Estuarine Biology Gallery

River to Bay: Reflections and Connections

This exhibit, which opened October 2014, tells the story of the diverse marine life found in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, demonstrating how we are all connected. It opens with a geo-animation showing the formation of the modern Chesapeake Bay –  overlaid with human population growth since the time of the Paleo Indians. In the gallery you will meet a remarkable variety of wildlife found in various habitats. Notice the “waterline mural” overhead showing human activities going on above the surface that correspond to the underwater habitats depicted below. This is an exhibit that does not share all its secrets at once, but unfolds new delights with each visit.
What’s in the gallery:

The exhibit consists of three distinct bay habitats followed by sections on adaptations and invasive species. In the Deep Open Water habitat, you will encounter chain dogfish, a small shark sometimes found living near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and many sought-after sport fish congregating around the massive man-made bridge columns.   
Nearby in the Sheltering Shallows, an oyster reef provides habitat for blennies, gobies and shrimp. Seahorses wind their tails around bottom grasses as butterflyfish hunt for small prey hiding among the life clinging to an abandoned pier piling. Marsh grasses obscure the movement of northern water snakes and diamondback terrapins. Here you will also meet former Senator Bernie Fowler, famous for his annual Wade In. Take time to explore the interactive touch screen and learn about his legacy of bay stewardship.
Tidal Tributaries, the third habitat, brings you closer to the diverse world of freshwater animals found in the streams and rivers discharging into the bay. Tessellated darters scurry across the bottom while schools of shiner and dace swim overhead, and freshwater turtles lounge on floating logs. Smallmouth bass, bluegill sunfish, black crappie, white catfish and chain pickerel hungrily eye the minnows in the adjacent tank as they lurk in tall pondweeds.   
Strategies to Survive focuses on the surprising ways various species have adapted to survive in the bay including: being camouflaged; exhibiting schooling behavior; or using intelligence to figure out what and where to eat. Don’t miss out on the jellyfish tank! These iconic animals are present in the bay all year, but not always as the free swimmers we all know to avoid. Here you will also find interactive computer games designed with our younger visitors in mind.

The Eco-Invaders section unravels the mystery of how non-native species have come to live in the bay, and how they impact endemic wildlife. A new oval tank anchors the room housing the highly invasive lionfish. The northern snakehead can be found skulking in the bottom of its tank. Green crabs, zebra mussels, crayfish, phragmites and other undesirable invasive species are also highlighted.

In several areas you may find special “Maker Space Carts” that invite you to play a game, make a Secchi disk, or learn more about some of the animals in the Chesapeake Bay. 
Photo Credit Amy Kline-013 small