We spent this morning doing renovations on the NOAA tank. We deep cleaned, rearranged rocks and inserted a crab pot to prepare for the introduction of some tagged Dungeness crabs. NOAA used to be a deep-water display tank with sablefish and other offshore benthic and epibenthic species, but it has lost some of its thematic cohesion recently. Live animal exhibits bring unique interpretive complications.
All in-tank elements must meet the needs and observable preferences of the animals. This is an area where we cannot compromise, so preparations can take more time and effort than one might expect. For example, our display crab pot had to be sealed to prevent corrosion of the chicken wire. This would not be an issue in the open ocean, but we have to consider the potential effects of the metal on the invertebrates in our system.
Likewise, animals that may share an ecosystem in the ocean might seem like natural tankmates, but often they are not. One species may prey on the other, or the size and design of the tank may bring the animals into conflict. For example, we have a kelp greenling in our Bird’s Eye tank who “owns” the lower 36 inches of the tank. If the tank were not deep enough, she would not be able to comfortably coexist with other fish.
We’re returning the NOAA tank to a deep-water theme based on species and some simple design elements. An illusion of depth can be accomplished by hiding the water’s surface and using minimal lighting. The Japanese spider crab exhibit next door at Oregon Coast Aquarium also makes good use of these principles. When this is done right, visitors can get an intuitive sense of the animals’ natural depth range—regardless of the actual depth of the tank—before they even read the interpretive text.
We’re also using a new resident to help us clean up. The resident in question is a Velcro star (Stylasterias spp.) that was donated a couple of months back. It is only about eight inches across, but the species can grow quite large. Velcro stars are extremely aggressive, and will even attack snails and the fearsome sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides) that visitors know from our octopus tank. Our Velcro star will, we hope, cull the population of tiny marine snails that have taken over the NOAA tank’s front window in recent months.
Colleen has been very proactive in taking on major exhibit projects like this, and she has recruited a small army of husbandry volunteers—to whom I’ll refer hereafter as Newberg’s Fusiliers—to see them through. Big things are happening on all fronts, and with uncommon speed.