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June 29, 2012

Witnesses of the ’89 Quake

Most of the Academy’s 38,000 live animals are relative newcomers, but a handful of them are old-timers who were at the Academy when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck on October 17, 1989. During your next visit, say hello to these silent witnesses of the ground-jolting event 23 years ago.
Pierre, the 29-year-old African penguin

Name: Pierre
Species: African penguin (Spheniscus demersus)
Current age: 29
Can be seen: Frolicking with his fellow penguins in African Hall
Fun fact: Pierre wore a custom-designed wetsuit in 2008 to help him stay warm when his feathers molted but didn’t grow back. His natural tuxedo eventually returned, and his story was made into a 2010 children’s book, Pierre the Penguin.

California Academy of Sciences

Name: Bocalo
Species: giant sea bass (Stereolepis gigas)
Current age: at least 31
Can be seen: In the California Coast section of the aquarium (lower level)
Fun fact: With his bulging eyes, full lips, and gentle demeanor, Bocalo makes a lasting impression on all who visit his tank. The giant sea bass is a critically endangered species found off the coast of California and Mexico. Fished recreationally and commercially to near extinction since the mid-1800s, it was not protected until the late 1970s. Today, this rarely seen fish is making a gradual comeback due to its slow sexual maturity and a single annual spawn.




Name: Methuselah
Species: Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri)
Current age: at least 74
Can be seen: In the Water Planet section of the aquarium (lower level)
Fun fact: Methuselah arrived at the Academy in 1938, and it is believed that he is one of the oldest animals living in a U.S. aquarium. Lungfish live in oxygen-poor pools. They have lungs and gulp air at the surface to supplement their gills.




Name: none
Species: alligator snapping turtles (Macrochelys temminckii)
Current age: at least 40
Can be seen: In the Swamp exhibit with Claude, the albino alligator
Fun fact: In 1972, airline employees discovered this group of turtles on their way to becoming soup at a San Bruno restaurant. Transporting these animals for food is illegal, so they were turned over to the Academy, where they have lived ever since.




Name: none
Species: alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula)
Current age: at least 63
Can be seen: In the tank opposite the Swamp (lower level)
Fun fact: The intimidating alligator gar is one of North America’s largest freshwater fishes. It is native to the slow-moving rivers and swamps of the southeastern U.S. By imitating a log, this fish can get close to prey, then snap up an unsuspecting meal.


Do you remember the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake? Share your memories in the comment box.

—Andrew Ng

Filed under: Uncategorized — btannenbaum @ 11:11 am

June 4, 2012

Behind the Scenes with Helena Carmena-Young


Teaching Teachers About Earthquakes

Helena Carmena-Young, the Academy’s senior manager of teacher education, is in the midst of a presentation in the third-floor Education Lab. This is where Carmena-Young more commonly leads monthly professional development workshops for Bay Area teachers.

Today, she is explaining how materials created in-house for the Earthquake exhibit and planetarium show will be made available online to Bay Area educators.

Helena Carmena-Young is preparing to launch the first Academy first coursework offering on iTunesU. iTunes

Carmena-Young prepares the launch of the Academy's first coursework offering on iTunes University.


“We’re partnering with KQED to launch a new educational course on iTunes University,” Carmena-Young says, “starting with our new Earthquake materials.” Maybe it’s her background as a middle-school science teacher, but it’s not long before Carmena-Young jumps up from her computer to start diagraming her program on the whiteboard.

“We are going to help teachers and students visualize complex geology concepts,” Carmena-Young says, “and we’re going to use these visually simulating digital assets to do it.” She is pointing to the boxes she’s drawn labeled planetarium vignettes, infographics, specimen photos, and online games. “Teachers are starving for resources,” she says. “This is going to be eye candy for them.”

The field of education is changing, Carmena-Young explains, with more people demanding access to high-quality information and self-paced learning environments. “We want to be part of this evolution,” she says. “Our enduring goal is to extend the museum-going experience and export the Academy’s expertise outside of these walls.”

While the Academy has already made its videos and podcasts available for free on iTunesU, Carmena-Young is spearheading the effort to place Earthquake-related course work, classroom activities, and student-friendly digital assets directly into the hands of teachers to use in the classroom.

The new iTunes University course will feature a five-chapter syllabus on plate tectonics, zeroing in on geology, the Bay Area’s history of seismic shocks, preparedness, including a section on the new Bay Bridge from KQED. It will also feature snippets from the new Planetarium show, activities for engagement, vocabulary, and interactive content.

This month, Carmena-Young and her colleagues in Student Education are planning special testing sessions with selected teachers and students to experience the online course, preview the exhibit, and provide feedback. This enables the Academy’s education department to fine-tune the course offering in time for its public launch on August 15 when Carmena-Young is hosting a earthquake educator preview open to all registered Bay Area teachers.

“This is a pilot program,” Carmena-Young adds. “Online coursework enables us to curate the information into a valuable learning experience and present these materials in a meaningful, accessible way.”

Teachers, want to register for the Earthquake Educator Preview? To learn more about this free workshop, click here.

—Barbara Tannenbaum

Filed under: Uncategorized — btannenbaum @ 5:15 pm

Secrets of the Shake House

Shake House is back for the new Earthquake Exhibit.
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