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Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
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Fly on the Wall 

October 13, 2009

Help for coho

Every so often at the Academy, we hear about how some of the equipment used at our temporary Howard Street home is now meeting other organizations’ needs in unexpected ways. When all the animals had been moved out of Howard Street, we donated aquarium tanks to a number of institutions, including the Tiburon Salmon Institute.

This week, we heard from them that the National Marine Fisheries Service has been deeply concerned about their coho salmon hatchery near Santa Cruz, ever since the area was hit by wildfire this summer. The first rains of the year (now upon us) are expected to wash ash, silt, and other debris into the creeks which feed the hatchery, changing the pH of the water, and potentially clogging the gills of the endangered coho. So, NMFS called the Tiburon Salmon Institute, and is borrowing several of the donated 500-gallon tanks in order to protect the hatchery’s coho population from those harmful contaminants. We wish them every success! Read more about the situation here.

Filed under: Great Migration,Other News — Helen @ 12:08 pm

October 6, 2008

A Bear of a Move

Friday marked the last scheduled trips for the Academy’s collections move. One truckload at a time, 20 million specimens have made their way from Howard Street to Golden Gate Park. There are a few odds and ends left, but Friday’s two trips included one of the most unwieldy specimens, the 11-foot tall Kodiak bear featured in the video clip below. At right, additional specimens from the Ornithology and Mammalogy department being unloaded in Golden Gate Park. Since the time the Academy first moved to Howard Street, the research collections have grown by about 2 million specimens.

Filed under: Great Migration,Research Departments — Helen @ 5:55 pm

August 18, 2008

Snapping turtles enter Swamp

The Swamp tank is starting to fill with life. The first fish and the alligator snapping turtles were introduced this week, in advance of the alligators, which will be arriving shortly. Each turtle traveled from Howard Street in its own crate, and they all received physical exams and x-rays before the biologists lowered them into the Swamp. Snapping turtle video clip.Stay tuned for an update after the “big guys” arrive.

aquarium animalsaquarium animalsaquarium animals

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 9:38 am

July 15, 2008

Giant sea bass arrives

What does it take to move a giant sea bass? For starters, seven aquatic biologists, excellent pallet jack maneuvering skills, and a willingness to get a little wet.

The sea bass waited patiently as the biologists steering the transport container navigated some complicated turns and a few obstacles (like cords, in the photo below, left). After getting acclimated to the water from its new habitat, and splashing around a bit, the large fish was positioned in its sling. Then the biologists hoisted it up and into the tank (below, right), where it joined five California moray eels and a pair of horn sharks.
Headed to the tankInto the slingReady to hoist

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 4:52 pm

June 25, 2008

Sewing 101, continued…

600 yards of string and 75 yards of muslin fabric later…Ornithology & Mammalogy’s antler bags are complete. Now that the sewing is done, it’s time to get the skulls into their protective bags and hang them up – a process that’s more complicated than you might think.

First, the lower mandible is attached to the rest of the skull with wire. The wire is coated with nylon to protect the bones. Next, a piece of soft foam is inserted between the upper and lower jaw, to keep them from bumping together (below, left). Then a wire is inserted through the back of the skull and a loop is formed at the top (below, right) for hanging.
mammal researchmammal research
Then the skull is placed in a small, medium, large, or XL archival cloth bag, which is tied at the top to keep it on (below, left). The last step is to hang the skull up on a hook – by the wire loop, not the tied cloth, of course. Racks like the one pictured below are being filled this week, and are organized by genus and species, so researchers can readily locate the specimens they need in the future.
mammal researchmammal research

Filed under: Great Migration,Research Departments — Helen @ 10:05 am

June 11, 2008

Large leather corals arrive

Our biologists expected that moving the three large leather corals (Sarcophyton sp.) would be the most challenging move yet for the Philippine coral reef exhibit. In the years since they first arrived at Howard Street (where they lived in a 20,000-gallon coral reef tank), the coral colonies have grown considerably, making them rather awkward to handle. They had also become attached to some very heavy rocks, so before bringing them up to the surface to move, a biologist detached some of the heavier rocks, making the rest of the process more manageable.

To keep them comfortable, the corals were loaded into a transport container that was kept nice and moist throughout the trip. The individual coral polyps closed up to protect themselves, secreting a mucus to help conserve moisture during the transition.

Four hands are better than two when it comes to moving heavy, delicate living things, so the biologists worked in pairs to get them into their new 212,000-gallon home (above). Now the polyps are opening back up, and they are adjusting as expected. When the new Academy opens, you’ll see them in front of the largest underwater viewing window in the Philippine coral reef tank – they’re the ones that look like giant chanterelle mushrooms.

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 12:34 pm

May 23, 2008

Sewing 101 – How to sew an “antler bag”

This is one of those stories that you won’t find anywhere but the California Academy of Sciences…this week, a small team of volunteers started the process of sewing 150 or so custom-fit bags to protect the Ornithology & Mammalogy department’s collection of antlers and skulls.

Below, from left to right, here’s how one begins crafting an “antler bag” (whether you’re sewing something for a child, your home, or an elk, it’s a remarkably similar process):

1. Record the skull’s dimensions.
2. Cut a first draft of the pattern from butcher paper. Hold it up to the skull to see how the bag will fit, and adjust as needed. The elk (Cervus elaphus) skull pictured in the second photo is from 1913, and is one of the largest in the collection.
3. Using the final pattern, cut the pieces from archival muslin fabric, which will protect the specimens while in storage.

research specimensewing 101sewing 101

The sewing is taking place as we speak…more to come once the bags are ready to “wear.” Meanwhile, check out this incredible story about how some creative sewing helped our penguin Pierre re-grow his feathers.

Filed under: Great Migration,Research Departments — Helen @ 10:55 am

May 15, 2008

Life in the Lagoon

Curious about how the Lagoon’s new inhabitants are faring? Diego, an 80-pound green sea turtle, joined the blacktip reef sharks and rays in the Lagoon about three weeks ago and it took a little while for the other animals to get to know the “new guy.”

Diego’s caretakers say he’s a bit like a big lumbering puppy – curious about everything. At first, when Diego would swim toward the rays, they tended to scatter out of the way (eighty pounds of innocent curiosity might startle you too!). But now that they’ve spent a few weeks together, the rays have grown used to having Diego around and are not so surprised by his neighborly visits.

For a closer look at how the Lagoon’s residents and research collections are making their way to Golden Gate Park, check out this recent QUEST radio story, accompanied by a great slideshow:

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 9:23 am

May 8, 2008

Penguins test their new tank

On Tuesday, penguins Dunker and Pete took a first look at their new digs in Golden Gate Park. Pam Schaller, one of our senior aquatic biologists, took the two young African penguins over to the new Academy to observe their reactions to the new space. She watched to see how they navigated the nooks and crannies in the rockwork, and how they entered and exited the 25,000-gallon tank.


Pam donned a wetsuit and stationed herself in the chilly 50-degree water, encouraging the birds to take a dip. After some brief hesitation, they jumped right in. The trial run was deemed a success and afterward, Dunker and Pete headed back to Howard Street, where they and the rest of the colony are still living. Once the new exhibit is completely ready in African Hall, the entire colony will move together. Be the first to know when new updates are posted by subscribing to our RSS feed.

Filed under: Aquarium,Great Migration — Helen @ 4:05 pm

May 1, 2008

Invertebrates, rocks & fossils of all sizes

The Invertebrate Zoology & Geology department (also known as “IZ&G“) has painstakingly stabilized two and a half million specimens over the past several months – ranging from jars of spindly sea spiders to geological treasures that are millions – even billions – of years old. To prepare for moving, the collection handlers have crafted thousands of custom-made cushions (like the ones below, center) to accommodate all the odd shapes and sizes.
Jars, jars, and more jarscustom packingLarge fossils

Filed under: Great Migration,Research Departments — Helen @ 6:08 am
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