Springtime Hatches in Yaquina Bay and the Oregon Coast Aquarium

June 11, 2013

Newport, Oregon— If you wander through the Sandy Shores gallery at the Oregon Coast Aquarium this spring, make a point to peer carefully at the close-up exhibits.

An exhibit that, at first, seems to only house underwater grasses, upon close inspection reveals juvenile English soles, penpoint gunnels, sculpins and hermit crabs. This nursery on display is designed to simulate the eel grass beds in the estuary adjacent to the Aquarium.

The tiny post-larval and juvenile fishes found here were gathered near an eel grass bed that National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration established when they built their facility in Yaquina Bay.

The shallow waters that eel grass beds grow in help repel large predators. The beds typically have gentle currents and an abundance of algae, shrimp and worms to eat, making them an ideal habitat for larval and post larval fishes. Nathan Carpenter, the Aquarist that manages the exhibit said, “Without these habitats there’s no place for young fish to take shelter.”

Unfortunately, the Aquarium’s team sometimes returns with more garbage than fishes, or find formally pristine eel grass habitat crushed by people walking on it during low tide. To preserve these habitats that are crucial to replenishing an area’s fish population pack home trash and tread carefully while clamming.

The Aquarium collects these fishes using a small seine net, which is a flat rectangular net with floats on top, weights on the bottom and upright poles at each end that are used to maneuver the net in an arc to coax fishes toward the shore where they can be transferred to holding containers.

These activities are regulated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Aquarium strictly complies with their protocols. For instance, collection is prohibited in bays with a seine net from May 1 through July 31 to prevent by catch of salmon smolt migrating out to sea.

Approximately 70 percent of the fishes in the Sandy Shores gallery were collected by Aquarium staff using seine nets. Carpenter explained that it is best to catch fish in the first two to three months of their lives because they will do much better in an aquarium environment over their lifetime. A trained eye may even be able to distinguish fish of the same species that were captured before the end of their post larval stage, rather than adulthood, because their scales will exhibit brighter colors.

Rearing tiny sculpins and their exhibit-mates can be challenging for the Aquarium’s husbandry staff. Carpenter explained that he has to use extra care while using a siphon to clean the tank to ensure that one doesn’t swim inside. These little guys are also picky eaters, insisting on live food that is not too big or small for their taste. They also need access to food nearly all day, which means they must be fed three to four times in a 24 hour period.

Juvenile fishes often have unique color patterns or body shapes that they outgrow in adulthood, making them interesting curiosities for Aquarium visitors. Since animals and guests alike enjoy benefits from collecting and rearing fishes while they are in larval and post-larval stages, the Aquarium’s aquarists are happy to dedicate extra effort to bring the spring time happenings of Yaquina Bay into exhibits for all to enjoy.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is dedicated to the highest quality aquatic and marine science programs for recreation and education so that the public better understands, cherishes, and conserves the world’s natural marine and coastal resources. An accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums institution, this 501(c)3 non-profit organization is ranked as one of the top 10 aquariums in the U.S. Visit us at 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Rd., Newport, OR. www.aquarium.org, 541-867-3474. Follow us on Facebook.com/OregonCoastAquarium, or Twitter.com/OrCoastAquarium for the latest updates.
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