By: Gina V. Ramsey
Babies! The word itself evokes feelings of protection, caring, and optimism.
“There is no future without babies,” said Aquarium president and CEO Dr. Peter Kareiva.
“[Babies!] truly is a heart and mind exhibit.”
The Aquarium of the Pacific’s latest exhibit, Babies! inside the Pacific Visions gallery showcases their newest tenants in more than a dozen exhibits. From rescued baby sea otter pups, to tiny color changing cuttlefish, baby bamboo sharks, and a Jelly Lab that shows visitors how the aquarium grows baby sea jellies, the Babies! exhibit teaches about the importance of ocean life caretaking and its impact on the environment.
According to their Aquarium publication, ‘because animal care and veterinary staff members are experts in caring for baby animals, they are often called upon to help raise endangered animals as part of important conservation programs.’ And just like human babies, some of the Aquarium youngsters have required handfeeding with syringes and around-the-clock care. There’s never a dull moment for new parents!
Hatching, Breeding, Rearing! Oh My!
In addition, the exhibit highlights some of the aquarium’s notable events and achievements in their 24-year history such as the hatching of 13 Magellanic penguin chicks since 2012, being the first public aquarium to successfully breed a large shark species through artificial insemination in 2014 and being the first in the world to successfully breed weedy Sea Dragons.
Breeding animals within the facility and sharing with other aquariums helps ‘reduce the need to collect fish and invertebrates from the wild. It also helps in learning about the conditions animals need to reproduce, which can inform government conservation policies, particularly for endangered species.’
Conserving in Water and on Land
Some of their conservation efforts to help endangered animals include taking care of Sally, a young desert tortoise. The desert tortoise is California’s state reptile and was granted temporary status as an endangered species in the state in 2020. Per the Aquarium’s latest members magazine issue, Pacific Currents, a 2018 study found that desert tortoise populations had shrunk by up to 90 percent since 2004.
When the Bobcat fire blazed through Southern California mountains in the summer of 2020, government agency biologists that monitor the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frogs in that region collected tadpoles to be kept safe in human care until a new habitat could be found. In the meantime, these agencies enlisted the help of zoos and aquariums among other facilities to help with species recovery. Some of these tadpoles are currently being housed in a temperature-controlled room behind Shark Lagoon at the Aquarium.
“By taking care of these tadpoles until they turn into frogs, we are giving their species a better chance of survival,” Dr. Kareiva said.
The Furry Four
When four adorable sea otter pups were found in the wild stranded without their mother, the Aquarium was thrilled to participate in their survival and recovery by providing them a temporary home through their Sea Otter Surrogacy facility, which is being built behind the scenes at its Molina Animal Care Center.
‘Sea otter pups can be separated from their mothers in strong currents or if the mother is injured,’ per the visitor guide.
Each of the pups were determined by wildlife experts as unable to return to the wild and are being cared for by Aquarium staff as well as resident female otters that are serving as surrogate sea otter mamas. These pups are learning necessary survival skills in the Northern Pacific Gallery such as how to feed and how to groom its extremely thick fur, so that they can be released back into the wild.
The Sea Otter Surrogacy program is ‘a result of a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium,’ which has decades of experience in the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded sea otter pups.
Hope for the Future
By taking active roles with breeding, rescues, conservation, and rehabilitation especially with threatened and endangered species, the Aquarium of the Pacific is ensuring a healthy ocean ‘full of life for generations to come.’
“Without babies, and babies that survive, it is the end of the line. That line could be a family, a species, or even an entire ecosystem,” Dr. Kareiva said. “The Aquarium’s conservation programs are aimed at rebuilding wild populations of both marine and terrestrial animals to help ensure their survival.”
Learn about some of the other Aquarium programs offered throughout the year such as their Learn and Explore: Classes and Tours, virtual resources like their webcams that stream animal life in the aquarium, STEM opportunities for students, and a host of other programs and events for members and the public, like their 4th of July BBQ, Teacher Week, and Photographers Night, when both professional and amateur photogs can practice capturing that perfect Aquarium wildlife picture.
The Babies! exhibit runs through April 2023.