A skate fish doing somersaults? It’s happened in the aquarium tide pool at Cape Cod Museum of Natural History.
“When the feeders came, and especially if our tide pool flounder was fed first, the skate got so excited it would splash out of the tank. It was doing somersaults! And eventually it got so big, we had to move it to another tank,” says Doug Smith, senior aquarist.
The tide pool is one of many engaging exhibits at the museum’s aquarium, which provides up-close experiences – with a vast array of fish, bivalves and marine animals.
“It’s entertainment, as well as educational,” says Smith. “We get visitors from all over the country and the world, from places like India or Central Europe, and many of them have never really seen sea life.”
The aquarium showcases the marine creatures that inhabit three Cape Cod environments: – freshwater, saltwater and brackish water. While each one is unique and plays a crucial role in nature, we’ve highlighted a dozen of the aquarium’s most exciting specials.
- Lobster: Cape Cod is famous for its lobsters. The crustaceans, known for their sweet flavor and snapping claws, live in crevices or burrows on the sea floor. Lobsters live in the deep waters of Cape Cod Bay, well beyond the low-tide mark. In the ocean they’re dark green, but turn red after cooking. The museum has two very rare lobsters living in tanks: one is bright blue and the other a pumpkin color.
- Diamondback turtle:Called Myrtle by the museum staff, the aquarium’s diamondback turtle is 22 years old. The species is named for the pretty diamond design on its shell, also called the carapace. Diamondbacks live in the brackish waters of coastal estuaries, including Paines Creek, near the eastern border of the museum property on Wing Island.
- Clearnose skate:Mainly a saltwater dweller, this member of the stingray family can sometimes be found in brackish waters. On Cape Cod, look for this flat fish in the shallow waters of Cape Cod Bay, near the shore. The clearnose skate loves the seabed and likes to rest on its soft sediment.
- Moon jelly fish: Floating like delicate, white puffs of silk in their tank at the museum, moon jellies use tiny tentacles to gather their favorite food: microscopic plankton. They are hard to see in the water. Find them, if you can, in salty Cape Cod Bay.
- Snapping turtle:This freshwater turtle is found in the ponds of Cape Cod, such as Mill Pond, just north of the museum. Its head is larger than most turtles and it has a strong beak rather than teeth. The beak has sharp edges so it can rip apart its food.
- Catfish: The funny looking catfish has barbels around its mouth. These are long feelers that resemble a cat’s whiskers. Catfish live in freshwater ponds and are bottom-feeders. It’s dark at the bottom of a pond, so the barbels serve as sensors and help the fish locate and retrieve food.
- Largemouth bass:Also a freshwater fish that lives in the ponds of Cape Cod, this bass is named for his big jaw that opens far back on his head. Find the largemouth bass in Brewster’s Mill Pond and Upper Mill Pond.
- Green frog: Frogs are amphibians and they love freshwater, so you’ll find this green frog in ponds across Cape Cod. It grows to about six inches long and uses its four-inch-long tongue to catch insects.
- Sea raven: The spiny fish, known as a member of “the ugly fish family,” is a saltwater fish that lives at the bottom of Cape Cod Bay. The sea raven is covered in small spines.
- Oyster toad fish: This species is a yellow-brown color so it can blend in with its surroundings. The bottom-dweller waits motionless for its prey in the deeper waters of Cape Cod Bay, then attacks by surprise.
- Striped bass: Considered delicious to eat, the striped bass is anadromous, meaning it can migrate between fresh and saltwater. Around here, it is mostly found in the deeper waters of Cape Cod Bay. Striped bass can grow quite large, often up to 30 or 40 pounds.
- Bivalvia:Clams, mussels, oysters and scallops are all bivalvia species, and you can see them up-close and personal in the aquarium’s large saltwater tide pool. The pool is raised about three feet off the ground for easy viewing. Bivalvia are abundant in Cape Cod Bay, and can be found on or under the sand at low tide.