close encountersOver 100 display tanks and pools. Sharks, penguins, pelagic stingray and jellyfish are just some of the many stars along this exciting route. The blue itinerary presents the history of our planet together with its biological evolution, showing us a variety of exhibits with species that today have still managed to survive after millions of years, like sharks, now considered to be living fossils. Your visit will be an underwater trip round the world, starting from the Mediterranean and continuing through the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, until we reach the splendid multihued coral reefs of the Red Sea, inhabited by a host of brilliantly coloured organisms. Here all the tanks of the aquarium must be examined very carefully, above all the smallest ones, which recreate various different environments in minute detail with a wealth of life forms and mystery, making it not only a fascinatingly beautiful place to visit but also an ideal place for observation and knowledge, allowing us to come into closer contact with a world that sometimes seems far too distant.
Some of these photos were taken by Claudio Cangini
the best way to visit
Before we start our visit, we need to understand exactly what an aquarium is and how we should watch it. An aquarium must not be thought of as simply a space delimited by glass walls, but should be seen as a window on a world that is largely unknown to us. It is difficult therefore to consider it like a painting or a photograph. Here the observer must in fact face the constant challenge of a panorama that changes over time, bursting with life and with protagonists that when watched patiently reveal their secrets and most representative patterns of behaviour. So we mustn’t hurry our visit, but instead dedicate ample time to every exhibit, even the smallest ones, which usually reserve the best surprises.
Below we describe some of the themes illustrated on the blue itinerary.
penguinsThe new Penguin exhibit is an essential part of the mission of Cattolica Aquarium, which has always been committed to raising the awareness of the public and educating it on the conservation, use and responsible management of aquatic environments by discovering animal species and their habitats.
hammerhead shark pupsA new tank has been built at Cattolica Aquarium for the Hammerhead Shark pups. Just a few months old, born in captivity and therefore not taken away from their natural environment, they are the new stars of the aquarium. In perfect condition, they are constantly monitored by our staff, after their successful journey from far-off Florida. The commitment of Cattolica Aquarium and its desire to continue its mission of enhancing awareness about these splendid creatures comes from its intense collaboration with other aquariums, so as to avoid taking them directly from their marine habitat.
The head of the hammerhead shark is flattened horizontally and broadens at the sides to form two extensions, which together make up the so-called “hammer” shape. These extensions are composed of muscular and connective tissue supported by cartilage. The eyes, located at the ends of the two extensions, are spaced very widely apart, while the nostrils can be seen along the front edge. The teeth are not very large, and depending on the species they can be erect or oblique, with smooth or finely serrated edges.
Origin and functions of the head:
Scientists have debated the functions of the distinctive shape of the head of hammerhead sharks for many years. It now seems clear that there may be many reasons for this “hammer” shape, linked with movement and hunting. The profile of the hammer extensions is similar to an aircraft wing, with the lower surface flat and the upper one with a convex curve. This organ must have significant functions for movement, as hammerhead sharks are reasonably agile and fast. As mentioned earlier, the nostrils are located at the ends of the hammer-shaped extensions, and are therefore more widely spaced than can normally be seen in other sharks. When a hammerhead shark follows a scent trail, the oscillation movement of the head and the position of the nostrils can be useful in identifying the trail and not losing it. The further apart the nostrils are positioned, the more functional this mechanism becomes. The eyes are also very widely distanced, and vision is therefore stereoscopic.
Habits and behaviour:
Hammerhead sharks have a developed brain, which is perhaps associated with the capacity to lead an advanced social life. The most surprising aspect of the sociality of hammerhead sharks is undoubtedly linked with their capacity to form large schools. Although sharks of both sexes and of different sizes are present in these schools, young females with a length of about 1.7 metres are the most numerous. These communicate using a precise body language, competing to occupy the position of greatest importance at the centre of the school.
the turtle nursery
Cattolica Aquarium is collaborating closely with the Aquarium of Genoa to reinforce its links with the “Anton Dohrn” Zoological Station of Naples. This important joint project has led to the creation of the Turtle Nursery as a place where young sea turtles can be cared for during the most vulnerable phases of their life. The Turtle Nursery is a protected environment that can offer one or more young turtles a period of convalescence before being returned to their natural habitat. The nursery’s guests will be young examples of Caretta caretta, a species with a cosmopolitan distribution that is common on all Mediterranean coasts. Once they have been recused and treated in Naples, the young turtles will be cared for in Cattolica Aquarium’s new Turtle Nursery, where the aquarium staff will monitor all the variations in weight and size of the various turtles until they can be guaranteed to be in perfect condition for their return to the open sea.
With its experience and skills, Cattolica Aquarium is contributing in the important task of protecting these marine reptiles in which the Naples Zoological Station has already been brilliantly engaged for many years.
This small tank is dedicated to the eggs of the Lesser-Spotted Dogfish, a typical Mediterranean shark. The lesser-spotted dogfish is found on sandy, gravel and muddy sea bottoms, and is an easily identifiable shark due to its particular colouring. It reaches a maximum length of 80 cm, but is also very common between 20 and 50 cm. It feeds mainly on molluscs, crustaceans and fishes. The reproductive system involves the laying of eggs with large yolks protected by a horny capsule that is almost as strong as leather. The lesser-spotted dogfish deposits its eggs on the sea bottom, using corals or algae as a support, and fixing them firmly with tendrils up to five metres in length present at the ends of the egg, as can be seen inside the tank. The laying period is continuous, between spring and summer. The eggs hatch regularly after a period of nine months. When born, the young fish are about 9–10 cm long, a size that gives them a good possibility of survival. For the first few days of their life however they swim only clumsily, due to their lack of oil, present instead in the livers of adult sharks and an essential element for their buoyancy. Shark livers constitute about 25% of their total body mass.
These sharks have a flattened body, shaped more or less like a disk or a diamond, constituted mainly by wings composed principally of the pectoral fins. These are very wide and also extend forwards, often completely surrounding the head, and backwards, merging into the pelvic fins. There may be one or two dorsal fins, or they may be entirely absent. The mouth, which usually opens on the abdomen, has teeth that have often evolved into plates for chewing, suitable for crushing up prey with hard shells, such as molluscs and crustaceans. The eyes protrude to a varying extent, and are almost always situated in a dorsal position. The nostrils open centrally, and do not communicate internally with the oral cavity.
the large shark tank
The creatures that best represent the evolution of our planet are those that have been able to adapt to the changes that have occurred. This tank holding 700,000 litres of water plays host to several shark species, including Sand Tiger Sharks and Nurse Sharks.
Interactions between the human species and the Chondrichthyes have always been characterized by competition and fear. Numerous species of cartilaginous fishes have often been caught by humans for thousands of years, without any signs of imbalance or overfishing being noted. This situation has changed radically over the last few decades due to simultaneous changes in three factors associated with the presence of humans in our planet’s seas and oceans:
- increase of the human population;
- technological developments in the field of fishing and navigation;
- environmental degradation.
If therefore, on the one hand, the potential for attacks by Chondrichthyes against humans has remained unchanged or has even declined, due to a probable demographic decrease of several species, on the other hand, the harmful effects of human action on Chondrichthyes have dramatically increased.
There are many factors linked with the biology and ecology of cartilaginous fishes that make them particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of human action:
- slowness of their growth;
- long time taken by some species to reach sexual maturity;
- low number of new-born young produced after a long period of gestation or incubation;
- low replacement rate of populations, which in some species can be as low as 2% per year;
- habit of many individuals of several species to gather together in conspicuous groups for reproductive reasons, thereby making themselves particularly vulnerable to overfishing;
- presence of young in “nursery” areas susceptible to disturbance and degradation of the habitat;
- position as predators at the top of the food chain, preventing many species from competing with humans.
his name is given to all sea bottoms composed of non-consolidated sediment. Benthic organisms, which live in close association with the seabed, are strongly affected by the instability of the substrate and by the possibility of hiding or finding food amongst the small grains. The finer and looser that sediments are, the more difficult it is for them to be populated by sessile organisms that are fixed to the seabed. Stop at this small tank to see how these organisms are capable of blending in with their environment. Amongst these, the Turbot is of particular interest. This flatfish, which has its eyes on the left-hand side of its body, hides itself totally under the sand, leaving only its eyes exposed, always ready to spot the passage of any small prey.
Jellyfishes, mysterious and fascinating organisms that we never wish to meet, except when visiting an aquarium, are composed for 90% of water, and have a parachute-shaped body with a series of stinging tentacles with different lengths and shapes. The first four windows show the lifecycle of the Moon Jellyfish, a jellyfish with a cosmopolitan distribution and very common in the Mediterranean. The moon jellyfish has a soft, gelatinous, cup-shaped umbrella, with an edge that appears fringed due to the presence of numerous short hollow tentacles. Easily recognizable for the particular markings inside its body in the shape of a four-leaf clover, this jellyfish can reach diameters of up to 40 cm. In general they feed on small organisms captured with their stinging tentacles. The last window shows the Cassiopea andromeda jellyfish, which has no stinging tentacles and lives resting on deep sandy seabeds, wandering silently without being able to defend itself. Watching it float suspended in the water is a striking experience.
The environment of the tropical seas is distinguished by the bright and lively colouring of its inhabitants. Colour is a form of interaction between males and females or between young and adults, and the reasons for this interaction are communication and defence. In the first case, colour is used as a visual signal, directed at exemplars of the same species or of other species. For example, during the reproduction season the female shows her willingness for mating with males by taking on a more lively coloration. In the second case, colours become a warning signal, a crucial element in the identification of spines or poisonous organisms. The predominant colour in this tank is yellow. Surgeonfishes, which take their name from the presence on the caudal peduncle of a hard spine as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, show a strong territorial behaviour, and in fact they defend the walls of the tank and consequently the algae on which they feed. On some occasions they can be seen together with the other fishes as they feed frantically on a head of lettuce given them by our staff as a dietary supplement. The Napoleonfish is the largest member of the Labridae family, and can reach lengths of between two and three metres. This fish is distinguished by its great curiosity, which often leads it to closely approach divers or bathers. It can often be seen at the back of the tank as it allows itself to be cleaned by a number of Butterfly Fishes.
This typical species of the River Amazon is very common in the basins of the Mato Grosso and the River Plate. It prefers watercourses rich in vegetation, trunks and underwater roots, and is distinguished by a robust, stocky and discoid body, a sign that it lives in slow-flowing waters. The silvery-white livery is speckled with black, while the throat and belly are reddish in colour. The Red-Throated Piranha feeds mainly on fish, meat and insects, but at some stages of its lifecycle it can also feed on vegetable substances. It can sometimes live in large groups, but even in this case the single fishes maintain a certain “safety distance” between each other. Piranhas reproduce in winter, between November and April. During courtship, the mating couples lose their typical coloration and assume an unusual blackish livery. About 500 eggs are laid in large pits excavated in the sand by the male, who after mating drives away the females to care for and defend the offspring.
he touch pool contains various organisms, with the largest including the Pelagic Stingray or Dasyatis violacea, which can reach widths of 80 cm and a maximum length of 190 cm. They are very dark brownish-violet in colour, almost black. Like the sharks to which they are related, pelagic stingrays have a cartilaginous skeleton, and also live in the Adriatic Sea, where they feed on jellyfish, squid, crustaceans and fishes. They have a venomous spine at the base of the tail, which is used for defence. For safety reasons, the spine is periodically trimmed with an absolutely painless procedure. Some of the pelagic stingrays in the pool were born at Cattolica Aquarium. Thanks to their gentle temperament, visitors have the possibility of stroking them without difficulty, taking care however with the mouth and tail. Watching them, it is impossible to avoid thinking about the splendid gifts that nature has given us: today, the life of the seas is in your hands.