Thursday, August 19, 2010

A New Arrival

Frequent visitors to the aquarium might notice something new when they walk in our front doors on their next visit. Last week, Matt Harbidge, from Green World Building Company, donated a new, custom built front desk. Matt constructed the desk himself using salvaged fir and cedar planks. The aquarium staff would like to extend a special thanks to Matt for his continued support to the Ucluelet Aquarium Society.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where Do Babies Come From?

About a month ago we were admiring our school of Shiner Perch when we noticed that about seven of them were looking a little larger in the mid-region. Pigged –out on krill? Doubtful. The more likely possibility was that they were pregnant!

Shiner Perch have a complex mating system where the males perform a courtship dance for attractive females. If their moves are good enough the female might let the males mate with them. Sound familiar? Five to six months later anywhere from three to 40 babies are born.

After a few weeks our Shiners looked about ready to explode with their little babies. In preparation for the mass birthing, we relocated any potential baby eaters such as black rockfish, predators capable of turning the miracle of life into an all you can eat buffet!

On August 10th the aquarium crew arrived to the work in the morning to find that our Shiner Perch had collectively given birth to around 40 babies, and a couple more were still birthing little ones; tail first…ouch!

The babies, 1 ¼” miniature version of their parents, are born so well developed that they practically swim out of their mothers. The males are also born reproductively mature with females maturing only a few weeks later.

This isn’t the first time this season that some of our fish have given birth. Last month our Tiger Rockfish gave birth only hours before she was supposed to go the rockfish breeding facility at the Vancouver Aquarium. Spawning is almost a weekly event in the aquarium with various species releasing mass amounts of sperm and eggs into the surrounding water. Visit the aquarium for answers about where babies come from!

What's In Our Water?

The Ucluelet Aquarium operates on an unfiltered, open system that pumps in water directly from the harbour. Because the water is unfiltered, we have plankton from the harbour water flowing directly into our tanks. This means that we don’t have to feed any of our plankton eaters, but it also means that we are constantly cleaning our tanks of unwanted growth. Our waters are teeming with life, most of which is too small for us to see. Given time, this microscopic plankton might grow into organisms that are more familiar to west coast beachcombers. This concept sparked our idea for the “Empty Tank” whereby we leave a tank empty with only water from our pumps flowing into it, don’t clean it and then see what settles inside. Its’ been just over two months now since we started, and in that time we’ve seen everything from hydroids to fish come through the pipes to make a home in the now “not so empty” tank. Colonizers include: hydroids, bryozoans, barnacles, mussels, tunicates, nudibranchs, a variety of other unidentifiable life forms, and most recently, crab larvae.

The Empty Tank isn’t the only tank that contains creatures sucked in through the pipes. Last week we replaced the sand substrate in our Orange Sea Pen tank and found that about 750 Soft-Shelled clams and Nuttall’s cockles had settled within. These clams would have arrived into the tank via the pipes as larvae, and then grown to about an inch in a three month time span. There were so many clams embedded in the sand that they began to compete with the Orange Sea Pens for space.

In nature, planktonic larvae use a variety of factors to determine which areas are good to settle and grow depending on suitable substrate, food availability, predator abundance etc. Some are more picky then others, but with the variety of habitats in all of our tanks, larvae are bound to find the real-estate they like.