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BIO 480 : Spring 2014

Field studies in biology

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Day 01 | Saturday March 1, 2014

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Even though the trip began early on a Saturday morning, we eagerly arrived twenty minutes early, waiting for the bus to arrive! Once we settled in for the bus ride, however, many of us quickly fell asleep. When we awoke, we noticed that the habitat was very different and that we had slept through much of the gradation. Dr. Long pointed out a bald eagle perched atop a tree, which was a great start to the trip, as some of us had never seen one in the wild! We continued our introduction to wildlife with the current management issue of the reintroduction of red wolves, as Dr. Szmant had brought an article from the Star News discussing the topic.

When we arrived at our first “home away from home,” Friends of Elizabeth II, we were quite surprised at how enjoyable the communal living was, and how it provided us with many opportunities for discussion and analysis of the day’s activities. We then went to a small Mexican restaurant for lunch, La Cabana.  Though everyone was initially pretty reserved and quiet, we began to open up throughout the afternoon during our behind-the-scenes tour at the aquarium.

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Before going behind the scenes, we meandered through the Roanoke Island Aquarium marveling at all of our favorite captivating animals: the river otter, a tower of turtles (Red belly sliders), sand tiger sharks, flounder, and the lookdown fish. Our behind-the-scenes tour was definitely eye-opening. There is so much work that goes on to keep even a moderately-sized aquarium running, and every instruction is extremely specific to avoid causing any harm to the animals or their environments.  It was fascinating to find out that the aquarium performs necropsies on the animals that die to ascertain the factors that caused their deaths. The veterinary work that is done on animals was also extraordinary. The green moray eel was missing 1/3 of his body because it was surgically removed after he tried to eat a puffer fish and got injured.
The most fascinating portion of the tour involved the largest tank in the aquarium-the shark tank. Though there were many sharks in the tank (14 to be exact), plenty of other fish of varying sizes were also present. Our first question to our guide was why the smaller fish didn’t get eaten. She said that did happen, but it was rare. In order to avoid it, the aquarium feeds the sharks so much that they are actually on the verge of being overfed. They feed them three times a week when an average shark would only eat approximately one time per week. The tank contains an astounding 285,000 gallons of water. That’s enough for a bath every day for 15.5 years! The cleaning process takes a week to cover the whole tank, with volunteer divers working twice a day on specific areas. Removal of the sharks from the tank sounded incredibly complicated, too. Depending on the size of the shark, either the animal could be removed by volunteers with a stretcher, or large sharks would need to be removed using a pulley system and lowered two stories to the ground. We definitely came away from the tour with a much greater appreciation for the effort and dedication that successfully maintaining an aquarium requires.

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We finished off the day with dinner at the local Full Moon Brewery, where everyone really began to get to know one another. We then returned “home,” as we began to call our little hotel, and collaborated on our plan for the “bio blitz” tomorrow. We were very happy to turn in after that, as we were exhausted from the day’s activities.

DAY 02 >


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