Tag Archives: gulf of mexico

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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Texas Tentacles

A 1972 Robalo sportfishing boat pulls up to an oil platform off the coast of Corpus Christi, TX.

As the waves rise and fall around this giant manmade structure, Capt. Bill Sheka lowers a big hunk of cut bait seeking out snapper, grouper and other sport fish common to the area.

Suddenly he feels tension on the line so he sets the hook.

There is something on the other end but it is not moving.

At all.

“There were some deck hands on the rail of the rig and they were watching me. When I got it up it turned out to be a gallon glass mayonnaise jar, obviously pitched overboard by the rig’s cook,” Sheka said.

The men on the rig laughed at the strange catch and fired off some snide remarks.

“Got some bred for that mayonnaise?”

“Nice catch bud!”

But the jar was not empty.

“Inside was an octopus that took my bait and scurried back to his ‘home”in the jar,” Sheka said.

“I took my small wooden billy club and hit the jar breaking it to reveal the wiggling, twisting octopus. Now the crew was silent and I then asked them if they knew any octopus recipes,” Sheka said.

He had a good laugh at his naysayers before releasing the creature alive and well.

Octopus in the Gulf?

Absolutely.

The Flower Gardens Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) is the the most observed and studied habitat in the Gulf and according to FGBNMS research coordinator Emma Hickerson there are at least four octopus species there.

These include the Caribbean two-spotted octopus, common octopus, white-spotted octopus and mimic octopus.

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Caribbean two-spotted octopus at Flower Gardens Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

“I filmed a Caribbean two-spotted octopus quite a few years ago out and about scooting around the reef during the day,  but otherwise typically they are tucked away in the reef.  You can sometimes find their “middens” which are piles of shells from their meals.  One particular octopus I filmed was big enough to be feasting on large queen conch and slipper lobster at Stetson Bank,” she said.

Kristi Oden encountered caught one while diving off of an oil platform off the Gulf Coast.

“It was a feisty thing,” she said.

“It kept grabbing my dive knife and pulling on it. I got it into my dive bag and took it back up to the boat because I wanted to look at it. It was really neat. When I got it out of the bag and it changed colors to match the floor of the boat. I looked at it for a little while and then put him back in the water.”

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Angler Henry Pongratz caught and released this common octopus at the Port O’Connor Jetties.

Most encounters with octopus off the Texas coast are around oil rigs and at the FGBNMS but some divers reporting seeing them at the jetties in Port O’Connor, Aransas Pass and Port Mansfield.

Finding octopus along the beach jetties and even in the bays is a fairly common occurrence on the Gulf Coast of Florida but in the western Gulf they remain mysterious.

The common octopus can grow to impressive sizes with specimens as large as 4.3 feet and weighing upwards of 20 pounds. And although it is difficult to measure the “intelligence” of animals, octopus are without questions brainiacs of the marine world.

Octopus not only have the largest brains of any invertebrate but they also have an impressive number of neurons which are the measuring stick science uses for thinking potential.

The common octopus has around 130 million.  A human has more than 100 billion but that numbers not bad for something that makes its living in the cracks and crevices of reefs, rigs, jetties and yes, even mayonnaise jars.

The more we understand about the Gulf of Mexico, the more we can appreciate it.

And I can’t imagine someone not being able to appreciate the uniqueness of the octopus and the fact Gulf coastal waters are home to these amazing creatures.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Manta Ray found just off TX beach (Video)

Last week readers Andy Allen and Reggie Begelton captured this video of a large manta ray swimming a mile west of the Sabine Jetties, just off the beach at Sea Rim State Park out of Sabine Pass, TX.

Manta rays are present in the Gulf of Mexico but sightings are rare and sightings with a mile of the beach are virtually unheard of in Texas.

According to Wikipedia, swimming behavior in mantas differs across habitats: when travelling over deep water, they swim at a constant rate in a straight line, while further inshore they usually bask or swim idly around. Mantas may travel alone or in groups of up to 50. They may associate with other fish species as well as sea birds and marine mammals. Mantas sometimes breach, leaping partially or entirely out of the water. Individuals in a group may make aerial jumps one after the other. These leaps come in three forms: forward leaps where the fish lands head first, similar jumps with a tail first re-entry or somersault. The reason for breaching is not known; possible explanations include mating rituals, birthing, communication, or the removal of parasites and remora.

“Manta rays have broad heads, triangular pectoral fins, and horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouths. They have horizontally flattened bodies with eyes on the sides of their heads behind the cephalic fins, and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Their tails lack skeletal support and are shorter than their disc-like bodies.  The dorsal fins are small and at the base of the tail.”

“The largest mantas can reach 1,350 kg (2,980 lb). In both species the width is approximately 2.2 times the length of the body; M. birostris reaches at least 7 m (23 ft) in width while M. alfredi reaches about 5.5 m (18 ft). Dorsally, mantas are typically black or dark in color with pale markings on their “shoulders”. Ventrally, they are usually white or pale with distinctive dark markings by which individual mantas can be recognized. All-black color morphs are known to exist. The skin is covered in mucus which protects it from infection.”

Chester Moore, Jr.