Monday, June 18, 2018

Critter Tale: The Mighty Short Bigeye

By Julia Gentillo, communications intern

Welcome into my humble abode, a spacious tank for me at the back of Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium. I’m the only Short Bigeye here, but I’m not lonely at all; even in my natural habitat, I am usually by myself. Before making my way to Rhode Island, I lived in tropical waters, as my species is most populous in the Caribbean Sea, West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico.
How did you make it all the way up here from all the way down there, you must be asking? A Gulf stream current swept me up when I was young and carried me all the way to these northern waters. Once a small fish or egg is caught in the current, they really can’t escape. Believe it or not, I am not the only fish here that got caught in the current and made its way into the Bay. Some of my tropical stray neighbors at the Exploration Center include the striped burrfish, crevalle jack, scamp grouper, pinfish and the colorful spotfin butterflyfish. My fellow tropical strays and I were found by local fishermen and Save The Bay students who brought us into our new cozy tanks. Together, we make up the “Bay of the Future” exhibit.
Although finding tropical strays in the Bay is fascinating, our presence here is an indication of climate change. In the last 100 years, the average temperature of the Bay has risen four degrees. While tropical strays cannot survive a harsh Rhode Island winter, each year we have been arriving to Narragansett Bay earlier and surviving longer into the colder months. Climate change is aggressively changing the environment and ecosystems in Narragansett Bay. The “Bay of the Future” exhibit poses the important question: “What will the Bay look like in 1,000 years?” Perhaps the warming water temperatures will mean the end of winter flounder, sea stars and clams in Narragansett Bay. Or perhaps, as tropical fish like me continue to populate the Bay, we’ll outcompete the native fish altogether once waters continue to warm even more.
For now, we are able to survive the winters only from the warmth of our tanks at the Exploration Center, where we also help teach visitors about climate change. The ultraviolet light in my tank makes it difficult for you to tell, but I am actually bright red, critical to my survival. In the wild, I like to hang out around 650 feet deep. As light penetrates down into the water from the surface, red light waves are filtered out first, so I appear black to other fish. With my camouflaged coloring, I am able to sneak up on my prey and snatch them in my upturned mouth without them even noticing me. I am nocturnal, so my big eyes help me see at night.
During the day, I love to sleep in shallow rocky areas where my natural predators can’t see me. In fact, I was napping in a shallow rocky area off of Fort Adams when I was rescued by a Bay-Camper. Once night falls, I leave my safe place and scour for food with a cloak of invisibility. I think you all should come and visit me and the other tropical strays this summer at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center and Aquarium at Easton’s Beach in Newport.

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