Florida Keys Marine Life

Confiscated Marine Life

September 20th, 2017

The Key West Aquarium, along with NOAA and The Florida Wildlife Commission, are working hard to protect our environment. Illegal collection and transport of marine  tropicals for the aquarium trade is widely spreading. Without proper permits and transportation documents, marine tropicals are seized by government officials. The seized property is placed in facilities like this one until trial, as part of evidence until the case is settled.

Green bird wrasse, percula clownfish, sailfin tang, yellow tang, blue damsel, bamboo shark, bicolor parrotfish, banded eel, blue chromis, coral beauty angel, brown tang, and orange anthias are all commonly confiscated marine life. You can see these fish at the Key West Aquarium and learn more about them.

Jellyfish

September 6th, 2017

They key to the jellyfish’s 500-million-year uninterrupted reign on this earth is its adaptability. Jellyfish can range from infinitesimal sizes to sizes larger than freight carriers! The 200 classified species can be anything from the fingernail-size star-shaped stalked jellyfish,which is native to northern Pacific waters, to the giant Lion’s mane, which lives in arctic waters and can grow up to eight feet in diameter, with tentacles spanning 100 feet. Some jellyfish are luminescent, others live upside-down, and some possess stings that can cause excruciating pain for ages.

Soft Coral

August 16th, 2017

Soft corals are members of the phylum cnidaria, a group of stinging celled animals that include anemones, jellyfish, hydroids, sea-pens, the the true corals and other coral-named groups. Soft corals acquired their name from their fleshy and flexible forms which are constructed of a bizarre assembly of structural elements that help the corals to keep their shapes and support their form. As you can see, the lack of the external hard, calcareous skeleton hte small and large polyp stony corals possess make it easy to distinguish the soft corals from the stony corals. Soft corals are found worldwide, more in tropical than temperate reefs, mainly in depths of 5-30 meters.

 

Zooanthids

August 2nd, 2017

Zooanthids are an order of cnidarians commonly found in coral reefs, the deep sea and many other marine environments around the world. These animals come in a variety of different colonizing formations and in numerous colors. They can be found as individual polyps, attached by a fleshy stolon or a mat that can be created from small pieces of sediment, sand and rock.

Zooanthids feed both by photosynthesis, aided by the zooxanthellae they contain, and by capturing plankton and particulate matter. Although photosynthesis aids in their nutrition, even species that do not actively capture plankton cannot live through photosynthesis alone. Zooanthids can eat meaty foods such as brine shrimp, krill, and bloodworms.

Gorgonians

July 19th, 2017

a gorgonian, also known as a sea whip or sea fan, is an order of sessile colonial cnidarians found throughout the oceans of the world, especially in the tropics and subtropics. Gorgonians are similar to the sea pen, another soft coral. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and reminiscent of a fan. Others may be whip-like, bushy, or even encrusting. A colony can be several feet high and across but only a few inches thick. They may be brightly colored, often purple, red, or yellow.

Examples of an encrusting gorgonian are the briareum sp. It has long, grass-like polyps which are normally extended continuously, retracted only when disturbed. Briareum sp. can have multiple forms including encrusting, flat or knobby crusts, or upright branches.

Gorgonians are found primarily in shallow waters, though some have been found at depths of several thousand feet. The size and shape, and appearance of the gorgonians tend to populate shallower areas with strong currents, while the taller thinner, and stiffer gorgonians can be found in deeper, calmer waters.

Living With Alligators in Florida

Florida, the 27th state, is the most southeasterly state in the entire United States. As locals and tourists continue to flock to the region to live, retire and vacation, more and more homes and resorts spring into action. As the population increases, the swamplands, once patrolled mostly by reptiles and nature’s creatures, become less and less and the possibility of animal encounters increases. The state of Florida presently has over 20 million people and over one million alligators. When it comes to encounters with alligators, the best possible advice is to try your best not to have those encounters by staying a safe distance of at least 50 feet away. If one bites you, the advice is to make the most noise possible and work hard to get away. Use force if necessary. Don’t approach to take selfies; don’t approach to check if it’s alive; and if you’re headed into any of Florida’s many fresh water streams, lakes or springs, take great care – alligators are often around even if you can’t see them.

Alligator Facts

  • American alligators were once considered almost extinct
  • By the 1950s, endless hunting had almost wiped out the population
  • By the 1980s, the population managed to recover; gators were removed from the endangered species list
  • Although confrontations occur, attacks on humans by alligators are still considered rare
  • Homes and communities now lie on edges of alligator habitats or have water that alligators seek
  • Alligators are often drawn to storm water ponds of all sorts
  • Regardless of whether it’s natural or man-made, if there’s a body of water in Florida, there could be an alligator in it
  • Alligators have a preference for fresh water and sometimes brackish water
  • Statistical data suggests that the probability of being killed by an alligator is low
  • Since the early 1970s, there have been 23 fatalities and under 400 unprovoked bites by alligators in Florida
  • Mating season for alligators is late April through early June
  • Females build their nest and lay on average 20-45 eggs in June/July
  • Eggs traditionally hatch from the middle of August through the beginning of September
  • Egg, hatchling and nest survival is often stunted by predators (like raccoons) and flooding
  • Alligators rely on external heat sources in order to regulate their body temperature (which is why they can often be found lying in the sun or on a hot surface)
  • 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit is the range of temperature when gators are most active
  • Limited feeding takes place during temperatures less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • The hibernation or dormant period for gators is often when the temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Alligator classification: reptiles (direct ancestors: dinosaurs)
  • An alligator’s heart has four chambers (most reptiles have 3)
  • The American alligator is known as the largest reptile in North America
  • Alligators are the official state reptile of Florida
  • The alligator is the mascot of the University of Florida

 

Advice From The Experts

Photo Courtesy of Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna (Director Emeritus of Columbia Zoo/Aquarium)

  • Alligators can go six months a year without eating
  • Alligators migrate far distances (they walk on roads, crawl through pipes, slug through swamplands)
  • It is difficult to keep alligators contained to one space
  • Alligators mostly ignore humans and are often unsettled/frightened by them
  • If hungry, and humans are in the water, alligators may go for the ankles of that nearby human (regardless of age, weight or size)
  • An alligator is able to outrun all human creatures within the first 20-30 feet of exiting the water – making it very difficult for humans to outrun alligators
  • It is difficult to spot an alligator in the water or on land if it’s in a secluded area
  • Alligators watch from above the water but they listen and feel vibrations of prey from below the water
  • Alligators are known to lie on tar roads due to the hot surface
  • Alligators are prevalent all over Florida
  • If bit by an alligator, make a lot of noise, use force, poke eyes
Photo Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation

According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation

  • Alligator diet includes prey that is easy to find and available often
  • Adult alligators eat snakes, turtles, smaller mammals, small birds, large/rough fish
  • Young alligators eat mostly insects, smaller fish, other amphibian creatures/invertebrates
  • Alligators have been known to eat other alligators and dead animals
  • Female alligators typically remain under 10 feet long
  • Male alligators can be much larger than females and over 10 feet in length

Tips

  • Do not feed alligators
  • If taking a photo or looking at an alligator, remain at least 50 feet away in distance
  • Do not swim in areas where it’s a known alligator community
  • Never go near an alligator nest
  • Never touch or go near an alligator on a road even if it looks dead
  • Stay away from water at night and definitely stay away during the breeding season
  • If you’re in fresh or stagnant water (natural or man-made) in Florida, know that alligators could be anywhere

 

Clownfish

July 5th, 2017

Clownfish are also known as anemonefish, which is a genus of the pomacentridae family and consists of 29 recognized species. They primarily inhabit coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are also found as far north as the Red Sea and inhabit the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia. They are not native to the Atlantic/Caribbean Oceans or the Florida Keys.

You can find a clownfish exhibit at the Key West Aquarium. The clownfish in the exhibit were aquacultured at ORA (Oceans Reefs and Aquariums) in Ft. Pierce, FL. Farm raising is a common practice for this species due to the increase in their popularity. Aquaculture reduces the collection of wild caught marine specimens in high demand and diminishes our impact on the environment.

Caribbean Reef Octopus

June 14th, 2017

The Caribbean Reef Octopus lives in warm waters around coral reef environments and grassy and rocky sea beds. There are more than 300 different species of octopus that have been identified. Considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates, the octopus is found in the tropical and temperate waters of the worlds oceans. They prey on crabs, crayfish, and mollusks, and will sometimes use their ink to disorient their victims before attacking. Its first line of defense is its ability to hide in plain sight. Using a network of pigment cells and specialized muscles in its skin, the octopus can almost instantaneously match the colors, patterns, and even textures of its surrounding. Predators such as sharks, eels, and dolphins swim by without even noticing it. When discovered, an octopus will release a cloud of black ink to obscure its attackers view, giving it time to swim away. The ink even contains a substance that weakens a predators’ sense of smell, making the fleeing octopus harder to track. Fast swimmers, they can jet forward expelling water through their mantles. And their bodies can squeeze into impossibly small cracks and crevices where predators can’t follow.

Red is a common color in fish. You might think that red colored fish would be easy for a predator to find. However, most fish that have this coloration live in deep, dark water or are nocturnal. Marine fish can be classified into groups, depending upon when they are most active. “Diurnal” fish are those that are primarily active during the day; those that are most active during the night are “nocturnal”. Sine fish are especially active at dusk and dawn, and are referrred to as “crepuscular”. Various marine invertebrate species can also be classified into one of these three groups. In deep water, red light is filtered out quickly so red is a good camouflage. At night red-colored objects appear grey, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings. Squirrel fish are red-colored and nocturnal. The reason the color red is such a fantastic camouflage is light absorption. Visible light penetrates into the ocean, but once past the sea surface, light is weakened by scattering and absorption. The more particles that are in the water, the more light is scattered. The light energy of some colors is absorbed nearer to the sea surface than other colors, red, in particular. The dimming light becomes blur with depth because the red, yellow, and orange wavelengths have been absorbed.

Nurse Sharks 101

May 3rd, 2017

Nurse Shark Anatomy:

The sub-terminal mouth is placed well in front of the eyes. The spiracles are minute and moderately long barbels reach the mouth. Nasoral grooves are present, but there is no perinasal groove. The nurse shark is ovoviviparous, which means that the female shark carries the fertilized eggs in egg cases within her ovaries. the embryos receive nourishment from the yolk in the egg cases, and once that’s finished, the shark pups hatch from the egg case and are soon born. The gestation period for nurse sharks is about six months. Nurse shark pups start life at about a foot long. Once a female has produced a litter, it takes her 18 months to produce more eggs. The nurse shark has thousands of replaceable teeth which are serrated and fan shaped; they are capable of crushing shellfish. The teeth are arranged in rows that rotate into position when one is needed (when older ones are broken or lost).

Nurse Shark Biography:

The origins of the name “nurse shark” is unclear. It may come from the sucking sound they make when hunting for prey in the sand, which vaguely resembles that of a nursing baby. Or it may derive from an archaic word,  nusse, meaning cat shark. Nurse sharks are slow-moving bottom-dwellers and are, for the most part, harmless to humans. However, they can be huge- up to 14 feet and have very strong jaws filled with serrated teeth and will bite defensively if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re docile. Nurse sharks are nocturnal and will often rest on the sea floor during the day in groups of up to 40 sharks. At present there is not a fishery for this species. The fins are not marketed and the meat, although edible, is not often retained for human consumption. However, it is sometimes sold as crab bait. Nevertheless, nurse sharks are caught and killed by fisherman in some regions because they are considered a nuisance animal that takes bait intended for other species. In the lesser antilles, where it often raids fish traps,  it is considered a pest. Commercial fishers in the United States routinely release nurse sharks alive. In the past, nurse sharks were sought for various reasons. The liver oil often was used as fuel. The oil was also used by commercial sponge fishers to calm the water surface, allowing them to more readily locate sponges on the sea floor. The skin was considered the best of all elasmobranch species, being extremely tough and thick it was used to make high quality leather. The skin also was occasionally salted for human consumption.

Geographic Location:

Common in the Atlantic and in the Eastern Pacific, in Coastal tropical and sub-tropical waters. Reported from Senegal to Gabon, Rhode Island to Southern Brazil, and Mexico to Peru. Also, some individuals have been reported in the Gulf of Gascogne in Southwest France. This species is locally very common in shallow waters throughout the West Indies, South Florida and the Florida Keys. Apart of the Eastern Pacific, the nurse shark in absent from the indo-pacific area, where other related groups have successfully evolved.

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