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Museum to offer chance to interact with live animals

By Staff | Aug 6, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED The giant Pacific octopus at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

The ocean holds numerous mysteries, and many are unraveling at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel. Starting on Aug. 15, visitors can get even closer to one of its exhibit animals.

The museum will offer an up-close experience to touch the giant Pacific octopus that is part of the “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks” exhibit. During the encounter, staff will offer a presentation on its habitat, natural history and conservation. The encounters will be stimulating for the octopus and serve as additional enrichment for it, which is necessary for the welfare of the animal.

In addition, museum visitors will be able to purchase from the gift store a keepsake painting that was made by the octopus. The experience will be offered twice a week at an additional cost to ticket prices.

At the museum, feeding time for the rest of the animals is a captivating task for staff and visitors. Staff tenderly care for each one of the nearly 500 animals in the exhibit, which focuses on mollusks – the animals that create shells. Now, the public can witness firsthand how these shell-builders hunt and feed.

In addition to the giant Pacific octopus, the museum is home to a common octopus. The two animals are in different habitats, but both are presented food via a variety of methods for enrichment, including puzzles, jars, toys and mega blocks. It encourages natural behaviors and increases physical and mental stimulation and curiosity within the octopuses.

PHOTO PROVIDED Stumpy-spined cuttlefish

“Our giant Pacific octopus’ favorite meal is soft shell crabs,” Senior Aquarist Carly Hulse said. “We make sure our animals eat sustainable foods. In particular, the octopuses eat food that is generously donated from local restaurants. In addition to soft shell crab, they eat salmon, grouper, shrimp, clams and mussels.”

Visitors will have five chances every week to watch the octopuses feed: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday in the afternoon. To ensure social distancing at the museum, there will not be a set feeding time. When they are fed, staff will give a step-by-step presentation about what is occurring.

The stumpy-spined cuttlefish at the museum are also fed three times a day. When staff feed the unique cephalopods, they narrate to visitors to share what is going on and what the cuttles do as they eat.

Snack time for the animals in the museum’s interactive touch pools is also a highlight for visitors. Although the animals eat at different times, visitors are likely to encounter one feeding during their visit as some, like the swimming scallops, are fed three times per day. Some of the shell-builders are filter feeders, and others have a rasping tongue to tear their food apart.

In addition, the museum features junonias. It is incredibly rare to encounter a live junonia, let alone watch it hunt for food. Little is known about how junonias eat, but museum researchers have discovered that they love lettered olives, a snail found in Southwest Florida. The junonias’ habitat is always stocked with them to allow them to free-feed.

PHOTO PROVIDED Scallop

For more information about the museum, visit www.shellmuseum.org.

Source: Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

PHOTO PROVIDED Red turban

PHOTO PROVIDED Coral reef exhibit at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.