I spent as a child at the New England Aquarium. Returning to Central Wharf in Boston feels like coming home in many ways, given that I participated in numerous programs at the aquarium as a child and volunteered throughout middle school and high school. My SCUBA career also began at the New England Aquarium since I was certified to dive by Sarah Taylor who heads their teen dive program. After two years of living in California, it was good to be back at the Aquarium. This week was invigorating thanks to the hard work by Dan Dolan, who worked tirelessly to ensure that I witnessed all aspects of the Aquarium and forged a deep understanding for how the Aquarium and it’s diverse departments operate. I had the unprecedented opportunity to shadow several departments of the Aquarium including the Giant Ocean Tank Dive Team, Cold Water Marine Gallery, Veterinary Services and Animal Medical Center, Penguin Gallery, Marine Mammals Center and the Quincy Rehabilitation and Rescue Center. Each of these entities within the Aquarium have their own unique role to play in ensuring that the Aquarium carries out it’s mission of protecting the blue planet. I am incredibly grateful to Dan for his undivided support and kindness this week at the Aquarium and I feel very, very lucky to have him as a mentor.

On my first day at the Aquarium I met Dan Dolan outside at 6:00 AM to participate in the Bonnet-head shark transfer. Dan wanted for me to be able to experience this rare animal transfer and allowed me to help the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT for short) Dive team assist them in moving two new sharks into the Giant Ocean Tank. I met Dan Laughlin and Sherrie Floyd from the GOT Dive Team that morning too and they were both very helpful throughout the week and offered to assist me in any way possible. They helped me fill an animal transfer container with sea water inside the elevator to send down to the first floor to pick-up the sharks from the transfer truck. It was my job to hold the shark sling and help the other two staff members carry the shark out into the tank. I felt humbled to be able to help during such a pivotal animal transfer and I enjoyed seeing the sharks acclimate to their new home during the week.

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Top left: Me in front of the Aquarium on my first day! Top Right: Transferring the sharks into the tank! Bottom Left: The recently released Bonnethead!

Later that morning Dan gave me the grand tour of the dive office and the behind-the-scenes area associated with the GOT. They have their own compressor for refilling tanks, showers, changing rooms, food prep room and a splash room to prepare their gear. Before the renovations at the Aquarium, the dive team had cramped quarters since the Aquarium was built in the 1960s and had limited space. He explained to me how much more efficient the Aquarium has become thanks to the sweeping renovations.

I was then able to help in the kitchen with the food preparation for the GOT! I observed as they meticulously weighed and measured the food for the animals. Each species on exhibit has a distinct diet and must be fed according to their unique needs. From squid to capelin to lettuce, the Aquarium uses restaurant grade quality food for their animals to ensure proper health and strong nutrition. I learned during my time at NEAQ that individually feeding the animals allows the aquarists to observe any physical or behavioral changes overtime which is critical to understanding their health. Target feeding the animals is a commonly used method of training individual animals to accept food from the aquarists which allows them to monitor the amount of food each animal consumes. Many animals also receive vitamins and I helped make “squid tacos” which consists of squid stuffed with capelin, shrimp and vitamins! I had the opportunity to help target feed Myrtle, the charismatic 90 year old and 550 lb green sea turtle in the GOT! She eats a hearty diet of lettuce, brussel sprouts and broccoli which mimics the sea grass she would consume in the wild and provides her with proper nutrition. I was able to stand on the platform and toss food to Myrtle at the surface with Hollis Jones, a Northeastern co-op student and GOT diver. Hollis helped me thought the week at the Aquarium and was my “go-to” intern to ask any questions. She was incredibly helpful and eager to show me how the dive team operates and the importance of maintenance and care of the GOT and it’s diverse animals.

Dan and I then got ready for my first dive in the GOT! I had dreamed of diving in the GOT since I was a young boy and I never could have imagined that someday I would be able to go diving in the Aquarium that helped shaped my love of the ocean. The Giant Ocean Tank has 200,000 gallons of filtered and heated Boston Harbor sea water and the tank is 25 feet deep and 40 feet across with a large Bahamian reef fiberglass structure in the center. To prepare for the dive, I set up my Undersea Divers gear and slipped into my new wetsuit before walking out onto the platform with Dan. After explaining the do’s and dont’s of diving in the GOT, we both plunged into the water with several onlooking visitors waving and smiling at us. Once we were underwater I was fascinated by the colorful display of marine life swimming against the current within the tank. From curious pufferfish to beguiling moray eels, I could not wrap my head around the sheer number of fish in the tank. Dan and I began to swim around the tank and through the coral structures within the tank. Astonishingly, you can easily see the visitors through the glass and my favorite part about diving in the tank was placing my hand on the glass for the children to touch. This was a fulfilling and humbling experience because I knew that I was once that starry-eyed child on the other side of the glass. After about a 25 minute dive that consisted of scratching the turtles and marveling at the southern stingrays, Dan and I headed to the surface. I was ecstatic because I could not believe that I had just fulfilled a lifelong dream and I am forever grateful to Dan Dolan for making that dream come true. What a phenomenal first day at the Aquarium

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Dan Dolan and I preparing to dive!