2015-10-29 / Nature

Spooky Times and New Creatures at the Aquarium

By Jack Kelly


Adam Kovarsky, right, explains what it's like to be a mussel to fairy princess Bailey Palmer, age three. 
(Photos by Jack Kelly) Adam Kovarsky, right, explains what it's like to be a mussel to fairy princess Bailey Palmer, age three. (Photos by Jack Kelly) Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium, located at Newport’s Easton’s Beach, is decorated and ready to welcome youngsters and the young-at-heart for a "spooky" visit with the diverse marine life housed there. The aquarium boasts more than 70 marine species, which were collected in Narragansett Bay or nearby waters.

On a recent afternoon, Adam Kovarsky, Save The Bay aquarist and educator, was joined by a dedicated team of interns and volunteers in welcoming scores of children and their parents to the aquarium. “This is a great time of year for us because it allows the kids to show off their costumes and have a good experience here at the facility,” Kovarsky said, as he talked to fairy princesses, Batman, zombies, and other costumed children.

While the decorations and atmosphere in the aquarium were lighthearted, the staff takes their role as educators seriously, and they carefully explain every sea creature's contribution to the ecology of the bay. “We want everyone to be involved and we encourage them to try out the touch tanks, pet the sharks, and just have a good time,” Kovarsky explained.


Lop-eared bunny, Isabella Jacobsen, holds up a sea snail for her father to see. Lop-eared bunny, Isabella Jacobsen, holds up a sea snail for her father to see. He was especially pleased with the two newest additions to the aquarium’s tropical fish exhibits, a short bigeye and a longhorn cowfish. These critters were caught by a volunteer snorkeler in the waters of Gooseneck Cove in the past month or two, and would not have survived the winter. "Both fish are extremely unique and are the first of their kind to be featured at this facility,” Kovarsky said.

The longhorn cowfish, a species of boxfish, is so named because of the two horns protruding from its head, like a bull or cow. While the major population of this species resides in the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific region, a smaller population resides in the warm waters of the Carolinas, south through the Bahamas, West Indies and the Caribbean, with strays as far north as Cape Cod. The species can grow to a length of 16-20 inches. They feed on bottom-dwelling invertebrates, sponges, algae, mollusks and smaller fish at depths of up to 150 feet. They have the ability to spit water to uncover prey hiding under the sandy bottom.


A short bigeye. A short bigeye. The adult longhorn cowfish is solitary and highly territorial, favoring habitats that include coral reefs, reef flats, river mouths, protected shallow mudflats, and the brackish waters of coastal salt marshes. Adults are found together during mating time and exhibit courtship rituals just before or after sunset. Fertilization is external and both the egg masses and larvae are pelagic, meaning they wander the open ocean, neither close to the bottom nor near the shore.


A longhorn cowfish swims and feeds at the aquarium. A longhorn cowfish swims and feeds at the aquarium. “This little guy is about 1.5-2 inches long and probably hatched in local waters about four months ago after the eggs washed in from the Gulf Stream," Kovarsky elaborated. "Their flesh is poisonous, and they release a powerful toxin into the water when stressed by predators or other environmental triggers. For that reason, we have placed it in the tank with other resident boxfish, three smooth trunkfish, that also emit toxins, because they need to be segregated from the general population of our critters.”

The short bigeye calls the warm waters of the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico home, but is known to stray as far north as Cape Cod. Growing to a length of 8-9 inches at maturity, this deep red fish with a prominent spiny back is a great addition to the aquarium. A voracious nocturnal feeder, this species spends the daylight hours hidden under rocky or coral ledges.


The common octopus even has its tank decked out for Halloween. The common octopus even has its tank decked out for Halloween. “This fish lives in deep water. As light enters the water column, the red light spectrum is filtered out first, leaving marine animals of that color virtually invisible to their prey or other predators," said Kovarsky. "This is a remarkable specimen and a great teaching example.”

The Spooky Aquarium continues Oct. 30 – Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. For more information, visit savebay.org or call 401-272-3540.



Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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