Behind The Scenes Tour Of The New Desert Museum Aquariumby Jim Gressinger on Feb. 15, 2013, under Environment and Ecology, Exceptional Museums, Southern Arizona Attractions, Southern Arizona Wildlife, Things To Do In Tucson, Things To Do With The Kidz
On a clear Sunday morning in early February, Neighbor Roy, Ms. Karen, & I arrived at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum for our 2nd Behind The Scenes tour, this time of the new Warden Aquarium. Lacey was our guide for our group of 8, including two little boys who looked to be about 4 and 6 years of age. Lacey, a young woman who clearly loves her job, told us that she is an aquarist. An “aquarist” is a curator for aquariums, similar to a zookeeper, but for animals that breath water.
The Aquarium has about a dozen fish tanks. Some are salt water representing the Sea of Cortez, an integral part of our Sonoran Desert south of the border. The other tanks have fresh water representing our now almost completely lost above-ground fresh water. Because human population has caused the loss of over 90% of Southern Arizona’s free-flowing rivers and streams, it’s not hard to understand that most of the creatures in the fresh water tanks are endangered. Many in the Sea of Cortez are also struggling to survive.
The Yaqui is a river in Sonora Mexico and was the home of our Southern Arizona Yaqui Indians before they were driven out by the Mexican army in the late 1800′s. That river has been badly degraded by farmers. The Yaqui topminnows, Mexican stonerollers, beautiful shiners, and Yaqui chubs are all found in the San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge not far from Douglas, AZ. Many of these fish have been threatened by habitat loss, wildfires, and invasive species. The Desert Museum partners with Fish & Game to care for fish that were “rescued” from a wildfire so they can be return to the wild and repopulate their native waters.
Yaqui Catfish are also found in the Rio Yaqui. It is the only catfish native to Arizona and their numbers have been reduced by the non-native catfish via hybridization and competition. While still found south of the border, most on the Arizona side have been extirpated and re-introduced in hopes of reviving their population. The one in the tank we saw was about 18 inches long.
Apache trout are one of only two native trout species and is our Official Arizona State Fish. They were one of the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1969. Despite efforts, they are still threatened by mismanagement of land, competition and interbreeding with non-native trout that are stocked in their streams.
Pikeminnows are the largest minnow in America, historically growing to 6 feet long and weighing 100 pounds. At that size, one might wonder how they maintain their “minnow-ness”.
The razorback suckers can live more than 40 years and have a keel-like dorsal fin that allows them to stay along the bottom of fast flowing rivers. Both of these species have been greatly affected by dams built along their native rivers and by introduced non-native fishes.
The bony-tail and round tail chubs prefer flowing pools, rivers and lakes but their habitat is now divided by dams. A population of bony tail in Lake Mojave are 40 years old but aren’t reproducing. Once abundant, their numbers are dwindling and they are also listed as endangered.
Cabo Pulmo Reef
The Cabo Pulmo reef tank is a representation of the area off the tip of the Baja California peninsula. People in that community have worked together to conserve this area as a National Marine Park since 1995. Even though the laws are difficult to enforce, the community has continued educating others and their hard work is paying off. The diversity of wildlife is returning.
Sea of Cortez
The Sea of Cortez is famous for its diversity of species, including a highly endangered porpoise, the vaquita (model of a mother and calf hanging above the Cabo reef tank). There are only a couple hundred of theses shy porpoises left and most are only seen dead in fishermen’s nets. The main threats to this area include overfishing, pollution from runoff, and trash such as plastics. Many commercial fishing practices are unregulated, and unsustainable. The trash poses many threats to the wildlife who may die from entanglement, ingestion, or even toxic exposure as these compound take many years to degrade but never fully disappear.
One of the many benefits of this Behind The Scenes tour is you get to handle the creatures in the “touch tank”. If you have young children, this is a “must do”. They will be fascinated. You have to wash your hands before putting them in this tank. But once your hands are clean, you can pick up the arrow crab (or spider crab), dwarf red-tip hermit crab, chestnut cowrie, turbo snail, sand star, serpent star (or Brittle Star), sea cucumber, and sea hare ( brown sea slug with “bunny ears”).
The price for each of the Desert Museum’s Behind The Scenes tours is $35. But readers of our SouthernArizonaGuide.com can get a $5 discount by clicking on the Desert Museum’s advertisement in the Guide. Here too you can get a more detailed description of each of the BTS tours. These are private tours with the Museum’s professionals. Each offers a very rich, in-depth experience. If you’re looking for an amazing experience for your school-age children, these tours are highly recommended. Last November, we took the Walk On The Wild Side tour and it was great. Ms. Karen wants to do the Winged Wonders (hummingbird) tour next.