Written By McKenna Kelley | Photography By Gabriel Burgos
The staff of the Florida Aquarium cares for its animals just as well as it cares for its guests. They created a plan to engage each animal in behaviors it would exhibit in the wild in order to give them food and veterinary care.
“The programs are designed to enhance our ability to take care of the animals in a low-stress way,” said Mike Terrell, Director of Husbandry. “We develop a relationship with the animals where they are willingly taking part in their care, and it’s safer for us and them.”
One example of this is with Cleatus, the 300-pound goliath grouper. These fish are known for becoming assertive and even aggressive to caretakers, leading the fish to make what Terrell called an unmistakable booming sound. The aquarium staff had to change their actions to elicit a more positive response from Cleatus.
“When divers were in with the other fish, Cleatus liked to play in the bubbles above the divers,” Terrell said. “Over a course of months, the divers started taking their regulators out and blowing bubbles.”
Cleatus would relax on his side and flare out his gills, allowing the divers to clean him off. A spa day for a 300-pound fish.
Behavior plans work well for other animals too, like river otters and Southern stingrays. Terrell said that they share things they learn about the animals with researchers in the field, ensuring animals inside and outside the aquarium receive the best possible care.
Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico is delivered multiple times a year via barge to the Florida Aquarium in a partnership with the Mosaic Company. The gulf water helps create a natural environment for the sea creatures.
See spoonbills, sand tiger sharks, green sea turtles and many more animals as you explore the exhibits, arranged to follow Florida’s water system. Over 100 species reside in the coral reef alone.
A Tree Grows in Tampa
The aquarium features one of the largest interior displays of mangrove forests in the world in its Wetlands area.
The Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Dr.