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Sea Shuttle Aquarium News
by erickson on 

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick update regarding the Sea Shuttle, onboard, catch-and-release aquarium.

Aquarium hobbyists might find this interesting.

Regarding feeding…we’ve been putting in 5 different kinds of frozen plankton cubes I bought at PetSmart into the tank. I did this mainly for the anemones, who definitely catch the thawing plankton, but I also noticed hermit crabs reaching out and grabbing the tiny mysid shrimp. The hermits seem to be opportunistic omnivores.

The anemones are blooming well (usually not all at once). I’m thinking the store-bought plankton might be helping them thrive, now that we are not going out for fresh, plankton-containing seawater everyday. This is just a wild guess.

Lefty II (our second lobster of the season successfully regenerating a claw) has been rejecting fresh mussel meat lately. But that’s really all we’ve been feeding him, although he apparently did a pretty good job devouring Rocky the rock crab. And I suspect he eats a little sea lettuce. Maybe too many mussel dinners is like us having to eat mac and cheese for dinner every day. It’s good, but we’d get tired of it after a while.

Anyway, the Leftmeister acts perturbed when he gets too much mussel. He quickly carries it out of his lair, then tosses it away like an arrogant diner rudely returning an imperfectly cooked steak.

Could this be a behavioral adaptation to keep sharks and other predators from sensing leftovers in his den and putting him at risk?

And so, I bought some herring at the bait store in Salem. As soon as I offered it to Lefty II, he ate about a quarter of a herring in one session. He was devouring it like it was the last herring in the sea.

Having observed that, we’ll be mixing up his menu a bit.

Mrs. Crabtree, the spider crab, also likes herring, and now a piece of herring has attached to those little hooks on her carapace. Maybe she will have that for a midnight snack, if the hermit crab that climbed on her shell doesn’t finish it off first. I wouldn’t put it past a hermit to raid the fridge.

Well, that’s all for now . . . until the next aquarium update,


Paul Erickson

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Sea Shuttle at Beverly Harborfest 2016
by erickson on 

Beverly Harborfest, Saturday, September 10, 3PM to 6PM.

During Harborfest, bring the kids aboard the Sea Shuttle Endeavour while she is docked at Beverly's Glover Wharf Municipal Marina, by, you guessed it, the old MacDonald's.  Check out live ocean animals on the loose in our onboard Sea Shuttle Aquarium and Touch Tank...all for FREE.

Then at 6:15PM, join us for an excursion around Salem Sound on the Sea Shuttle's Harborfest Water Tour. Guests ($20) Children ($15) Infants (FREE) Seniors ($15). Drinks and snacks available onboard.
To get advance tickets for the 6:15PM Harborfest Tour, please return to the Home page and click on Calendar & Purchase Tickets.

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On-board Endeavour Aquarium
by erickson on 

Thanks everyone on the Sea Shuttle crew for taking such great care of the Aquarium!

The animals have been thriving and eating throughout the season.

People have been asking what we feed the animals we catch and later on release back to their Salem Sound habitats. So here's a rundown of what's on the menu:

Sea stars who either eat raw mussel meat or open the mussels themselves—nothing fancy, no garlic, wine or tartar sauce, or wasabi, just pure sashimi!

Our lobster, Lefty II, gobbles down one to three mussels a day and will apparently indicate he’s hungry by tromping through the tank on the prowl for some fast food.

Mrs. Crabtree, the spider crab, who eats roughly a mussel a day, complements her seafood with the salad items she picks off the garden atop her shell. So far she hasn’t demanded Italian bread to go with that combination. But if she wants it, we'll get it :)

Our 20 or so hermit crabs pick up the leftovers and scrub mussel shells clean of any food traces. They also eat algae, which is one reason we’ve been letting green algae (Enteromorpha sp.) grow on some of the larger rocks. Oh yeah, they also climb on Mrs. Crabtree’s back and steal from her mobile shell garden.

We feed the anemones frozen and thawed plankon (a little expensive, but fortunately small quantities) from the Petsmart freezer. But I suspect they are mostly thriving on tiny to microscopic plankton items that comes in with the seawater from the Sound.

And last but not least, our little sculpin fish has come out of hiding more frequently. Yesterday we watched him nibble on mussel meat. So, happily, our first experimental aquarium fish is doing well.

Other than that, we try to keep the tank clean, but not too clean. Here's why: because the decaying detritus from seagrass and algae is covered with nutrient-rich bacteria and fungi, which many of the animals will eat—just like sea creatures do up and down the New England coast.

So, that's the latest from the Endeavour Aquarium. We hope you enjoy today's photo looking down from the top of the tank in the morning sun.

Thanks for reading our blog today! Hope to see you onboard the Sea Shuttle Endeavour.

ps. You may have noticed from the photo that Lefty II has only one claw. That's the way we found him in our educational lobster trap. Now we're protecting him as he regenerates the lost claw.

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New Endeavour Aquarium visitor
by erickson on 

by erickson on 2016/08/15 12:54 PM

The latest crowd-pleasing addition to the Sea Shuttle Endeavour's on-board, catch-and-release, 250 gallon, saltwater aquarium is a Portly Spider Crab Libinia emarginata, aka Common Spider Crab or Nine-spined Spider Crab.

From time to time, along the shores of southeastern New England, molted spider crab shells wash ashore by the hundreds after thousands of these harmless crustaceans gather and cluster offshore to molt and mate.

As ferocious as it may look, the spider crab's claws are relatively weak, say, compared with the mighty claws of the American lobster—something I can report from recent, direct experience.

The only injury I have ever received involving a spider crab occurred while I was avoiding one in the shallow waters of Cape Cod. As I moved out of the crab's way, I stepped on the sharp edge of a broken beer bottle buried in the sand.

While getting stitched up in a local hospital, it occurred to me that I would have been better off allowing the harmless crab to simply crawl over my feet.
The portly spider crab is a type of "decorator" crab.

Seaweeds, sponges and other organisms attach to the spines and hairs on its back. The decorations create near-perfect camouflage, letting the crab hide in plain sight. As with many other sea creatures, the crab is essentially a mobile habitat where other species live or just hang around.

For example, today, one of our hermit crabs climbed up on the spider crab's back. There it nibbled on Spidey's decorative seaweed garden.

Today, our new crabby resident quickly devoured the tasty flesh of two mussels we served to it. We'll need to keep it well-fed to keep it from nibbling on our sea stars.

Thanks for reading our blog today; please tune in from time to time for more dispatches the Sea Shuttle.
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by erickson on 

Salem Sound

Not Salem Sound

This past Saturday, a sunrise cruise on the Sea Shuttle Endeavour let guests say "Goodbye" and "Fair winds" to the Hōkūleʻa—a highly-accurate full-scale, sailing replica of a wa'a kaulua, or double-hulled voyaging canoe.

Since 1973, the Honolulu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society has promoted international public awareness of the astonishing navigational abilities and virtuoso sailing heritage of Polynesian mariners. Polynesian double-hulled sailboats date back to at least 3,500 years before the present (BP). (Please sail over to:

The ship, visiting Salem as part of a 4-year circumnavigation of the world, is devoted to conserving the ocean—a mission very much in line with that of Endeavour.

Then there's this: Both Hōkūleʻa and the Sea Shuttle Endeavour have double hulls. And a double hulled vessel is often called a catamaran. Okay, that's no big secret. But DID YOU KNOW? One likely origin of the term "catamaran" comes from the Tamil Indian (as in the country of India) word "kattu-maram," or "tied-wood," referring to two wooden hulls tied together.

Fair winds, sailing friends. Maybe see you in Honolulu.

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Sea Shuttle On-Board Aquarium Update
by erickson on 

Endeavour Aquarium Renovations for 2016

By Paul Erickson, Sea Shuttle Naturalist

How many boats have you been on that have a built-in saltwater aquarium? I had not heard of a floating aquarium until I met the folks on the 45' Sea Shuttle catamaran Endeavour.

I thought the idea was brilliant: display creatures borrowed from the same ocean that surrounds you with all its sights, sounds and smells.
I knew I had to be part of this development in "playful learning" at sea, as Captain Mike Medlock puts it.

Today's photo shows our newly plumbed aquarium, which is now attached to a chiller unit that will allow us to maintain the same constant, chilly temps as those in Salem Sound, overnight, when Endeavour is in port.

With some clever construction by Captain Lou and the expert oversight of professional aquarist Dave Winchester, we are taking the Aquarium's ecology to a new level of biodiversity.

Since we took this photo, we've already added a number of animals to this onboard ecosystem (not easily visible in the photo is our recently molted, soft-shelled lobster, which is hiding in a safe rocky sanctuary we built for it at the back of the aquarium).

During the day, we pump in cold seawater from the open Sound. And based on the success we've had with the animals so far, these esteemed tank resident are benefiting from the inflow of unfiltered plankton, beneficial marine bacteria and who-knows-what kinds of other microscopic life forms that are part of their nearby natural habitat.

Come join us and check out our live animals. We emphasize hands-on experiences with our sea creatures, and that is something that kids never forget.

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Sea Shuttle Mission
by erickson on 

By Paul Erickson, Sea Shuttle Life-Science Reporter

The Sea Shuttle 45' motor catamaran Endeavour team is always thrilled to see our guests enjoying trips out to Salem Sound.

Passengers enjoy listening to the captain's live, historical narration spotlighting hundreds of years of Gold Coast stories (and scandles) while sipping a cold libation.

In turn, as the only commercial vessel permitted to shuttle people to Great Misery Island, we love to hear our guests' stories about their island explorations and discoveries along 2.5 miles of the island's hiking trails.

But the Sea Shuttle Mission is much more than that.

"The Sea Shuttle mission is to bring people out here into the waters of Salem Sound to teach them about the enormous quantity and diversity of life out here underneath the water," says Captain Mike Medlock.

Specifically, during the past several years, Endeavour has served as a multipurpose learning platform for thousands of children studying marine biology and basic oceanography.

Among the groups studying our local coastal waters is the Salem Sound Coastwatch / School to Sea Program and the Northeastern University Coastal Ocean Science Academy (COSA).

Both students, teachers, and the many families that cruise with us across the 14 square-mile Salem Sound, enjoy observing Endeavour's centerpiece: a 250-gallon acrylic saltwater, catch-and-release aquarium.

What's more, the Shuttle crew brings out some of the aquarium's live animals, including hermit crabs and sea stars, so that kids of every age and cultural background can have a direct, hands-on experience with the nature of the Sound.

"I think the onboard aquarium is a unique opportunity to be close to the natural habitat of the sea life and to see it close to its natural state," says Captain Mike.

"People can experience and even touch live sea life we're bringing onboard temporarily, a short distance from its natural environment. Then we return the animals to the specific coastal habitats where we collected them. This entertaining teaching process allows us to be more marine life observers than manipulators."

It is especially exciting and surprising when adults with little prior interest in science find themselves captivated by say a strange sea squirt or a beautiful brittle starfish they've never seen before.

Yet there is nothing like the magical moments when kids encounter and even hold, say, a one-clawed lobster with a regenerating second claw. (We temporarily band lobster claws to avoid any accidental pinches).

"We treasure those moments when kids encounter something on the boat that gives them a sense of awe," says Mike.

 "You can see something imprinting on their minds, they have really had a special kind of experience."

Now that you have found the Sea Shuttle website, also check out our Facebook page with colorful pictures of the beautiful and often strange sea life. (24) Sea Shuttle

Then surf over to our mission video to see some cool critters on Sea Shuttle Mission Video - YouTube

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Sea Shuttle Aquarium Update
by erickson on 

By Paul Erickson, Sea Shuttle Naturalist/Bio-Nerd

When I was first introduced to the Sea Shuttle catamaran Endeavour (the name being a nod to the Space Shuttle Endeavour, with identical spelling), I was impressed by how well this vessel is designed for use in the Salem Sound coastal wilderness.

Not only is the vessel energy efficient (streamlined and not overpowered), its design also offers extra stability within the relatively protected waters of the Sound.

But what really caught my attention, being a former New England Aquarium staffer for 26 years, was the Shuttle's on-board, catch-and-release aquarium.

First, I had never seen an aquarium onboard a boat.

Second, I liked the idea of a catch-and-release aquarium.

Third, the 250-gallon tank, built out of beautifully polished acrylic, is sufficiently thick to keep cold seawater cold. That insulation helps keep the marine life we temporarily borrow from the sea healthy, happy and basically chilling, even in hot weather.  

Also, the creator of the Sea Shuttle Endeavour experience, Captain Mike Medlock, had the foresight to design the aquarium system in a way that enables us to pump in cold seawater from the underside of the Shuttle.

This feature regularly refreshes the tank with untold species and numbers of phytoplankton and zooplankton, along with billions of good bacteria, nutrients and dissolved oxygen. As a result, certain sensitive animals such as sea anemones and hydroids thrive in the Endeavour Aquarium.

This season, Michael has invested in a top-notch water chilling unit and other marine-life support systems that will improve the Aquarium, enabling us to keep cold water circulating overnight, when the vessel is in port.

Meanwhile, school groups and families are enjoying our temporary aquarium residents, which we regularly return to the original habitats from which they were collected.

An example is a one-clawed lobster who is regenerating (growing back) a claw he perhaps lost in battle with another lobster on the bottom of Salem Sound (that's how we found him). This guy is a real chow-hound, voraciously devouring the delicious clam meat we give him for breakfast.

So come check out the Sea Shuttle's aquarium to see what's lurking, prowling, swimming and slithering through your local coastal waters.

See you out on Salem Sound. You just never know what you are going to see in your Sound.

p.s. All animals in our aquarium are temporarily held and cared for under a Massachusetts Dept. of Marine Fisheries Educational Permit.

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School To Sea Cruises on the Sea Shuttle
by erickson on 

By Paul Erickson, Sea Shuttle Naturalist

As the school season winds down for many students and teachers, some schools are still making waves, voyaging out to sea for exciting learning experiences on Salem Sound via Sea Shuttle.

Today, I had the privilege of cruising across the Sound with Ocean Literacy Educator Emily Flaherty of Salem Sound Coastwatch and a highly enthusiastic crew of kids from the Salem's (Massachusetts) Nathaniel Bowditch School.

During this educational expedition, Emily arranged a wonderfully diverse series of science-related activities including:

—Hauling up Sea Shuttle's state-permitted, catch-and-release lobster trap to study those fascinating, ever-popular crustaceans with the "awesome" claws.

—Observing eelgrass—a flowering plant that forms an emerald-green savannah on the Sound's sandy bottoms.  Using the Shuttle's live underwater video camera and wide-screen topside playback system, students can see what's prowling through this mysteriously beautiful sunken jungle.

—Scooping up barely visible sea creatures with a plankton net and observing their finds, including lobster and sea star larvae, through microscopes.

—Checking out some of the residents of the Shuttle's on-board catch-and-release aquarium such as hermit crabs, sea squirts, and a sea star.

According to Emily, the Salem Sound Coastwatch School to Sea program educates young people about our coastal waters and their vital connection to the Salem Sound watershed—the land-based area that acts like a vast sink, channeling water down rivers, through marshes and into the sea. Once kids make that connection, they quickly learn why clean coastal waters depend upon a healthy watershed.

"Through these experiences," says Emily, "students can realize how they can become stewards of the place they call home."

For more information about Salem Sound Coastwatch programs, contact:



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Searching for Sea Stars
by erickson on 

By Paul Erickson, Sea Shuttle Naturalist

Fog cloaked Salem Sound this morning as I searched for starfish, aka sea stars. I've seen a few clinging to the shores of the Sound this year.  But today, no luck.

That didn't surprise me. Sea stars are harder to find these days. What's with that?

In recent years, sea star wasting disease has plagued both the east and west coasts of the U.S. Scientists have been trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem.

Symptoms of wasting disease are not pretty. One day a sea star looks bright and healthy. Days later it's a decomposing blob.  

On the west coast marine pathologists have established a link between wasting disease and a densovirus called SSaDV.

In the unlikely event that you don't know what a densovirus is let's just say that it is a type of parvovirus. One kind of parvovirus makes puppies sick, but it has no connection with sea star wasting disease.

Whether there are other causes for the recent sea star demise such as climate change, warming oceans, or overall human impact on coastal waters is unknown. Typically, correlations between symptoms and the causes of widespread ocean die-offs are challenging to define.

What is known is that at least some species of both sea stars and sea urchins have boom and bust cycles as part of their natural population biology.

So as we optimistically wait for sea stars to recover, today we've posted a few images of healthy sea stars from 1990.

One more thing: I'm not a betting man, but I'd guess that more than one professional marine biologist got her start as a little kid poking around tide pools and discovering a brightly colored sea star.

If you have such a memory please share the story with us.

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