Woods Hole Science Aquarium FAQs
Answers to the most frequently asked questions about the Aquarium's residents.
Why is the lobster blue? And do they taste different?
Lobsters may be blue for two reasons. Some lobsters are born blue due to a genetic mutation; others turn bluish due to deficiencies in their diet. The blue lobsters in the Aquarium are genetic blues.
The shell is the only part that is blue; the meat is not. Blue lobsters taste the same as any other lobsters.
How do horseshoe crabs reproduce?
Male horseshoe crabs, which are significantly smaller than the females, use their boxing-glove shaped claws to latch onto the female's shell. The female crawls ashore, towing the male or males behind her. She digs a shallow hole and lays up to 80,000 eggs. She then drags the males over the hole, and they fertilize the eggs. Then the hole is covered and the crabs head back into the ocean.
Why do fish have whiskers?
Scientists call the whiskers "barbells." They are really taste buds that help the fish find prey in dark or murky waters.
How long can seals and turtles hold their breath?
The answer varies by species. Some seals can hold their breath for an hour or longer, and some sea turtles can sleep underwater for two hours or more. Active animals can not stay under that long because they are using more oxygen. Harbor seals usually do not dive any longer than three or four minutes, and sea turtles typically do not stay under for more than five to ten minutes.
How do sea stars move?
The sea star has hundreds of tube-shaped feet on its underside. Each foot has a muscle that pushes water from inside the sea star down into the tube to make the foot move forward. When this muscle relaxes, the foot stops moving and the next foot in line takes a step. So by moving the feet in order, the sea star walks.
Some sea stars can climb smooth rocks and Aquarium walls by using those muscles to pull water out of the tube feet after it takes a step, so the flat bottom of the foot bulges inwards and forms a suction cup. When the muscle relaxes, the suction cup lets go and it takes another step forward and attaches the foot to the wall again.
Touch Tank FAQs
Why are we only allowed to touch the animals with two fingers?
Hundreds of people stop at the touch tanks everyday. If everyone picked up an animal, the touch tank residents would be stressed and possibly injured. If everyone touches the animals gently, with two fingers, the animals stay comfortable and healthy.
Does the horseshoe crab have a stinger?
No, the horseshoe crab has a tail it uses to flip itself over when it gets turned upside down. This is not a stinger. None of the animals in the touch tanks can hurt you.
Are the fish (tautogs) dead or sick?
No, these fish are slow moving fish that spend much of the day lying on the bottom or hiding around shells and rocks. This is their normal behavior.
Is there anything in the shells?
Yes, there are animals called whelks inside some of the shells. We usually have either knobbed whelks or channeled whelks in the touch tanks. Both whelks are types of ocean snails. Sometimes we have quahogs (a type of clam) and hermit crabs (soft-bodied crabs that live in abandoned snail shells).
Will the spider crabs bite?
No, the spider crabs will not bite. They have very small pinchers, but they can't hurt you with their pinchers.
What is the orange spot on the top of the sea star?
The orange spot is called the madreporite, or "mother pore" (a pore is an opening). The sea star draws in water through the madreporite to regulate the pressure in its legs and tube feet. The madreporite is like a sieve. It filters out particles as it draws in water.
Sometimes the sea stars needs to release water from inside its body, too. The madreporite allows water to move both in and out, so the sea star always has just the amount it needs inside its body.
Harbor Seal FAQs
How long can seals hold their breath underwater?
The answer varies by species. Harbor seals can sleep underwater for as long as 20 minutes. To stay under this long, they slow their heartbeat way down. They usually only dive for three or four minutes at a time. Some seals in the Arctic (Weddell seals) spend a lot of time under the ice and can hold their breath for an hour, and maybe much longer than that.
How deep do they dive?
Harbor seals can dive up to 90 meters (300 feet), but they usually only go three meters (ten feet) below the surface.
How big do harbor seals get?
Male harbor seals grow up to six feet and 250 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. At birth, harbor seals are approximately thirty inches and 20 pounds.
Can seals see color?
Yes, to a limited degree. In addition to rods, they also have cones in their eyes that let them see some color.
Can seals hear sounds from above the water when they are underwater?
Yes, they can hear sounds from above the surface when they are underwater. Seals have better hearing under water than they do in air.
Can seals hear higher pitched sounds, like dogs?
Yes, seals can hear higher pitched sounds than we can. Humans hear sounds up to 20 kilohertz. Although seals usually make sounds from 0.1 to 10 kilohertz, some seals make sounds up to 70 kilohertz, and we assume other seals can hear those sounds.
Do seals "speak?"
Adult female harbor seals rarely vocalize, except when they have pups. Our seals make a grunting, snorting noise when they are angry. Male harbor seals are a lot noisier than females and sometimes make a prolonged groan.
How long do harbor seals live?
Most seals live 20 to 25 years in the wild. In captivity, harbor seals can live 30 years and more. The oldest known in captivity was 42.