Join Lawrence Gunther, President of Blue Fish Canada and Host of the Blue Fish Radio show, as he visits aquariums throughout North America. This unique initiative goes behind the super-think glass and the thousands of gallons of water playing host to all manner of aquatic species. A behind-the-scene exploration of spaces and people doing amazing things to empower the future stewards of the world.

The Aquariums of North America feature showcases the mega-sized public displays that cost millions to build and require maintenance crews using SCUBA to clean. Aquariums that do more than entertain guests, in that they strive to recreate aquatic ecosystems in their full glory.

North America’s aquariums are making significant investments so people can both witness and experience the mysterious underwater world that we can only imagine when looking down from the decks of ships or bridges. A world that is surprisingly more diverse than that which we live in above water, and far, far larger in size. And a world that is in need of and deserving of protection.

Many of the more famous public aquariums in North America have been around for decades and yet don’t seem to be losing their public appeal. In fact, new aquariums are springing up everywhere as for-profit businesses. We at Blue Fish Canada wanted to find out what keeps these aquariums relevant and why interest in such exhibits is growing.

Surely, the variety of underwater documentaries and TV specials that Jacques Cousteau first made popular offer more than ample film footage to satisfy most people’s curiosity. So what is it that has people turning off their TV’s and tablets and visiting aquariums in ever-increasing numbers?

In researching and planning the Aquariums of North America special, we were acutely aware of the debate surrounding the welfare of some animals, particularly cetaceans, in captivity. With so many opinions already floating around on this topic, we wanted to take a different approach.

The aquariums Lawrence is visiting focus first-and-foremost on educating the public. Their methodologies include simple displays with information plaques, live presentations and video, and hands-on interactive displays intended to go beyond observation by providing a more multi-sensory experience. Other secondary program offerings often include behind-the-scenes tours, overnight experiences, meet-and-greets with leading scientists, participation in feeding sessions, excursions on boats, and the opportunity to volunteer or apprentice. The internet as a means of following up with support for past visitors interested in learning and doing more is also becoming a key component of most aquarium visits.

Some might argue that the very popular interactive exhibits exploit animals and other life forms, and these exhibits, along with the other secondary programs, are solely intended to give a bump to the numbers of people passing through their turnstiles. But if this is the case, then one also need ask, why? For the most part, these aquariums are not-for-profit organizations.

As a person without sight, Lawrence is one of the first to attest to the value of interactive exhibits. Simply pressing your nose up against the think glass of an aquarium leaves everyone feeling somewhat unfulfilled. The need to maintain our connection with nature can only be established and maintained when all the human senses are engaged–not just the sense of sight. Like babies, everyone has a deep-seeded need to explore the world with ones hands, mouths, ears, noses, and eyes. It’s how one establishes a real connection with the object being investigated. The aquariums Lawrence visits get this, and are leaders in the world in offering the public multi-sensory, four-dimension, full immersion (both figuratively and literally), emotionally engaging experiences.

Lawrence has already visited close to a dozen aquariums throughout Canada and the United States, and the number continues to grow. While there is some overlap in the sorts of educational displays offered by different aquariums, their ample differences made it easy to focus his attention on unique subjects relevant to each aquarium’s geographic location. What he learned may both surprise and impress you.

Links to live Blue Fish Radio recordings of Lawrence’s visits and interviews with aquarium staff can be found on www.bluefishradio.com and iTunes.

There’s no shortage of interesting topics covered: habitat protection and conservation, volunteer programs, environmental sustainability, field research and observation, rescue and rehabilitation, education and awareness, stakeholder engagement, heartbreak and success, and so much more. Each Blue Fish Radio Aquariums of North America episode is engaging, different, informative, loaded with surprises, and fun. Included is an interview with an expert from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) during which Lawrence and his guest discuss the evolution of aquariums, the Association’s accreditation role, and what the future holds in store.

Please join Lawrence on this journey of discovery and illumination. You won’t be disappointed. As someone who sees the world through his ears, Lawrence has a pretty good idea of what makes for good radio.

Blue Fish Canada recently produced 14 Feel the Bite TV interstitials for Accessible Media TV. Each interstitial includes Lawrence Gunther, his guide dog Moby, and special guests on the water talking about fish, their biology and habitat, and environmental pressures that are impacting their viability. Each 3-minute episode includes a stewardship tip. The interstitials are now available for viewing on the “Feel the Bite” YouTube channel.

The 24 hour fish-a-thon organized in partnership between Blue Fish Canada and the Ottawa River Keeper went as smooth as could be expected. Weather was calm, water conditions were stable, media showed up on schedule, volunteers all contributed as promised, and no one got hurt. About the only thing that could have been better was the fishing (LOL). In spite of that, we still managed to capture and release 12 species of fish from the Ottawa River within the boundaries of the city of Ottawa over a 24-hour period from a single boat.

Segment One — 8:00-11:00 a.m.:

John Anderson from the Ottawa River Musky Factory and Hallie Cotnum from CBC Ottawa Radio jumped on board my Ranger Fisherman 620 along with my right hand for this project, Jason Cox. My guide dog Moby was also with me throughout. Lots of room for all. We started with a blast up the river that completely reconfigured Hallie’s hair for radio, and then began casting large Muskie plugs. Four rods, four baits, eight treble hooks, and 24 hook points, but in spite of our raising three fish and one actual bite, no fish in the boat. Tons of fun though, and Hallie gave stellar coverage including an 8-minute edited radio piece she recorded on the boat.

Segment Two — 11:00-3:00 p.m.:

This second segment had Rob Jackson from RJ and Birdy Outdoors aboard for a session of Gar hunting. It’s truly a visual sport in that you first need to spot these torpedoes in the shallows and then present specially modified baits within inches of the Gar’s face. We had a ton of fun stocking these predators from the bow of the Ranger and some success as well with the largest caught measuring about 35 inches. The Ottawa River Keeper camera boat was following us, but I don’t think they had it easy given the stump fields RJ had us threading in pursuit of these shallow water fish.

Segment Three — 3:00-7:00 p.m.:

This afternoon segment was intended to be the easiest in that we were to pursue panfish (e.g. Sunfish, Crappy, Bluegill, etc.). Our featured guests included Yvonne Brown from Fishing 101 for Women, Meredith Brown the official Ottawa River Keeper, Meredith’s son Charlie, the President of the Ottawa Fishing Club David Mingie, and another three folks from Ottawa River Keeper. Two boats, nine fishing rods, perfectly calm sunny weather, and we could not buy a bite. I had a Perch on with my first cast, and that was it for us all. The lesson in Segment Three was fishing is no guarantee of actually catching.

Segment Four — 7:00-12:00 a.m.:

Yanick Loranger of Ottawa River Guided Fishing came aboard to see about putting us on some Walleye and catfish. Successful on all counts, including more Perch and first appearances by a Sauger and several other panfish species. We didn’t venture far from Oziles Marina for this as there are boating hazards in the area, and we didn’t want to take the chance of a night time rescue. I found funny the total dependency Yanick and Jason have for light. They really struggled in the moonless black-out conditions in spite of the ever-constant anchor light at the stern.

Segment Five — 12:00-5:00 a.m.:

For me this midnight to first light segment was the most difficult. I could not sit down without slipping into sleep. Having started the day before quite early already, the segment signified my going 24 hours without sleep. Joining Jason, Moby and I on the boat for this portion were two fine local brothers who are well regarded as top-shelf anglers – Anthony and Andrew. Our goal was Bass and Pike or anything else that lurks in the dark. Turns out our experience with the panfish earlier the day before was to continue. Finally though, after the four of us casted all manner of baits continuously for five hours, we managed to boat a couple decent Smallmouth Bass just as the sun was breaking over the horizon. Mission accomplished!

Segment Six — 5:00-8:00 a.m.:

Our expert angler for this final segment was Nigel Touhey, well known and respected tournament angler. Also joining us aboard the Ranger was Sarah Freemark from CTV Morning television along with her videographer. Prior to shoving off from the Oziles doc, Nigel took me aside to say that he had been scouting the water the day prior and was worried about the fish not cooperating. Yup, new all about this little issue already. But, Nigel came through, found us a stretch of main Ottawa River channel that was about 25-feet in depth, and most importantly, held fish that bit. Bass, Perch, Rock Bass, Sunfish and Bluegill all made their way aboard the boat on the end of Sarah and my lines. Between catching fish, we broadcast seven live TV segments for a total of 16 minutes of coverage. A great way to end the fish-a-thon.

Results:

Out of the 85 various species of fish that call the Ottawa River home, we contacted, caught and released the following species:

1. Muskellunge
2. Walleye
3. Saugeye
4. Largemouth Bass
5. Smallmouth Bass
6. Channel Catfish
7. Long Nose Gar
8. Rock Bass
9. Blue Gill
10. Pumpkin Cede
11. Black Crappy
12. Yellow Perch

All were released alive and well.

For more coverage of this event:

Ottawa River Keeper Blog: http://www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/11-species-of-fish-caught-in-24-hours/

CBC Morning news coverage: