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.
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.
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.
It’s not easy to carry around a box of rocks – ever tried it? – but it’s all in a day’s work for Academy biologists. Having recently collected some live rock (below, left) to incorporate into the 100,000 gallon California Coast tank, the biologists began installing it this week. The “live” in “live rock” refers to the living bacteria, algae, snails, limpets, and other critters that make the rocks their home. By adding these to the tank now, they hope that in time, the living organisms will naturally spread and begin growing on other rocks, adding another dimension to the tank, which is modeled after the habitat of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
To move the heavy blue box of rocks from the loading dock to the tank area, they used a pallet jack (like a mini-forklift). Then, a few at a time, they were slowly lowered down to the tank floor in the orange bucket seen above, where a diver was waiting to unload and place them throughout the exhibit.