Latest News from Fort Fisher


News Article From: Fort Fisher on Monday, June 29th, 2015
Carolina gopher frog tadpoles at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Carolina gopher frog tadpoles at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

On a recent scorching day, an observer slapped no-see ums from her legs and peered over the edge of a fiberglass tank. She stood for more than a minute, squinting into ink-black water. Hidden below the surface, in a specially constructed reservoir, dozens of tadpoles darted around.

Yet, these weren’t ordinary tadpoles. These little pollywogs were the result of a dedicated conservation effort and the hopeful future for a threatened species of amphibian native to southeastern North Carolina, the Carolina gopher frog (Rana capito).

Four years ago, the Aquarium worked to successfully raise and release gopher frogs in a single pond, in collaboration with the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission (WRC). This effort was renewed in 2015, expanding the initiative to two different areas, one in Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County and Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point in Brunswick County.

In North Carolina, the Carolina gopher frog is a rare species found only in high quality longleaf pine forests. They live in stump holes, root tunnels and other small animal burrows. The frogs depend on seasonal wetlands to breed.

Carolina gopher frogs are found in scattered populations from coastal North Carolina to Alabama. Historically, gopher frogs could be found at more than 50 sites in North Carolina. In recent years, extensive surveys have shown substantial declines. Currently, only six populations remain active and none are fully healthy and sustainable. The rapid decline of this species can be attributed to many factors such as habitat loss, habitat alteration, droughts and disease.

“Ultimately, we are attempting to stabilize existing populations of gopher frogs in key areas without compromising the genetic diversity of the species,” said Nathaniel Akers.

Akers is a conservation and research technician at the Aquarium and manages the gopher frog project.

Akers and WRC staff collected egg masses from three vernal breeding ponds in late February and early March. They collected only a small fraction of each viable egg mass. Then Akers cared for each group of eggs until they hatched and could be placed in ten large holding pods at the Aquarium. Here the amphibians grow from larval stages to young adult frogs with the help of frequent feedings and simulated pond environments. Once the tadpoles mature, sometime in

late summer to early fall, Akers and WRC staff will weigh and tag the frogs before returning them to their native habitat.

“This type of head start gives them a better chance at surviving than being a little tadpole in the wild and eaten by other animals,” said Akers. “It’s still a long journey though even after they are released.”

Young Carolina gopher frogs.

Young Carolina gopher frogs.

“Over a few years, we should be able to detect an increase in breeding effort from the chosen populations,” he said. “After several years, we could possibly reintroduce gopher frogs to areas where they have been wiped out.”

At least one-third of known amphibian species are going extinct, a rate higher than that for any birds or mammals, according to the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“It may surprise some that North Carolina is a global amphibian biodiversity hot spot,” said Aquarium Director Peggy Sloan. “Helping animals like the gopher frog by managing the populations may be the only hope of saving many species faced with imminent extinction.”

Conservation work of all kinds is a focus of the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The Aquarium partners with state and national organizations on various projects including research of sharks, sea turtles and amphibians. The Aquarium, as an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is also a supporting partner of SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction.

The North Carolina Aquarium Society supplied the funding for the gopher frog conservation work and the position of conservation technician.


Shark Facts

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Friday, June 19th, 2015

CapeFShoals-SandbarSharkOut of more than 400 different species of sharks inhabiting the world’s oceans, only around 50 species are found in North Carolina waters. Of those, 26 species are found from within the continental shelf to near-shore waters, but are not present in our waters year- round. Some move north and south, and others move inshore to offshore. Some species visit coastal waters based on water temperatures, food supplies and breeding patterns.



• Most shark encounters with humans are cases of mistaken identity. Swimmers, surfers and others in the water may splash and present visual targets that mislead the shark, causing it to mistake people for prey.

• Most attacks occur in near-shore waters, between sandbars, or near steep drop-offs where sharks feed. Sharks are found in these areas because their food supply is there.

• In these instances a shark may bite, only to realize the human is a foreign object or is too large. The shark will then immediately release the victim.

• As coastal areas become more populated and visitation to beaches and coastal waters increase, more shark encounters can be expected because of the increased number of people in the water.



Chances of encountering a shark in North Carolina waters are very low. To further reduce your risk, consider the following:

• Always stay in groups. Sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.

• Do not wander too far from shore. This isolates an individual and places one farther away from assistance.

• Avoid being in the water during dusk, darkness or twilight hours. This is when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.

• Do not enter the water if bleeding. A shark’s sense of smell is acute.

• Wearing shiny jewelry in the water is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.

• Avoid waters where there are signs of baitfish or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.

• Sightings of dolphins do not indicate the absence of sharks. Both often feed on the same prey.

• Avoid wearing brightly colored contrasting clothing in the water. Sharks see contrast particularly well.

• Refrain from excess splashing to minimize your risk.

• Exercise caution when swimming between sandbars or near steep drop-offs. These are favorite hangouts for sharks.

• Leave the water if sharks are sighted. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one.



• Out of the more than 400 species of sharks worldwide, less than 10 percent are considered dangerous or are known to have been involved in attacks.

• From 1935–2014, there were 52 reported unprovoked shark attacks in North Carolina, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History International Shark Attack File (ISAF). Of those, only three were fatal. This is a small number considering the millions of people that enter the water every year.

• ISAF puts the 2014 yearly total of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide at 72, lower than the 75 unprovoked attacks in 2013. However, over the century the number of attacks has grown and can be directly related to the increase in the number of people that enter the ocean for recreation.

• Other injuries and fatalities from ocean activities far outnumber shark attacks. These include drowning, jellyfish and stingray stings, spinal injuries, cuts from shells and being caught in riptides.



• Sharks can hear sound under water for miles, detect odors within hundreds of yards, and sense pressure changes created by currents or movement up to 100 yards. However, their feeding is mainly dependent on vision, which is good for tens of yards, depending on water clarity.

• Their eyes are well developed and work well in low light.

• Sharks have electro-reception that can detect tiny electrical fields created by prey’s muscular movement. This ability is good only within a distance of inches.

• Sharks eat at one or two day intervals. They don’t need much food because little energy is expended while cruising through the water. A satiated shark may not eat again for several weeks.

• Some sharks may have bursts of speed up to 23 miles per hour; however, most sharks maintain a cruising speed of about 5.75 miles per hour.

• Like other wild animals, most sharks try and avoid people.

• Two of the largest sharks are the whale shark and basking shark. Both can reach 50 feet in length and feed exclusively on tiny fish and plankton.


Donate Blood at Aquarium

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Thursday, May 28th, 2015

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher hosts an American Red Cross Community Blood Drive on Thursday, June 4 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Eligible donors are encouraged to donate as blood supplies can become low during the summer. Someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds and a single blood donation can save as many as three lives, according to the American Red Cross.

You may be eligible to give blood if you are 17 years old or older, weigh 110 pounds or more and are in good health. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain other requirements.

Schedule your appointment to save a life by visiting and search by sponsor code AQUARIUM.


Celebrate World Oceans Day

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Thursday, May 28th, 2015


The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher celebrates World Oceans Day at  9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday, June 8.

Aquarium staff and marine wildlife experts will help visitors better understand the power we all have to protect the ocean. Throughout the day, guests can play and learn at Education Stations. Hands-on activities include a scavenger hunt and much more.

In addition, guests can learn more about the “Better Bag Challenge” which encourages people to cut down on their use of plastic bags. Plastics in the ocean harm marine life like sea turtles and can damage habitats. “Trash Talk,” a film on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also will screen at 2 p.m.

World Oceans Day activities support a healthy ocean and help people get involved in supporting solutions like clean energy choices, trash-free coasts, sustainable seafood and more.

The Ocean Project and World Ocean Network began coordinating this event in 2002. The United Nations officially began recognizing June 8 as World Oceans Day in 2008.


Sip and Paint at Aquarium

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Thursday, May 28th, 2015

sip and paintUncork your inner artist at the new Sip and Paint series at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. A palette full of options allow you to mix up a colorful evening of fun with instructors from Saltwater Surf Art.

Family Night options are alcohol-free with bring your own kid-friendly beverages and snacks. Those 21 years old or older may choose an evening to indulge both their creativity and their thirst with BYO-wine or beer (only).

Painting sessions run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sessions include paint, canvas and easel use and cost $45 per person. NC Aquarium Society Members receive a 10% discount. Themes and schedule is as follows:


Sea Turtle
June 17 — Sip and Paint (Adults Only);
June 24 — Family Paint Night (No Alcohol)

July 8 — Sip and Paint (Adults Only)

July 15 — Family Paint Night (No Alcohol)

July 29 — Sip and Paint (Adults Only)

August 5 — Family Paint Night (No Alcohol)


Father’s Day Celebration

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Thursday, May 28th, 2015


Forget the tie, gift Dad with a present he’ll always hold close to his heart. Let the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher help create lasting family memories this Father’s Day.

Aquarium admission is free for all fathers on Sunday, June 21. Make the day more special by treating dad to a Father’s Day Barbecue and take-home craft. The program includes “Superhero Seahorse Dads.” The prix fixe menu, catered by Middle of the Island, includes Eastern North Carolina pulled pork barbecue (vinegar based), fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, strawberry spinach salad, rosemary potatoes, banana pudding and a choice of non-alcoholic beverage .

The Father’s Day Barbecue runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $24 per adult, $22 for children 3–12, $5 for two-year-olds, and free for children one and younger. N.C. Aquarium Society members are $13 and children two and younger are free. Reservations are required and space is limited.

In addition, various tours and classes are offered during the holiday weekend including Canoeing the Salt Marsh and Behind the Scenes tours. For more information, pricing and registration for Father’s Day click here for activities and for tours visit here .


Luna’s Birthday Celebration

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Treats, cards and well wishes highlighted Luna’s 10th Hatch Day celebration at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Staff and visitors celebrated this major milestone for the resident albino alligator during the week leading to Memorial Day.

Husbandry staff prepared special frozen treats and served them to Luna and three natural-colored alligators living in the same habitat. Unlike traditional birthday fare, Luna’s ice pops were more savory, made with striped bass — her favorite food. Over the weekend, guests also signed a giant birthday card for Luna.

Watch a video of the enrichment activity here:

Luna arrived at the Aquarium in early 2009 at the age of four and immediately wowed visitors. Though she weighed less than 19 pounds and measured only 4.6 feet long from snout to tip of tail, she stood out with her unusual white coloring. Left alone in the wild, the albino alligator would not survive. Yet, at the Aquarium, Luna has thrived. During her most recent physical in April 2015, Luna weighed in at 68 pounds and measured 6.6 feet long.



News Article From: Fort Fisher on Friday, May 15th, 2015

A green sea turtle swims at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

A world without penguins, sharks or sea turtles is one the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is working hard to avoid. Today, on the 10th Anniversary of Endangered Species Day, the Aquarium is highlighting the extreme challenges faced by several endangered and threatened animals.

“Animals are disappearing from our planet in frightening numbers,” said Aquarium Director Peggy Sloan. “Today we are asking guests to consider the plight of certain animal species, like sharks and sea turtles, and what can be done on an individual and larger scale to help save these animals from extinction.”

Aquarium educators will share facts and stories about endangered species throughout the day. Guests may collect endangered species stamps in a “passport” at each education station. Those who collect all the stamps receive a small prize and the big reward of learning how they can also help make a difference for animals. Additionally, at 2 p.m., in partnership with Cucalorus Film Festival, the Aquarium will screen “Sticky”, a short film about remarkable stick insects who survived the brink of extinction.

Today’s programs at the Aquarium are part of a larger, national effort organized by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), of which the Aquarium is a member. Specifically, the 229-accredited members of AZA are coming together in a variety of ways to raise awareness of endangered species and to launch AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE).

For decades, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival, and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species.

AZA_SAFE_shark_1200x1200Through SAFE, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums will convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify the factors threatening species, collect new resources and engage the public.

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and add an additional 10 species each year for the next 10 years. The inaugural species include: African penguin, Asian elephants, Black rhinoceros, cheetah, gorilla, sea turtles, vaquita, sharks and rays, Western pond turtle and Whooping Crane.

“AZA aquarium and zoo conservationists have identified more than 100 species facing the greatest threats and where accredited zoos and aquariums have unique conservation and science knowledge to contribute,” said Jim Maddy, AZA President and CEO.

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is involved with conservation efforts including the breeding and repopulation of the Carolina gopher frog, bonnethead and sand tiger shark reproduction, lined seahorse propagation and sea turtle rehabilitation and tracking.

To learn more, visit




Community Arts Day at Aquarium

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Monday, May 11th, 2015

CommArtsDay14Channel your inner Picasso at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The Aquarium and DREAMS of Wilmington team up to present DREAMS Community Arts Day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 16.

Local teaching artists from DREAMS help visitors tap into their creative side while exploring the magic of the ocean. Artists lead demonstrations, workshops and hands-on activities in recycled art, ceramics, painting and more. The theme for the day will be turtles in honor of World Turtle Day celebrated globally in May.  Activities are appropriate for children and adults of all ages and are free with Aquarium admission.

DREAMS Community Arts Day continues a multi-year partnership between the Aquarium and the Wilmington-based non-profit. The organization is dedicated to providing youth in need with high-quality, free instruction in the literary, visual, multimedia and performing arts.

Luna Hits Double Digits

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Luna now measures 6.6 feet long and weighs 68 pounds.

Luna, the albino alligator living at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, celebrates a major milestone soon. Staff and visitors will celebrate her 10th “hatchday” over Memorial Day weekend.

Luna arrived at the Aquarium in early 2009 at the age of four and immediately wowed visitors. Though she weighed less than 19 pounds and measured only 4.6 feet long from snout to tip of tail, she stood out with her unusual white coloring.

Left alone in the wild, the albino alligator would not survive. Yet, at the Aquarium, Luna has thrived.

“Initially, Luna had to be sensitized to natural sunlight,” said Aquarist Julie Johnson. “Staff also worked patiently to train her to be hand-scrubbed in order to remove algae and dirt on a regular basis.”


Luna with NCAFF Aquarist Julie Johnson in 2009.

For several years, Luna lived alone in a habitat and could often be seen warming herself on a log. In February 2014, staff decided to move her into a larger habitat with several natural-colored American alligators. She now shares a swimming area and lounging space with one male and two females.

“They get along well, and in the larger exhibit Luna has the ability to do more swimming,” said Johnson.

Because of the exhibit’s large acrylic viewing panels, visitors can at times get eye-to-eye with Luna. Many repeat Aquarium visitors marvel at how much the animal has grown. During her most recent physical in April, Luna weighed in at 68 pounds and measured 6.6 feet long.

During Memorial Day weekend, guests can sign a birthday card celebrating Luna’s 10th hatchday.