Mote’s new temporary exhibit “Oh Baby! Life Cycles of the Sea,” comes complete with a shark touch-tank, comic book theme and baby fish so small, a magnifying glass is needed to see them.
The exhibit, which opened on Feb. 14, is designed to educate guests on the mating and breeding behaviors of marine animals, as well as the reproductive cycle of certain fish. Information is laid out according to different reproductive behaviors and formatted in a style reminiscent of classic comic books, with eye-catching fonts, Ben-Day dots and bold shades of red, blue and green.
“That was the work of our graphic designer,” Assistant Vice President for Mote Aquarium, Evan Barniskis said during a phone interview. “She took the content that the education department gave her and reworked it into an excellent design. Reproduction is interesting to talk about […] The design is fun and educational at the same time.”
According to Barniskis, the exhibit was built with a combination of funds from Mote and a Tourist Development Council (TDC) grant from Sarasota County.
Planning for the exhibit was initiated at the end of 2013. Construction began in October of 2014, following the close of Mote’s last temporary exhibit “Survivors.” Barniskis noted that there were no “major setbacks or difficulties” during construction. The exhibit was finished in the middle of February, shortly before opening day.
“The idea for the exhibit came about by a few of us sitting and talking about the animals that we breed here at Mote, and what a fantastic job our aquarium biologists do,” Barniskis said. “We don’t really talk about the process, and we wanted to inform our guests.”
According to Rachel Ewing, an aquarium biologist at Mote, the team first researched organisms they wanted on display, then planned out and built each system specifically for the exhibit.
“Building the systems was probably a two-month project before the exhibit opened,” Ewing said. “We each put in about ten hours a week, 80 hours altogether for each aquarium biologist. We have 12 or 13. Quite a lot of work was put into this.”
She notes that while all the aquarium biologists came together to build the exhibit, two aquarium biologists specifically maintain the new organisms. Each of them works upwards of 40 hours a week.
Mote breeds marine mammals at its different facilities, including a variety of seahorse and jellyfish species, yellow-headed jawfish, game fish, pipefish and cuttlefish. All of these organisms are on display either in the general aquarium or temporary exhibit. Species of jellyfish, pipefish, sharks and garden eels that have never been shown at Mote before can be found in the temporary exhibit.
Mouth and pouch brooding, egg-laying and broadcast spawning are among the reproductive behaviors that are exhibited at “Oh Baby!” Many of these behaviors are studied by Mote scientists as part of conservation efforts.
“The idea for this exhibit was very cute,” thesis student and marine biology AOC, Sean Patton, said. “There was a lot of empty space between certain exhibits, which was mildly awkward, but the animals all looked well. The adults were breeding, which is a sign of good health. Mote has always had a very good pipefish and seahorse program.”
Of particular interest to guests, volunteers and staff alike are the garden eels. As with a number of other species at the aquarium, Eugenie “Genie” Clark, the founder of Mote Marine, studied garden eels.
“They’re fantastic animals that display one of the reproductive types: broadcast spawning,” Barniskis said. “It’s a tremendous exhibit. We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from visitors on the garden eel exhibit.”
According to Ewing, another exhibit that has been eliciting comments is the new shark touch tank. She notes that most of the sharks in the tank were acquired from other aquariums. However a couple of the sharks have since been born at Mote. There are egg casings on display that are backlit so visitors can see the embryos’ movements.
“I think it’s cool that the exhibit has a theme,” first-year Kaylynn Low said. “I didn’t know Mote did themed exhibits. It was very informative. I feel like I learned a lot.”
The exhibit is open until Sept. 27. Mote Marine Aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The ticket price for adults is $19.75.
Information for this article was provided by Mote Marine Laboratory.