Latest News from Fort Fisher

Lorikeets to Fly Away Soon

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Friday, August 28th, 2015

NCAFF-Lorikeet-nectarA gaggle of brightly colored birds flocked to Ali Bishop’s arms. They jockeyed for position near the small cup of nectar she held in her hand. While the birds squawked and bobbed at one another and lapped at the sweet juice, Bishop smiled and cooed.

“Oh, you are a lovely one,” she said.

Like thousands of other visitors this summer, Bishop, vacationing from Ontario, Canada, loved the interactive experience of “Lorikeet Landing” at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Soon, however, those wishing to hand-feed the exotic birds or simply admire them will find they’ve flown the coop.

Planned only as a temporary, seasonal exhibit, Lorikeet Landing closes September 30. The 50 birds, who arrived at the Aquarium in April and thrive in warmer climates, will be transported south for the winter to their home in Florida.

“We will certainly miss these engaging animals,” said Aquarium Director Peggy Sloan. “Both staff and visitors enjoyed the lorikeets and the personal connection it was possible to make with the birds.”

NCAFF-Lorikeet-BoyArm “Lorikeet Landing” continued the conservation story of pollinators the Aquarium began sharing through temporary, rotating exhibits which began with exotic butterflies in 2014. Non-native butterfly species will return to the Aquarium in the spring of 2016.

Belonging to the parrot family, lorikeets average around 10 inches tall. Their natural habitat is tropical forests in Australia, where they drink nectar from flowering plants. In the wild, lorikeets face predators such as falcons, pythons, humans capturing the birds for the illegal pet trade and habitat destruction from logging and agriculture.

“Lorikeet Landing” is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. through September 30, weather permitting. The exhibit closes 12:30–1:30 p.m. daily for the health of the birds. Admission to the exhibit is $3 per person; nectar cups are $1. General Aquarium admission is not included.


Teacher Open House at Aquarium

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

NCAFF-BTS-EdAnimalsThe N. C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher doesn’t look like a typical classroom. Yet, it’s wet and wild nature provides various opportunities to engage students in exploration and discovery. Now educators can learn all that the Aquarium offers during a special “Teacher Open House” on Saturday, October 3, 2015.

Teachers with valid school ID will receive free admission to the Aquarium. They will be treated to behind the scenes and salt marsh tours (schedule below), distance learning demonstrations and crafting activities. Aquarium educators also will share marine science-based curriculum, information about Outreach programs and more.

As an added bonus those guests visiting with a teacher during the Open House receive 10 percent off Aquarium admission. Space for tours is limited, will be first-come, first served and require closed-toe footwear. Those planning to take the marsh tour should bring an extra pair of shoes For additional information email or call (910) 772-0542.

Behind the Scene Tours
10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Salt MarshTours
10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Distance Learning Demonstrations
10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.


Reel Fun Fishing Day

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Monday, August 24th, 2015

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher invites the public to “Reel Fun Fishing Day,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, September 26, 2015.

Visitors can catch best fishing practices and tips and discover the lure of netting the big one. Little anglers casting about for games and activities won’t be disappointed when they learn to tie helpful nautical knots and create take-home crafts. Guests explore more during hands-on programs including surf fishing classes and crabbing expeditions.

“Reel Fun Fishing Day” is free with Aquarium admission. Outdoor adventures are an additional fee. Preregister for tours here or call (910) 772-0500.

Saturday, September 26 at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

This 3-hour workshop includes one hour of classroom discussion, then surf fishing on the beach nearby. All equipment and bait provided. Program is rain or shine, with extra activities added in event of bad weather (e.g., throwing a cast net). Ages 10 and older. Fee: $15 per participant. Aquarium admission is not included. PREREGISTRATION REQUIRED.

Saturday, September 26 at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Join us for this hands-on program that introduces participants to the challenge of catching blue crabs. Lessons in crab biology and crabbing equipment prepare participants for an exciting expedition outdoors to catch (and release) crabs. All bait and equipment is provided. For ages 7 and older. Fee: $19 for ages 13 and older, $17 for ages 7–12. PREREGISTRATION REQUIRED.


‘Boo’-th Time

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Monday, August 24th, 2015
Costumed revelers visit the Eye Associates of Wilmington booth during “Trick or Treat Under the Sea” at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher in 2014. Vendor space and sponsorship opportunities are available for the 2015 Halloween event.

Costumed revelers visit the Eye Associates of Wilmington booth during “Trick or Treat Under the Sea” at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher in 2014.

“Trick or Treat Under the Sea,” hosted by the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher offers local businesses a prime opportunity to reach thousands of area families and consumers. The 2015 event features three nights of ghoulish good times, 4:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, Oct. 28- 30.

Businesses are invited to sponsor a booth or activities at this popular, annual event. “Trick or Treat Under the Sea” features indoor trick-or-treating, games and programs for children and families. More than 4,000 people experienced safe Halloween fun at the Aquarium last year.

The Aquarium offers three ways to involve your business with Trick or Treat Under the Sea:

  •  Reserve your booth space for one to three nights.
  • Donate prizes, coupons or gift certificates for drawings and contests.
  • Invest in sponsorship opportunities.

Booth sponsors decorate booths, interact with visitors and compete for the Best BOOth Contest. Winners receive prizes and public recognition, including exposure to thousands of Aquarium friends online.

Booth sponsorships are available first-come, first-served and are limited. For more information and to reserve your space call Keely Herron at (910) 772-0535.

New Aquarium Curator

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Friday, August 21st, 2015

JulieJohnson-NCAFFTraining and feeding large alligators and nursing loggerhead sea turtles have long been part of Julie Johnson’s work day at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Recently, however, Johnson’s responsibilities expanded.

Johnson, as the new Aquarium Curator, now oversees the care of all the animals living at the Aquarium, including more than 300 species. She also supervises a team of 16 husbandry staff.

She is the first female to be named as the Aquarium Curator at Fort Fisher. The position was formerly held by Michael “Hap” Fatzinger who became the director of the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores in Atlantic Beach earlier this year.

“We did a broad search for a new Curator and found the best candidate among our own talented staff,” said Peggy Sloan, Aquarium at Fort Fisher director. “Julie’s work ethic, knowledge, and commitment to excellence uniquely qualify her to lead a strong group of Aquarium professionals. I expect great things from Julie!”

Johnson began her career in animal husbandry at the Aquarium in 2004. During her tenure she was responsible for the care of stingrays, snakes, freshwater and saltwater fish, turtles, frogs, salamanders, alligators, loggerhead and green sea turtles. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.


Turtle Trip for Teens

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher hosts a teen trip next summer for the Costa Rica Sea Turtle Ecology Program. This immersive, hands-on experience includes nightly sea turtle patrols to find nesting female leatherbacks, rafting in the rain forest and a cultural exchange day with local students.

During the 9-day trip, June 20–28, 2016, participants will be supporting conservation by assisting with a leatherback sea turtle monitoring project and exploring the rainforest. Students will experience international travel and culture, practice Spanish language skills and create friendships to last a lifetime.

To read first-hand experiences from students who participated in the 2015 trip click here.

An informational session about the 2016 trip will be held at the Aquarium Saturday, August 15 at 10 a.m. Staff will share details of the program and 9-day trip scheduled for June 20–28. The trip is open to all high school students ages 14 to 18. For more information call (910) 458-8257, ext. 201.


North Carolina Aquariums among the best in the US

News Article From: Fort Fisher,Pine Knoll Shores,Roanoke Island,Uncategorized on Monday, July 20th, 2015
The North Carolina Aquariums are stars! Visitors rated the three state Aquariums among the best in the nation on a popular travel website.

The North Carolina Aquariums are stars! Visitors rated the three state Aquariums among the best in the nation on a popular travel website.

Fascinating animals, friendly staff and dynamic exhibits make the North Carolina Aquariums three of the best in the nation, according to a popular travel website.

The Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores came in at number 12, Fort Fisher at 16 and Roanoke Island, 19, on the TripAdvisor® list of the top 25 aquariums in the United States.

The state-operated facilities share top billing with much larger counterparts on the Travelers’ Choice™ scorecard. The high honors resulted from comments and ratings hundreds of visitors to the North Carolina Aquariums contributed to the travel website over 12 months. TripAdvisor® says it uses an algorithm that takes into account the quantity and quality of such reviews.

Visitors praised the clever ways learning is integrated with family fun, the helpful and friendly staff and volunteers, experiences such as seeing sea turtles and touching stingrays, and the variety of exhibits on offer each year.

Here are some comments that propelled the Aquariums to the winners’ circle. Click on the name of each facility to see more of the TripAdvisor® reviews.

Pine Knoll Shores: “Wonderful, helpful staff…Absolutely beautiful and educational…There are always new exhibits.”

Fort Fisher: “North Carolina’s jewel of an aquarium…A must-see attraction…Loved being able to touch the rays.”

Roanoke Island: “We were able to ask questions to the divers while they were in the tank…Otters were just too much fun…I have been there six different years and each time was as exciting as the first.”

David Griffin, Director of the North Carolina Aquariums Division, thanked visitors who took time to comment on their experiences on the travel site. “We appreciate the honor. More importantly, though, visitors are saying they learned about fish and sharks and other aquatic animals while enjoying time with their families. That is what we want to hear. That is why we go to work every day,” he said.

The Aquariums, under the N.C. Department of Natural Resources, share a common mission to inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments. The facilities also are major players in coastal tourism. More than a million people visited the three Aquariums in 2014. The Aquariums Division also operates Jennette’s Pier at Nags Head, an educational fishing pier that recorded 850,000 visitors in 2014.

Rescue Tubes Make Beach Safer

News Article From: Fort Fisher on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015
Rescue Tubes1

Volunteers from the Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club and staff from the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher install rescue tubes along the beach in Fort Fisher.

Several miles of a local beach may be safer for the public thanks to a life-saving effort of three local groups.

Volunteers from the Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club and staff from the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher assembled and installed 10 rescue tubes along a 5-mile stretch of beach south of the Fort Fisher Historic Site Wednesday morning. The tubes can be used to assist in emergency water rescue situations. Imprinted with safety instructions and attached to accessible poles, the floatation devices will be evenly spaced along the recreation area shoreline in areas with limited to no lifeguard coverage.

“Our number one priority has always been visitor protection and safety,” said Jeffrey Owen, Park Superintendent at the recreation area. “While we do have lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day, their primary duty is the pedestrian beach which is a mile in length.  However the four wheel drive beach which receives thousands of visitors each year is an unprotected area with no lifeguards on duty.”

2015 has already seen 10 rescues by lifeguards at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, while 18 rescues were made in 2014.

Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club past-president Connie Knox assists with assembling rescue tubes, now installed along a 5-mile stretch of beach in Fort Fisher.

Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club past-president Connie Knox assists with assembling rescue tubes, now installed along a 5-mile stretch of beach in Fort Fisher.

The idea for the tubes originated with Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club past-president Connie Knox who learned through Rotary connections of the Rescue Tube Foundation in Kauai, Hawaii. Rescue tubes on that island are credited with assisting in more than 100 reported water saves. Knox floated the idea to other Rotary Club members, including Paul Woodworth, who personally helped fund the project through the club.

“We learned that public access to the tubes in Hawaii had saved many lives,” said Knox. “Installing them locally at the state recreation area benefits locals and visitors and could make a powerful difference in an emergency situation, making our beaches safer for everyone.”

Rescue tubes will be accessible from March to November. They will be managed by state park officials and removed during the winter when temperatures drop below freezing.

Wilmington Cape Fear Rotary Club funded the project with some assistance from the N.C. Aquarium at 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.