Turtles and stingrays move in

April 16, 2008 9:50:25 AM PDT
The new California Academy of Sciences Museum opens in San Francisco in September and the race is on to get it ready. Continuing our series of progress reports on the new building, with another milestone, some of the coolest creatures have moved in.

Inside the California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park...

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for someone in the public aquarium profession, to be able to open a state of the art, brand new facility," said Bart Shepherd a Steinhart Aquarium curator.

The animals are settling in to that new facility now, but getting here was not easy.

The stingrays were flown here from Taiwan, where if they'd stayed, they would most likely have ended up on the dinner table.

For the last few months, the rays have lived in the basement of the Academy's temporary building downtown. On moving day, they're herded into plastic bags.

"It avoids the trauma associated with netting them, and the fish can't really see the plastic bags so you can usually trick them and they swim right in there," said Shepherd.

One by one they are hurried to a veterinary station.

The rays are weighed and measured to evaluate their progress in the last few months.

"The animals were a lot stronger than they were when we first brought them in, which is a good sign. They've been growing, they've been here stabilizing and getting plenty to eat," said Shepherd.

Then there's the delicate matter of taking a blood sample, it has to be done right by the ray's tail.

"There's a little bit of danger involved. They have a long tail that usually has a spine or two spines on it that can inflict a painful sting. They can kind of whip you with that and sting you," said Shepherd.

After each ray gets a thorough once-over, it's loaded into a tank on top of a truck.

When all the rays are safely inside, the truck heads across town to the new academy building, where a team is ready at the loading dock.

One of the keys to a safe move is keeping the water chemistry right. So there's an elaborate system to monitor the conditions, blending water from the old and new tanks.

"By getting the water chemistries all matched up and equal we greatly reduce their stress and improve their chances of going into that tank and doing really well right away," said Dave Chan.

The rays do get a little impatient as they make the trek out of the truck tanks and into a giant tub.

They're rolled into an elevator.

"You guys will be happy in a minute," said a man.

And this is the moment one ray picks to try to make his escape. Luckily, everything is happening so fast he can't quite make the jump. Minutes later he's heading through the building, then gently lowered into his new home. A biologist is in the tank with him to make sure everything goes smoothly.

At first, there's some head bumping while the rays figure out their new surroundings, but pretty soon they've got the hang of it.

"It's a new world for them, probably more like their old world," said Shepherd.

Moving Diego the Turtle out of his old home on Tuesday went a lot faster.

Biologists lured him to the side of his quarantine tank to get his back scratched, which he loves.

Then they slipped Diego into a sling to get a hold of him as they hauled him out.

Finally they let him get comfortable in his traveling accommodations, a giant plastic turtle sized box.

"That's a lubricating gel that's going on his back right now, just to make sure his shell is nice and moist," said Seth Wolters, a biologist.

A half hour later, Diego's at the new building getting acquainted with his tank mates.

"It'll probably take him a day or two to settle into the new environment and we're real interested to see what the dynamics are with the other species that are in here," said Shepherd.

The Academy of Sciences new museum gets ready to open this fall.

www.calacademy.org

Special report by Jennifer Olney.


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