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WO thousand captive seadwellers, imprisoned for life yet apparently quite happy, daily dine together under one great roof in the City of New York. And one of the oddest, most picturesque sights anywhere to be seen by human eyes is that of the serving of these two thousand diners—guests of the great Aquarium,-—because the 213 different species have 213 differing appetites and as many separate ways of satisfying them.
The fact that over a million and a half persons passed through its door during the past year, nearly five thousand daily, stamps it as easily the most popular show-place in the world. It was turned over to the management of the New York Zoological Society two years ago. Through the courtesy of Mr. Townsend, the director, and Mr. W. de Nyse, in charge of the marine collections, the writer was afforded special facilities for obtaining typical poses of the animals at feeding-time, a favorable opportunity for catching characteristic and life-like positions. Lunch hour is about three o'clock, and though many miss it, is one of the most interesting and spectacular events of the day.
Getting up the daily menu for the vast assembly of fishes requires more labor and expense than is generally known.
One attendant devotes about half of each day to the preparation of the food, and several others are kept busy the remainder of the afternoon in feeding. The food is varied to suit the size of the specimen, and consists of beef—sliced, chopped, or minced—liver, and fish, cod and herring, mostly. A considerable amount of live minnows and shrimps is also used.
Among the chief attractions of the Aquarium at present, from the fact that they are almost entirely new and rare to popular eyes, is the pair of curious seacows, or manatees, from Lake Worth, Florida, the only ones in captivity at present in any country. The first successful picture ever secured at close range, showing the peculiar head and nostrils of one of these creatures, raised out of water in the act of taking food, is herewith reproduced. The animals in their wild habitat are especially shy and cautious of man, diving and disappearing immediately on hi* approach.
Owing to their peculiar tropical habits they are given special treatment and care, such as suitable warm temperature, between seventy and seventy-two degrees for the water of their pool, and a sufficient quantity of nourishing food. Eelgrass and lettuce leaves strongly tempt their appetites. The former, however, is used in more abundance when obtainable. The Aquarium collector spends much of his time searching for this substance.
ATTENDANT TRYING TO TEMPT THE EASTING NINE-FOOT FLORIDA ALLIGATOR TO EAT.
The larger sea-cow, a female, is eight and one-half feet long, weighing 600 pounds, the male is about two-thirds the size and weight of its mate. They were captured by Alligator Joe, of Palm Beach, and were taken in a large dragseine. Numerous attempts were made at different times for a month, and seven
manatees broke and escaped through the net before two were finally obtained. They reached the Aquarium in May of the past year, and have considerable swimming space in a tile-lined pool, twenty feet long by thirteen wide, with a depth of four feet of water, which is renewed daily.
The feeding of the sea-cows is watched with unusual interest by the visitors.
Mr. W. de Nyse, with a suspended handful of eel-grass, can coax the female to raise her head and neck completely out of the water.
Sea-cows have peculiar structure, having no front teeth, hind limbs, nor hip-bones, but a huge, beaver-like tail, while their bones are the heaviest known among mammals. The best view of the animals is obtained when the water is drained from the pool for tank cleaning, leaving the whole form strikingly outlined. When this is clone the large female usually rolls upon her back and remains in this position until the water returns.
The home of the sea-cow in the United States is limited to the Indian River lagoons of the. eastern coast of Florida. Other species are found in various tropical regions. In captivity they seldom live longer than five or six months. The present pair, however, are apparently as healthy as when first received.
Probably the star attraction of the Aquarium is the silver-bedecked spotted moray. This extraordinary denizen inhabits the caverns, grottoes and coral reefs of Bermuda, and is one of the most interesting of the many strange sea marvels from this tropical isle, which is celebrated for its gorgeous colored types of fishes. A whole tank is given up to the display of this brilliant coated specimen, which is nearly three feet in length. The striking picture
reproduced at the head "of the article shows the moray in characteristic attitude when the strange creature is about to receive a strip of cod for lunch. This, the favorite food of the moray, is passed to and fro close to the open mouth, when the animal suddenly gulps the tempting morsel. In the ocean depths they are voracious and very cannibalistic in their habits and are the terror of the other fishes. With their long bodies partly concealed by being wound around some ledge or crevice, they lie in ambush, their ponderous jaw<=, with lance-like teeth
open half a foot or more in readiness to dart at and swallow the first unsuspecting victim that swims by.
This queer inhabitant of the sea is caught in traps and also on hooks. The native negro fishermen lose no time in immediately cutting off the head when one is landed in the boat. A big specimen which happens to get loose is said to cause a veritable panic, the whole frightened crew jumping overboard on the instant.
The morays are especially noted in history for the surprising use made of them as a means of torture and punishment by the Ancient Romans, in the time of Augustus. In a pool was kept a colony of enormous size. Whenever a slave gave any serious offence or otherwise angered his inhuman master,he was unceremoniously cast therein with hands tied and left to the ravages of the morays.
Of all the Aquarium's boarders the little seahorses, six inches long, are the most fantastic in appearance. They are so named from the close resemblance of their heads to that of a horse. The food necessary to whet their appetites is somewhat odd and hard to obtain. It has been found that they can be kept to good advantage only when they are well supplied with gamarus, a very minute crustacean procured by gathering bunches of fine sea-moss, which it inhabits.
In feeding-, the fish's mouth is placed near the small prey, for which it constantly searches, and is suddenly opened. The cheeks being inflated at the same
the male for shelter. The position of the body is usually vertical, especially in swimming. Sea-horses are found all along the American coast, from Cape Cod to South Carolina.
The clever maneuvers of the two little harbor seals from the Maine coast share the popular interest with the sea-cows. They are hearty eaters and are given strips of cod and herring for their luncheon. These are usually thrown into the pool, but oftentimes, when the seals come up high on the platform, the food is suspended over their heads for a moment to be then eagerly snapped at. These creatures are rapidly * disappearing from our coasts; owing to their ravages on the fish, many of the New England States now offer a bounty of from $1 to $3 for the destruction of these animals, in order to protect the fishing industry.
The nine-foot alligator from Florida is
one of the most reluctant and irregular feeders at the Aquarium. Several days and even weeks will pass without his taking any food. He is roused up from stupor by being punched with a pole. His anger is shown by growling and the opening of his ponderous jaws a half foot
or more, when the attendant swiftly pushes a big fish, which is held in readiness, into his mouth. The average board-bill for catering to the appetites of the Aquarium's guests for one month is $100, but the instructive entertainment they furnish justifies the expense.