Category Archives: Zoo Views

Moody Gardens upgrades aquarium pyramid

“People protect what they love.”

Those words were originally spoken by legendary ocean explorer Jacques Yves Cousteau, a man who spent much of life beneath the surface of the world’s oceans encountering its diverse inhabitants.

Most of us do not have that opportunity but we still seek an understanding of the ocean and Moody Gardens in Galveston is giving the public a chance to gain that knowledge in an up close and personal setting.

Sat. May 27 the facility will debut $37 million in upgrades that have turned the Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid into a true word-class educational experience.

I got a sneak peek and here is what stood out.

Gulf of Mexico Rig Exhibit: See the balance of technology and nature through this impressive 30,000 gallon, two-story, 23-foot scale model oil production platform aquarium. These manmade islands provide valuable attachment surfaces for a variety of encrusting organisms to create an entire reef ecosystem found throughout the Gulf of Mexico.  This new exhibit includes diver communication for presentations and interaction, further engaging guests in their underwater experience.

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Ever wonder what the part of an oil rig beneath the surface looks like? Now you know thanks to the new display at Moody Gardens (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Flower Gardens Tribute: With help from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, guests experience the East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank up close and personal. The exhibit includes examples of Brain, Star and Elkhorn coral, to name a few, all of which can be seen on the banks. The Flower Garden Banks reef system is one of the healthiest in the Gulf and Caribbean regions.

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For the first time a specific exhibit explaining the Flower Gardens will be part of the facility. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Caribbean Display Upgrades: New to the exhibit is The Pride, a 19th century rum-runner shipwreck replica, loosely based on the vessel sailed by famed Galveston pirate Jean Lafitte. Divers spent a total of 68.5 hours underwater putting together the ship, which arrived in about 75 individual pieces. A new mangrove lagoon greets visitors at the Caribbean entrance where they get to touch cownose rays and see southern stingrays and spiny lobsters.

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Visitors can touch cow nose rays in a beautiful, realistic mangrove swamp setting. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

Humboldt Penguins: These unique warm-climate penguins hail from Southern Hemisphere waters from the Antarctic to the Equator. This is the second penguin exhibit at Moody Gardens and the Humboldts are right next door to the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat, home to the King, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins. As part of the recent renovations, the South Atlantic Penguin Habitat is newly enhanced to better benefit guests and the health and livelihood of the penguins within.

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Humboldt Penguins are a warm climate species that will be used as outreach animals at both the park and as ambassadors on the outside. (Photo courtesy Moody Gardens)

Jellyfish Gallery: The room wasn’t quite finished when I visited but what I saw of the jellyfish gallery was stunning. See some of the most beautifully designed creatures in nature in a perfectly lit environment. The highlight for visitors will no doubt be the touch tank-the world’s first opportunity to touch jellyfish in an aquarium-a non stinging variety of course.

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Jellyfish are the subject of a natural art gallery at Moody Gardens. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

There is much more including improvements to virtually every display, numerous new educational display and an impressive computer table display that shows full-scale giant squid size, explains ocean depth and other interesting facts.

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See a full-scale giant squid along with other mysterious ocean dwellers. (Photo by ChesterMoore, Jr.)

If someone already loves the ocean a visit here will help build that into a full-blown passion but any kid (or kid at heart) who pays a visit will walk away with enough information and inspiration to want to help conserve our ocean resources.

Jacques Cousteau would be proud.

Chester Moore, Jr.

To visit Moody Garden’s website click here.

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Encountering Sea Lions

SEA WORLD SAN ANTONIO—Have you ever seen a sea lion smile, heard them “talk” or saw them flipping through the air? 

Well I did and it was inspiring.

These peppy pinnipeds were amazing during a brief visit with them at Sea World San Antonio. The sea lion trainers were equally amazing but somehow fell short of the actual sea lions.

After all, the sea lions are the stars, right?.

A sea lion’s contagious smile will make everyone else respond with a grin or maybe a laugh depending on what trick they are doing at the moment.

“Digit” and “Leon” are two sea lions with the Discovery Point interactive program at SeaWorld San Antonio.

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When you interact with sea lions you are up close and personal with them. The warm and gracious sea lion trainer Catherine Brown guided us through the encounter and let us know Digit has a bit more manners than the silly Leon.

Each person that goes through the interactive program will be shown simple hand gestures the trainers use with the animals. Each gesture will result in a different behavior such as smiling, waving and various water tricks.

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During the interaction the trainers reward each behavior with love, attention and of course fresh fish.

It was amazing to watch each animal respond to the attention of the trainers. The love and attention given to each animal was just as important to them as the fish. Although they never turned down the fish.

Ms Brown also discussed the anatomy of the sea lion, showing us their fur, fins, teeth, and vibrissae, which resemble whiskers. Each body part of the sea lion was created for a unique and special purpose in sea lions.

Their “whiskers” allow sea lions to feel vibrations in water which is used for hunting fish for their meals in the wild. In Seaworld these “whiskers” help them balance balls for guests.

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It was incredible to learn all of the different parts and their purpose for survival in the wild. Ms Brown also shared stories of rescuing wild, baby sea lions and releasing them when they were able to survive on their own.

Seaworld trainers are more than just entertainment and caretakers of the resident animals. Each of them are involved in species survival and rescue programs around the world.

As the encounter ended, we waved goodbye to the fun-loving creatures and I left a bit of my heart with them and I took away memories for a lifetime of love for the species, especially Digit and Leon.

If you would like to visit these remarkable animals and many more visit SeaWorld San Antonio and to register for an encounter with sea lions or other animals go to  www.seaworldparks.com.

At “The Wildlife Journalist” we believe encounters with animals like this and ecotourism are crucial for creating an interest in wildlife conservation. With at least two generations completely hooked on electronic devices it might take jumping into cool water and getting roared at by a sea lion to let them know there is more to life than what appears on a screen.

And maybe, just maybe such an encounter will create in them a love and determination to help our world’s wonderful marine mammals.

Lisa Moore

Reptile World Serpentarium: Venom Extraction

Snake venom is a precious commodity.

From antivenom for snakebites to cancer treatments and the latest research on neurological diseases, venom is being used in a wide variety of applications.

And George Van Horn has been collecting it for these uses for nearly 40 years.

The owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud, Fl., Van Horn is passionate about snakes and besides exhibiting more than 50 species, keeps hundreds for the sole purpose of extracting venom.

The public gets to see George Van Horn collect venom at Reptile World Serptentarium.
The public gets to see George VanHorn collect venom at Reptile World Serptentarium.

Twice a day he allows the public to view through safety glass that allows a peek at his high tech venom extraction room.

“You see this. These are fangs,” Van Horn said as he rolled carefully opened the mouth of a large eastern coral snake.

The tiny fangs were in the front of the snake’s mouth and destroy the commonly held myth that coral snakes are rear-fanged snakes that must “chew” on a person to inject venom.

“They are elapids just like cobras and they have the same skull structure. I don’t know where these rumors came from but they are persistent,” Van Horn said.

He went on to say that most coral snake bites result from people picking them up and it is often young men.

“Women typically don’t go around picking up venomous snakes. And a coral snake has a very dangerous venom that is difficult to treat so people shouldn’t fool with them,” he said.

He uses a specially designed snake stick to hold down the heads of the bigger snakes he extracts venom from but can’t do it with the corals due to their small skull. That means he grabs them quickly from behind, a method that is without question risky but is best for the long term health of the snake.

“We keep them around a long time and have to watch out for their well-being,” he said.

The venom collecting shows daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. are worth the price of admission but so are the snakes on display.

From a five foot long Florida cottonmouth to a 14 foot long king cobra, a black mamba and a beautiful eastern diamondback/canebrake (timber) rattler hybrid there is a lot to see.

Snakes are part of nature whether you like it or not and if you venture into the great outdoors it is best to learn to respect them and get educated so you can handle any encounter that comes your way.

Reptile World Serpentarium is a great place to to learn about snakes  and see the unique practice of venom collection.

For more information go to www.reptileworldserpentarium.com.

Texas’ Red Wolves

Canis rufus, the red wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

Declared extinct in the wild in 1980, they faced hybridization with more adaptable coyotes. Now a number of scientists believe the species is actually a fertile hybrid of gray wolf and coyote to begin with but the red wolf at this point is still declared a unique species.

The Texas Zoo is one of the first in the nation to take part in the captive breeding program that has produced offspring that have been stocked at several locations in the Southeast including North Carolina’s Alligator National Wildlife Refuge.

A red wolf I photographed recently at The Texas Zoo in Victoria.
A red wolf I photographed recently at The Texas Zoo in Victoria.

The wolves there are kept in a spacious, naturalistic enclosure where with a good camera with a solid telephoto lens and fast shutter speed you have a good shot at capturing images like the one above.

The first photo I ever had published was a pair of red wolves dating back to 1992 in a now defunct newspaper called The Opportunity Valley News. I actually took the photo the year before while I was a junior in high school.

The first photo I had published back in 1992 when I had just begun my freshman year in college.
The first photo I had published back in 1992 when I had just begun my freshman year in college.

One of the best parts of the wolf exhibit is that it is located close to a coyote exhibit. Coyotes are often mistaken to be wolves and here you can see a clear contrast and also note the similarities.

The vast majority of the animals at the Texas Zoo are Texas natives but there are also tigers and other exotics now included to give some variety for visitors.

If you are ever near Victoria, TX which is situated off of I-59 between Houston and Corpus Christi, stop by and see the red wolves and the other wild creatures that call it home.

It’s got a nice collection of animals and charm the size of the Lone Star State.

For more information to go Texaszoo.org.

Chester Moore, Jr.