Gulf Stream Orphans Project

 

How community members are helping monitor wayward juvenile fish.

Rob Royer | Senior Aquarist

The Gulf Stream. Illustration credit: NOAA

The Gulf Stream is a swift water current that runs from the Caribbean Sea, turning eastward along the North Atlantic seaboard. Like a continuously moving conveyor belt, the Gulf Stream brings warm water—and warm water species—northward. Sheltered by George’s Bank, the Gulf Stream runs east of the Gulf of Maine. Warm water rings, or spinoffs, occasionally form and move the warm water toward New England and the New Hampshire coast. Tropical fish larvae and juvenile tropical fish ride this current and are often unable to swim against the powerful current, leaving them “trapped” in the Gulf of Maine. 

Short Bigeye (Pristigenys alta) by Mike O’Neill, NEAq

These wayward juvenile fish that were swept away and carried hundreds of miles from their tropical home are referred to as Gulf Stream Orphans. In New England, these animals are typically found during late summer and early fall. Once the water starts to get colder the orphans start moving south, but unfortunately if the weather and water temperature drops quickly many of these fish will not reach southern, warm waters and won’t survive through the winter.

Seacoast Science Center partners with New England Aquarium (NEAq) and other marine science institutions on the east coast to monitor expatriated tropical and subtropical fish along the east coast of North America. The group launched a community science program where divers, beachgoers and ocean recreators can help contribute to the effort: The Gulf Stream Orphan Project. Data collection will help us keep record of when tropcial species are seen and indicate which species are beginning to overwinter in our area. The data will provide valuable insight that will help us better understand changes in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem—one of the fastest warming bodies of water in our oceans. 

You can contribute to the Gulf Stream Orphan Project by submitting your findings via a short survey. Data is being collected on live, swimming, and deceased fish that may have washed up on the shore. Observers are asked to submit a photograph of the fish to help with species identification along with size, location and weather conditions, and if possible, water temperature. You can find the survey by utilizing the QR code you see here and learn more about the project by visiting www.gsoproject.org.

Seacoast Science Center’s aquarist staff has collected some tropical fish that were in peril this past season and are caring for them in the back room quarantine tanks. The Center is in the process of planning a new exhibit to showcase the Gulf Stream Orphan phenomenon, display juvenile tropical fish, and share current research. To stay up to date, please subscribe to the Seacoast Science Center’s e-news here.

Northern Sennet (Sphyraena borealis) by Mike O’Neill, NEAq

Spotfin Butterfly (Chaetodon ocellatus) by Mike O’Neill, NEAq

Bluespotted Cornetfish (Fistularia commersonii) by Mike O’Neill, NEAq

 

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