Connecticut’s aquariums are doing everything possible — thinking outside the tank — to connect with you during this period of social distancing, this #coronacation. Although Mystic Aquarium and The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk are temporarily closed, they both offer free online resources to provide fun and educational opportunities for people of all ages.
For example, Facebook live broadcasts are held daily at 11 a.m. from Mystic Aquarium, featuring different animal care professionals and a variety of species. With more than 4,000 animals in their care, there’s plenty to cover. During the broadcasts, viewers are encouraged to ask questions in the comments section. Following each segment, experts follow up to ensure all questions are answered.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is doing the same. Sharks and their cousins, the rays, were the topic of a recent live Facebook Q&A there. Dave Sigworth, spokesman for the Aquarium, says people really enjoyed it. “Yes, we’re doing one every day at 3 o’clock – even on Saturdays and Sundays – and each day draws in more participants as word gets around,” he said.
“The live sessions are only 10- to 15 minutes long, but we're getting 40 to 50 questions in that time. That’s usually too many to answer live, but we eventually answer everyone’s submitted questions in the written comments thread. And no glitches in the process so far, other than sometimes having to guide a couple folks who need a second explanation of how they can hear the audio on their computer.”
Do people have lots of different questions? Do they ever surprise the experts?
“Folks definitely are asking a good range of questions,” he said. “For instance, one day’s topic was ‘How we feed our animals’ and some questions were basic, like ‘What does the octopus eat?’ and ‘How often do you feed the rays?’ But we also had someone ask if marine animals can get indigestion and another ask if any sharks eat plants. We did not anticipate those!”
Sigworth said they also plan to cover subjects such as the Aquarium’s conservation efforts. “One of the most important things happening right now is that The Maritime Aquarium and about 20 other institutions across America are tending to live stony corals pulled from the Florida Reef Tract, which is being wiped out by a disease. The corals that we’re tending were saved before the disease got to them.
“Once this crisis subsides, we and the other organizations will return these corals to the waters off Florida to try to help restart the reef. It’s a last-ditch effort that’s never been tried before, which is why the effort is being called a Coral Ark, after the Biblical Noah.”
If you’re passionate about specific aspects of Maritime Aquarium’s work or its animals — there’s 321 species and close to 6,000 creatures — and would like to see your subject addressed in a live session, you can submit suggestions via email or Facebook.
The Maritime Aquarium also has links on its website so schools – or anyone – can stream several of its IMAX movies, including “The Living Sea,” “Humpback Whales” and “Dream Big: Engineering Our World.”
“Well, admittedly, the experience of watching an IMAX movie at home is not going to be the same as seeing it on our six-story tall screen in a resolution that’s better than any home TV system,” Sigworth said. “But, personally, I believe viewing them at home – when you’re not overwhelmed by the scale – is also when you realize that these movies are beautifully filmed and full of educational content.”
Sigworth said, “The Living Sea” was one of the first IMAX movies nominated for an Academy Award, and deservedly so. “Many area school teachers bring their students to see our IMAX movies and incorporate the content into their lessons, especially by taking advantage of the Educators’ Guides that the producers create. We want teachers to know that the movies are still available and that they can still take advantage of them.”
These IMAX movies were not previously available via links on the Aquarium’s website, he said, so this is a new development. “I’m not sure if the production companies will pull them off streaming when this is over.”
The Maritime Aquarium is also adding live online educational programs for families, individuals and schools, starting March 30. A Friday storytime series for preschoolers (in which participants can talk to the educator) sold out in less than day, but spaces remain for a free virtual “Citizen Science” class on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. In addition, nine paid STEM-based programs for schools became available for live streaming this week, with more to come. “These are longer programs with intentional STEM educational content, and thus are different from the casual live daily Q&As on Facebook,” he said. Each program is free, but advance reservations are required so you can receive a needed link. Details are at maritimeaquarium.org.
Meanwhile, Mystic Aquarium has a many multimedia resources available at MysticAquarium.org, “from the unique offerings of the Aquarium’s national conservation-based STEM education program to downloadable coloring sheets and activities . The Aquarium’s Pinterest page also has a host of conservation-focused activities, and storytimes are planned via Facebook. They will include tales about Mystic Aquarium’s “very own Astro the Steller sea lion and Charlotte the green sea turtle,” among other marine-themed children’s books.
In partnership with Aquarion Water Company, a free live feed from the African penguin habitat is also available at MysticAquarium.org. “Our doors may be closed,” said Josh Davis, senior trainer of penguins, who is one of the hosts of Mystic Aquarium’s daily Facebook live events, “but we are still here for our animals and our community.”
So, are all of these fish and other creatures sad because they aren’t having the usual number of visitors?
“Ha! Hard to say if the animals miss our guests,” Sigworth said. “But what’s most important to know is that our Animal Husbandry staff remains on full-time status, making sure that all of our animals are healthy and well-fed.”