Sea Turtle at The Living Planet Aquarium

Welcome to Our Blog

The Living Planet Aquarium inspires people to explore, discover and learn about Earth’s diverse ecosystems. We are dedicated to cultivating public interest in the environment, conservation, and the enhancement of our planet and its creatures through adoption, education, research and recreation.

Join us while on our blog where we explore the Earth’s many inhabitants- some of which reside at The Living Planet Aquarium and some that don’t- but all of which are important to our ecosystem.

The Living Planet Aquarium is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, dedicated to inspiring people to explore, discover and learn about Earth’s diverse ecosystems.

The Penguin Encounter

How would you like to meet The Living Planet Aquarium's coolest animals in person? The Penguin Encounter invites guests to go behind the scenes for an educational experience with the Gentoo penguins. Here's a taste of what to expect during an Encounter.

 

 

Penguin Encounter participants meet their guide under the tree in the Journey to South America exhibit. Our group had five people, though as many as eight can attend. The guide led us on a short tour through South America, ending at the penguin exhibit. There, he explained some penguin basics, including the banding system used to identify the penguins. Through the “employees only” doors, our behind-the-scenes journey began.

 

 

Aviculturist Deana Walz met us near the two huge tanks that provide all the water for the South America exhibits. She introduced the group to the aquarium's South American birds: macaws, parrots, and an aracari.* These birds are scheduled to become part of exhibits in the aquarium's new building. We saw the penguin cam, which allows aquarium staff to keep an eye on the penguins at all times. Then, we were led into the encounter room adjacent to the penguin exhibit.

 

The door between the encounter room and the penguin exhibit opened...

 

...and many penguins decided to come in and visit!

 

We all wore closed-toe shoes, as a precaution against inquisitive penguin nips and jackets because the encounter room is kept at a chilly 40-46 degrees Fahrenheit. We were asked not to touch the penguins. Gentoo penguins do not engage in social touching, so they do not like to be touched by people, and because the penguins are trained to eat from keepers' hands, they could accidentally bite if touched by a participant. Cameras are fine, even with a flash. However, we kept our cameras above our knees, as the penguins have been known to peck curiously at lenses. We were asked to remain seated throughout the encounter and to remain calm and quiet, which keeps the penguins safe, comfortable, and inclined to spend more time in the encounter room.

 

A penguin attempted to hop up on the bench.

 

Deana opened the door between the encounter room and the penguin exhibit. Without hesitation, six penguins waddled in. They regarded us curiously. A flurry of activity followed. One penguin attempted to hop up on the bench between two people while another hid underneath. Two penguins shared a mating bow. A couple of particularly mischievous penguins named Roto and Ghost Rider took an interest in the youngest guest's shoes and managed to untie one of them. After awhile, Deana brought out some balls for the penguins to play with. A few of the penguins pecked at the balls and chased them around. Roto and Ghost Rider bickered over a tennis ball, attempting to adopt it as their egg. The individual personalities of the penguins became clear as they interacted with objects, each other, and us. Some are shy while others are bold. Some are more playful, and some act almost regal. One may be a problem-solver, who attempts to retrieve the ball that's stuck under the door, while another is more of a problem-maker, who put the ball there in the first place.

 

A penguin was interested in a guest's shoe...

 

...and untied it.

 

Once they lost interest in the toys, the penguins became excited and began chasing one another. With much squawking, splashing, and slapping of webbed feet on wet ground, they dashed out of the room, into the pool in their exhibit, back into the encounter room, and around again. All the while, Deana shared fascinating facts about the penguins including behavior, training, health, molting, mating and egg raising. With Deana's extensive knowledge, everyone's questions were answered in detail. We ended the Encounter full of new knowledge, thoroughly chilled, and with an amazing experience to remember.

 

Balls were brought out for

the penguins to play with.

 

Because the penguins are free to act as they wish, every Penguin Encounter is different. Participants can expect to have a unique experience. Everyone is invited; guests who are 16 or younger must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The Penguin Encounter is held at 1pm every day except Thursday and lasts 45 minutes. The cost is $20 per person for members and $25 per person for non-members. Advanced reservations are required. For more information, visit www.thelivingplanet.com.

 

A penguin tried to retrieve a

ball from under the door.


*Some of these birds were introduced in a previous post on this blog titled Birds of the Rainforest Van. Because of changes in the school programs, reptiles and amphibians now visit the schools instead, and these birds no longer travel in the Rainforest Van.

 

Transforming the Touch Pool

One day the touch pool at The Living Planet Aquarium held the stingrays. The next, it held horn sharks. Magical though this may seem, it took seven people about three-and-a-half hours after closing to make this transformation possible.

 

Stingrays have been replaced by sharks

and other critters in the touch pool.

 

The staff began by transferring the stingrays from the touch pool to the shark tank, a multistage process. They first had to match the salinity, pH, and temperature of the two systems as closely as possible. Then, they filled a transport bin with half touch pool water and half shark tank water. This allowed the stingrays to begin to acclimate to the new water while they were being transferred. The stingrays were moved into the transfer bins and wheeled into the back. The staff took this opportunity to weigh and measure each animal before using special nets to move them into the shark tank. The stingrays will reside in the shark tank from now on. They seem delighted by their new accommodations and get along with the sharks just fine.

 

The stingrays enjoy their new home in the shark tank.

 

Next, the staff drained the water from the touch pool using a submersible sump pump and the pool's main pump. Using dust pans, they scooped the sand out – 4,000 lbs. worth – and bagged it. Fine sand, purchased from an aquarium wholesaler, was put back into the pool. This sand is smoother, which is better for the species that will now be inhabiting the pool. Because the pool will now host species from colder coastal waters, rather than the stingrays which hail from tropical waters, the pool was refilled with 10 degrees cooler water.

 

4,000 lbs of sand removed from touch pool

 

The new animals were added to the touch pool a few at a time, giving them the opportunity to adjust to their new surroundings and tank-mates. While they waited their turn to enter the touch pool, they stayed in holding tanks in the back.

 

The horn sharks and round rays were the first to enter the pool.

 

Horn shark next to touch pool fish

 

Round rays blending in well with the sand

 

Next, a leopard shark was introduced.

 

Leopard shark, the largest touch pool animal

 

Recently, bat rays were added to the mix.

 

Bat ray exploring its new touch pool home

 

Eventually, the touch pool will also contain a variety of invertebrates, including sea stars, urchins, and anemones. All of these can be safely touched by visitors of all ages, following a few simple rules: use two fingers, touch gently and only where staff say is okay (usually along the back of the animal), and assist your children to ensure they follow these rules. The aquarium is excited to be able to offer this opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the ocean's most beautiful and fascinating animals.

 

A guest reaches to touch the leopard shark.

Breeding Boreal Toads

 

 

Like the canary in the coal mine, there are certain species that can tell you a lot about the health of an area. These species are called “keystone species,” and scientists look at them to determine how an ecosystem is faring. The Boreal Toad, a keystone species native to Utah's higher elevations, is not doing so well. As recently as 10 years ago, they were plentiful. Recently, populations have begun to decline, and experts are not sure why. Possible reasons include habitat degradation; poor water quality; climate change, forcing them to higher and higher elevations until they have nowhere to go; or chytrid, a certain type of fungus which some scientists suspect is responsible for amphibian declines on several continents.

 

Boreal toads in their enclosure at The Living Planet

 

Whatever the reasons for their disappearance, organizations such as The Living Planet Aquarium are stepping up to help. Under the direction of the Colorado Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), efforts are underway to breed Boreal toads and repopulate the species. As part of these efforts, boreal toads were carefully collected from the wild and distributed to zoos, aquariums, and DWR facilities. Karl Lye, a herpetologist and member of the husbandry staff at The Living Planet, headed up the care of the aquarium's toads and was assisted by other members of the husbandry team. Over the last five years, they have raised their toads from a semi-tadpole stage into adults.

 

A few of the Boreal toads being raised at the aquarium

 

At this point, the process becomes a little trickier. Boreal toads will not breed unless they go through a process called brumation. Brumation is a hibernation-like state and is how the toads would survive the cold of winter in the wild. In order to simulate winter conditions and induce brumation, Karl converted a small fridge into a brumation chamber for the toads. Using a thermostat and remote sensing equipment, the chamber was designed so that the weather inside could remain stable at a balmy 34-42 degrees Fahrenheit with as little intrusion as possible. Extensive records are kept of the temperature and humidity, as monitored from the remote sensor. Every two weeks, staff check on the toads and rinse their substrate to keep them clean and healthy.

 

Brumation chamber,

created using a small fridge

Brumation chamber open,

revealing boreal toad enclosure

 

During brumation, the toads do not eat and are mostly inactive, conserving their energy. This process can be hard on them, and in the wild, some do not survive. Because of this, only the healthiest of the aquarium's toads were chosen for the brumation chamber: two males and two females. The toads went into the chamber in February and just recently came back out. They spent a couple of days adjusting to the new warmer temperatures before being introduced into their breeding tank. With any luck, the aquarium will soon be proud caretakers of brand new baby toads (eggs at first and then tadpoles)! Any offspring will be given to the Colorado DWR, who will reintroduce them into the wild, being careful to chose locations where they are naturally occurring and likely to thrive.

 

Boreal toads in a state of brumation

 

How you can help:

All of us play an important role in keeping Utah's ecosystems healthy. Here are a few ways that you can help the toads and other critters that inhabit our local landscape.

 
  • Be careful what you put down the drain or into the gutters; it can all end up downstream in a Boreal toad's habitat.
  • If you see a Boreal toad (or any wildlife, for that matter) please leave it be; take pictures, but leave the critter and its habitat as you found it.
  • In some places, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has put up signs asking people to report any Boreal toads they see. Reporting sightings can help further Boreal toad research and efforts to understand more about what is happening to them and help stop their disappearance.