Monday, March 6, 2017

Mr. Trigger; Our Saltiest Freshwater Friend

By Rebecca Proulx, Communications intern

Our Narragansett Bay welcomes numerous travellers from distant waters, but few possess the strong personality of the triggerfish. This warm-water species, like many in our Bay, belongs to the saltwater group as well. However, different from other species, our triggerfish has a salty attitude to boot. Mr. Trigger, let’s call him, while most of the time grumpy, is still grateful for the second chance Save The Bay has given him. Out in the cold waters he wouldn’t have lasted long, so he is lucky that three years ago a fisherman found him wedged sideways in his lobster pot and brought him to the Exploration Center.

The Save The Bay Aquarium and Exploration Center is home to an array of marine life, all of which come from our local waters, although some aren’t natives. “Our triggerfish belongs to a special group of aquatic animals that normally inhabit anywhere from the Carolinas to the Bahamas, but get stranded in the Gulf Stream current. They are usually washed up as eggs, although we aren’t sure at what point of his life our triggerfish came to the area” explained Adam Kovarsky, Exploration Center Manager. Given his long distance from home, the Exploration Center has served as an ideal second one.

Mr. Trigger dines on squid, herring, and mackerel just as he would in his natural habitat. He is in the central “watching tank,” aptly named given it consistently draws in lots of visitors to crowd around and gaze at the large fish it holds. Most of the fish in this tank are released within a year thanks to the attention of our devoted staff. However, because Mr. Trigger would soon perish in our cold waters, he is comfortable always being in the watching tank and interacting with visitors as he sees fit.

While I visited his tank, Mr. Trigger was in a docile mood, so he just swam up to me and stared curiously. Most of the time, all the other fish in the tank are happy as long as Mr. Trigger is fed and in a good mood. However, not all visitors (or other fish in the tank) receive this amiable hello. When Mr. Trigger doesn’t take a liking to another fish or visitor, he pops his dorsal fin (or trigger) up. The standing trigger isn’t just a mood indicator, it’s also a defense mechanism.
When a predator tries to swallow a triggerfish, his ejected trigger makes him harder to swallow and buys him valuable time to escape. Don’t think that a triggerfish is one to swim from a fight though. Triggerfish all have sharp beaks, capable of cutting a lobster in half and they have been known to attack divers. The way in which a triggerfish ploughs through his prey often causes smaller fish to follow close behind him like buzzards to feast on whatever remains are spewed to the sides. Needless to say when the trigger is up on our fish, his neighbors in the tank scatter.

Though he may not be the friendliest of fish in the community, he plays an important role in our ecosystem. Triggerfish regulate the populations of sea urchin and other benthic invertebrate by feeding on them. Certain species such as the queen and grey triggerfish are also delicious for us humans to eat. In addition, many triggerfish are also brightly colored and serve as popular aquarium attractions. Unfortunately, their high demand in aquariums means certain species populations are being reduced at a concerning rate. Save The Bay loves to educate the public about the important services triggerfish provide so Aquarium visitors leave with a newfound awareness of the issue and appreciation for the species.

Come visit the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium to say hello to our Mr. Trigger and other incredible species soon! Our winter season (Labor Day-Memorial Day) hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. We are located at 175 Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI 02840. You can even feed our friend from 5:00-6:00 p.m. and see how he eats along with sharks, octopuses, and many more at our Feeding Frenzy event. General admission is $10 and you can call 401-324-6020 or click here to register.