Rare Chance to Interact with Ocean Wonders at Shell Museum

provided to Santiva Chronicle

The ocean holds numerous mysteries, and many are unraveling at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Starting Aug. 15, guests may get even closer to one of these amazing animals.

The Museum will offer guests an up-close experience to touch the Giant Pacific Octopus that is in the new exhibit, “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks.” During the encounter, staff members offer a presentation on their habitat, natural history and conservation. Guests can strengthen their bond with these treasured animals and learn about their environment to further the Museum’s mission to connect people to the natural world. The encounters will be stimulating for the octopus as additional enrichment, which is necessary for the welfare of this animal. Little is known about the fascinating animals in the Museum’s newest exhibit, making the chance to meet a Giant Pacific Octopus a remarkable visit. Guests can also purchase a painting made by the octopus at the gift store. This 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 an especially captivating task for staff and guests. Staff tenderly care for each one of the nearly 500 animals in this new exhibit, which sharpens the focus on mollusks, the animals that create shells. Now, the public can witness firsthand how these shell-builders hunt and feed.

The two stunning octopuses at the Museum are eye-catching to watch. 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. This encourages natural behaviors and increases physical and mental stimulation and curiosity within the octopuses, the Giant Pacific Octopus which weighs eight pounds and the Common Octopus which weighs about one pound.

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

Guests have five chances each week to watch the octopuses feed: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday in the afternoon. At this time, there isn’t a set feeding time to ensure social distancing in the Museum, but while the octopuses are fed, staff members give a presentation to share what is occurring step-by-step.

The Museum’s colorful Stumpy Cuttles are also fed three times a day. When she feeds these unique cephalopods, she narrates to guests to share what she’s doing and what the cuttles do as they eat.

Guests also love to see snack time for the many animals in the Museum’s interactive touch pools. Although these animals eat at different times, guests are likely to encounter one feeding during a visit, as some, like the mysterious Swimming Scallops, are fed three times a day. Some of the touch pools’ shell-builders are filter feeders, and others have a rasping tongue to tear their food apart, giving guests a fascinating experience as they watch some of the most mysterious marine animals feed.

Sanibel’s prized Junonias are also at the Museum. It’s incredibly rare to encounter a live Junonia, let alone watch it hunt for food. Little is known about how Junonias eat, but Museum researchers discovered that they love Lettered Olives, a snail found in southwest Florida. The Junonias’ habitat is always stocked with Lettered Olives to allow them to free-feed.

The Museum welcomes visitors of all ages to witness these ocean wonders in person, and soon meet the Giant Pacific Octopus. Review all the new safety measures and plan your visit by visiting their website, www.shellmuseum.org.

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