FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s a whole new world under the sea and behind the scenes of The Reef Aquarium in the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
Above where the fish swim, there’s tank access and giant filters and space for the animal care specialists to prep food to care for the animals.
A large tank not on display is growing several species of soft coral to help rebuild the ocean’s population.
“Having them in aquarium is to learn about what helps them grow,” Micayla ‘Mic’ Monroe, the dive safety officer and an aquarist at the zoo, said. “In the wild, there’s heating up water temperatures and other events are damaging coral badly. A lot of people think coral are plants, but they have symbiotic bacteria that live inside them. That’s what gives them their beautiful color. When the water temperature is too high or there are bad conditions, the bacteria will leave the corals and that contributes to coral bleaching. When you see the white coral in the wild that’s kind of rubbery, that’s because the bacteria has left because the water is not suitable for them.”
It’s important to care about coral because coral is important to the ocean’s ecosystem.
“The coral reef is a huge habitat for reef fish, especially the baby and juvenile fish. But without the coral reef, we’ll have trouble seeing babies and juvenile fish and they won’t grow up and it just goes down the food chain,” Monroe said. “The next time you take your next beach vacation, don’t disturb the coral. They’re an animal that deserves our respect.”
Another tank in the upstairs area of the aquarium is home to the Red Clawed Australian Yabby, a species of crayfish. It’s the only freshwater tank in the Reef area.
“They get fed twice a day. Shrimp is their favorite and we also feed them smelt, which is a small lake minnow. They get veggies too. They get peas and spinach and broccoli,” Monroe said. “We’ll take the Yabbies out when the zoo has birthday parties and we can bring them to the party room and let the children interact with them.”
The main fish tank in the aquarium is home to around 60 fish representing around 30 different species. The 20,000-gallon tank has 10,000 gallons of artificial salt water in the main front area and another 10,000 gallons in secondary pools. A large sand filter system keeps it clean.
The fish will be fed chopped up scallops or sliced shrimp or capelin, which are a long sliver fish. They’ll also get veggies like lettuce, greens and broccoli.
The shark tank is 50,000 gallons of artificial salt water and home to Zebra Shark Valentine, two Blacktip Reef Sharks and a Giant Grouper.
Valentine is trained to go near a station or to touch a target to get her food. The Zebra Shark, like rays, uses suction to slurp up their food.
“It’s called hydraulic mining. They push water into sand to unbury prey and then suck it back up,” Monroe said.
The sharks got their name because they have stripes when they’re born, but the stripes turn to spots as they get older. Valentine has a grouping of spots on her nose in the shape of her heart, earning her her name.
Valentine will start laying eggs in October and the zoo will send them to a research center in Georgia. The research is focusing on parthenogenesis.
“Some sharks and rays can unisexually reproduce. I liken that to cloning themselves. It’s pretty wild. It’s a scientific anomaly,” Monroe said.
While most sharks need to keep swimming to keep water and oxygen going through their gills, Zebra sharks have a special organ that allows them to hold still. You might catch Valentine taking a nap at the bottom of her tank.
The giant grouper at the zoo will swim to the center of a yellow hoop in the water to get her meals and the Blacktip sharks will swim by a yellow buoy put in the water to be fed. They also work on target and clicker training.
Both large fish tanks are kept around 78 degrees. The jellyfish tank, however, is much colder at around 59 degrees.
The zoo also hatches brine shrimp for the jellyfish to eat every day. Watch the video below to see how it’s done.