When I’m traveling for business or when giving talks I usually try to visit everything I can that is hobby related. I stop at shops, wholesalers and manufacturers to see what is new and interesting. Truth be told, I rarely stop at any public aquariums as unfortunately to me most seem more focused on having large marine mammals as their key exhibits and these are just not that exciting for me to see.
Yeah I know I’m a reef geek. However, during my trip out west to speak at the west coast Reefapalooza, Leng Sy talked me into going to the Aquarium of the Pacific, aka The Long Beach Aquarium. He is friends with the curator, Sandy Trautwein, who was kind enough to show us around, give us a behind the scenes tour and also talk about how she would like to develop more of a relationship with the countless reef hobbyists in the area. I found her interest in working with hobbyists interesting and will discuss it more below.
Sandy has separated the aquarium into three sections and has three gentleman coordinating and managing each of these sections. Danny Munoz runs the tropical Pacific section, which is obviously the one nearest to our hearts. Chris Plante is curator for the California section, which deals with animals from around this part of the Pacific and Nate Jaros manages the Northern Pacific gallery, ie. the cold water section of the Pacific. So while my interest is exclusively on tropical animals, it was still interesting to see that the aquarium has something for just about everyone and that there could be an opportunity for hobbyist involvement in a wide variety of ways.
An indication of Sandy and the aquarium’s understanding of how much our hobby has grown and how successful we have gotten is in evidence when you first walk into the aquarium. Earlier this year the 10,000 plus gallon “reef tank” was converted from one containing nothing but fiberglass replicas of living coral to one which now houses several hundred live colonies and frags of sps corals as well as schools of reef safe fish.
This tank is their initial involvement with hobbyists as many of the corals in this tank were given to them by hobbyists either to help fill the tank or because the colonies themselves had gotten too big for the owner’s tanks. While the tank is still in its early stages of filling in, it is still heartening to see a public aquarium changing a long-standing display practice and becoming more attuned to what hobbyists like.
While this front display has only been up for a relatively short time, the varied displays in their tropical area have been up for a significant period of time. I must admit that few of the reef displays that I have seen in public aquariums have impressed me, but the main one here did for a couple of reasons.
First, unlike most it was not just a wall of coral set up like a fruit stand for display. It has depth and for lack of a better word texture to it. Also unlike most, it is not just a collection of Acropora, but rather it houses huge colonies of Pocillopora, Montipora and Turbinaria to name a few of the colonies in it, at sizes that only a few of us can dream of housing in our tanks.
Also I was able to see a picture of what the tank looked like only a couple of years ago, and the growth of the corals in this tank, especially the pink Pocillopora that dominates the center of the tank is impressive. The tank also houses some great fish, like a pair of black tangs, which I have only previously seen singularly.
The tank is not perfect as there is a majano anemone outbreak in some places, but this and other aspects of the tank are a great example of where a hobbyist could get involved. And most of us only dream of getting to work on a truly large tank. In addition to this tank, there are also numerous other reef tanks that most hobbyists would find interesting including an outdoor reef that is receiving natural sunlight. So there is a tank to cover just about everyone’s interest in the hobby.
But this big display tank is just a part of what I think many of you would find interesting. Around this tank are numerous smaller tanks housing many of the other kinds of animals in our reef tanks that keeps us in the hobby. One tank houses many large colonies of sps corals, but that is not the main focus of the tank.
Upon looking closely at the corals you quickly see that each coral houses a pair or more of the symbiotic coral crabs that are beneficial to the corals themselves. These crabs are a particular interest of Sandy, as she got her PH.D on better understanding them. In speaking with her and Danny, they would love to get them to breed and raise the offspring, but due to time constraints this is not possible. Once again here is an opportunity for a hobbyist.
Propagating new animals is one of the hallmarks of the hobby now, as we have gotten good enough at keeping things alive that we have now moved on to trying to propagate many of our animals and fortunately we are meeting with greater and greater success. In this regard the Aquarium of the Pacific is already successfully breeding and raising flamboyant cuttlefish, so much so that they are trading and sending the offspring to other AZA aquariums.
But this success is making them want to do more. In addition to the coral tanks, they also have a large anemone tank, housing many different types of anemones as well as clownfish. But to date, they are not getting them to reproduce. Once again our expertise could help them and at least to me that would be a fun activity to be involved in. In speaking with Danny, they would also like to become more involved in propagating corals, both soft and stony.
With numerous hobbyists already doing this, to me this seems like a perfect area where hobbyist involvement would be a perfect fit. I should point out, that all work propagating corals as well as the other invertebrates here is done so that the propagated animals can be traded or given to other AZA accredited institutions. Sorry but you won’t be bringing what you propagate home. However, for most of us there is still a tremendous sense of accomplishment in just being able to propagate our animals.
The aquarium also houses several other tanks that will delight most of us reef lovers. They have one tank dominated by non-photosynthetic corals that was amazing to me a heretofore strictly a sun-loving coral guy. They also have a large tank housing many different species of anthias, still a group of fish that many of us find difficult to keep for the long-term.
And they also have enough displays of specific fish and inverts, that there will be something to pique the interest of any hobbyist out there. If nothing else getting involved with the aquarium might afford a hobbyist a chance to learn first hand what a world class aquarium is doing to keep it’s fish and corals so successfully.
Since leafy seadragons are no longer collected and sold, the weedy and leafy sea dragons displayed at the aquarium are probably some of the last ones we will see in captivity until someone successfully learns how to breed them. The Aquarium of the Pacific was the first U.S. public aquarium that successfully cultured weedy seadragons, but to date, public aquariums have been unable to breed leafy sea dragons.
This is currently quite baffling, since it is now possible to breed and raise virtually all of their cousins. They are working quite diligently with other AZA aquariums to try and solve this problem and hopefully will do so in the near future and considering the long-term success they have had in keeping them I have no doubt they will succeed.
The Aquarium of the Pacific has been around since 1998, and if you are like most of us, we tend to take for granted things that are close by. I have been to the Los Angeles area probably at least 30 times over the last 15 years, yet this was my first time visiting the aquarium. As I said at the beginning for the most part I do not go to many public aquariums, but after seeing what is going on there and that Sandy and the rest of the staff have a genuine interest in getting hobbyists more involved, I probably will not only visit there again on my next trip, but will also make it a point to visit some other public aquariums during my travels.
If you are interested in getting involved with some of the work there, especially the time-consuming but fun work of propagating rare fish and corals, then you might want to contact them and see how you can help. I have always enjoyed working on new projects and large tanks, as after doing so it makes working on my own tanks so much easier. And if you can help achieve success in propagating any of the animals there, that too would be one of the great rewards of the hobby. [Aquarium of the Pacific]