The Maritime Aquarium recently received two videos from Connecticut residents who claim to have encountered the legendary (and supposed) forest shark.  We’re studying the videos’ authenticity.


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Because so many boaters seem to be encountering the humpback whales currently in the western end of Long Island Sound … and because boaters of Long Island Sound aren’t accustomed to sharing the water with 30-foot creatures that come to the surface to breathe and to occasionally leap out of the water … the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has issued a reminder about keeping a safe distance.

Guidelines from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advise to stay at least 300 feet away from large whales.  That’s for the whales’ safety and yours.

Here’s a nice graphic from NOAA that explains:

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Challenge:  name the animal that, pound for pound, is the most formidable creature in Long Island Sound.

Did you say sharks?  Or bluefish, with their sharp teeth?  Maybe blue crabs, that can pinch like a vice?

Actually, the answer most likely is a shrimp.


A mantis shrimp on exhibit in The Maritime Aquarium.

The mantis shrimp – a shrimp that, in growing up to 10 inches long, isn’t so shrimpy – has a razor-sharp pair of first claws that can slice open a fish (or your finger or toe) in a blink.

Divers respectfully call them “thumb splitters.”

Mantis shrimp got their name because their front claws (the dangerous ones) are held folded under their bodies in a tight Z, like the praying mantis insect. Like some sort of little ninja lobster, a mantis shrimp can use its weapon on you before you can even react. Its slashes are the fastest-known movement in the animal kingdom.

Other species of mantis shrimp have a club-like appendage used to pummel hard-shelled prey (like crabs and snails) into meat-exposed bits. Larger mantis shrimps from the Pacific can punch with nearly the force of a .22-caliber bullet and in aquariums have been known to pop a hole in their tanks’ glass.


The fascinating – and excellent – stalked eyes of a mantis shrimp.

OK, so a shrimp with a black belt is scary enough. But how would you like to have one stalking you? That’s what they do with their prey, thanks to their excellent advanced vision and stalked eyes that can rotate 360 degrees.

At least they don’t live around here, right?


There are about 450 species of mantis shrimp, and one – Squilla empusa – is found in shallow waters from Cape Cod to Brazil, including Long Island Sound.  The crew of The Maritime Aquarium’s research vessel and local fishermen are keenly aware of what mantis shrimp can inflict. A website frequented by local striped-bass fishermen has such comments about mantis shrimp as “some mean (expletive)s … wouldn’t even put my hand near them.”

If you swim in the Sound, your toes should be safe. Mantis shrimp are nocturnal and stay in deeper water where they can excavate a burrow. The shrimp sits in the burrow, waiting for prey to swim by.

They’re preyed upon by octopus, moray eels and fish. (Those aforementioned striped-bass fishermen say the stripers “eat them like popcorn.”)

Their tail meat is said to be delicious. But good luck catching one!

The safest way to see mantis shrimp is to come to The Maritime Aquarium. Although not always displayed here, mantis shrimp currently can be seen in exhibits in our Salt Marsh gallery and in the side aquariums at our Intertidal Touch Tank (where you cannot touch them and, more importantly, these fascinating feisty little creatures cannot touch you).

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist


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whale breach Dan Lent

A humpback whale breaches off Stamford, CT, on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo by Dan Lent.















Perhaps you have seen news stories over the last two weeks of boaters being shocked (and thrilled) by encountering a humpback whale in Long Island Sound.

These boaters haven’t merely glimpsed a whale blowing out a mist when it came to the surface to breathe.  No, they’ve seen – and photographed and shot video of – a humpback whale breaching, or leaping, out of the water. (These images are helpful in clearly identifying the whale as a humpback.)

The Sound is too shallow to be much of a regular habitat for an animal that can reach 60 feet long. And there are only two comparatively narrow openings into the Sound for an ocean-going whale to decide to enter. But some species of whales do visit occasionally.

However, no one here at the Aquarium can remember a humpback whale coming in. Or a whale staying in the Sound this long – now 2+ weeks. Or, after reported sightings off Port Washington and Rye, N.Y., a whale venturing so far into the Sound’s western basin.

This past Saturday (9/12) around 5 p.m., Dan Lent of Easton had an experience that gives a new twist to the story.

While boating off Stamford, he saw two whales.

whale dorsal Dan Lent

A humpback whale surfaces off Stamford, CT, on Sept. 12, 2015.

Lent told the Aquarium: “One seemed to be swimming around more underwater and covering more ground and breaching every 5 minutes (I saw about 5 breaches) and the other seemed to be swimming calmly in a straight line from R32 Stamford to n34 in Greenwich. … I know for certain that there was more than one whale because the breaching one started to scare me and breached behind the boat while the other whale was in front.”

According to guidelines of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), boaters must stay 300 feet away from any large whales. As Lent experienced, any temptation to creep closer is lost when you see an animal weighing many tons crash back into the water with a thunderous splash.

whale splash Dan Lent

A breaching humpback whale makes a thunderous splash in Long Island Sound off Stamford, CT, on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo by Dan Lent.

In an email, Lent wrote that he was “following their blow holes’ spray and the disturbed water and then all of a sudden it breached 100’ behind me. I got really scared that it could hit or crush my 27’ boat. It was about the size of the boat.”

Lent’s estimate of size – and his excellent photographs – suggest that the whale – or whales – may be young whales; perhaps two males off on an adventure to explore the world. If they’re only half as big as their eventual size, that also might explain how they’re able to get a “running start” to breach in only 60 to 70 feet of water.

So why would the whales be here? Speculation is that the whales – and pods of dolphin that also have been seen – are in the Sound because of a striking quantity of bait fish widely seen throughout the Sound all summer. The marine mammals are here to feed on these enormous schools of menhaden (bunker), porgies and other small fish.

Is the whales’ presence an indication that the Sound’s health is good? Unfortunately, you can’t make that connection.  Excess influxes of pollutants, especially bacteria from storm-water runoff and nitrogen from lawn fertilizer and sewage-treatment plants, still create troubling instances of beach closings and oxygen-depleted “dead zones.” These wouldn’t impact a transient air-breathing whale but they do effect our native marine life.

Where are the whales now?  Impossible to say. And we would rather that everyone just leave them alone. They’re federally protected. If you are out on the Sound and fortunate to see them, we ask that you follow from a distance of at least 300 feet – for your safety and the whales’. Best thing to do is to cut your engine, get out your camera, enjoy the rare opportunity and send an email with details of your encounter to Joe Schnierlein here at the Aquarium:

Actually, we can guarantee one way to see humpback whales: check out the IMAX® movie “Humpback Whales” playing on The Maritime Aquarium’s six-story screen now through Nov. 24 at 1 & 3 p.m. daily.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

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Hooper himself joined us on June 14 as we celebrated the 40th anniversary of “Jaws” with actor Richard Dreyfuss telling stories about the making of the blockbuster film … followed by a showing of the movie on our six-story screen.


Actor Richard Dreyfuss awaits the next question about the making of "Jaws" during his appearance at The Maritime Aquarium on June 14.

An adoring crowd heard stories – many of them humorous – of mechanical sharks that didn’t work, director Steven Spielberg’s brilliance, Dreyfuss’ initial indifference to the film and more.

Responding to questions from sponsors and hosts Tina Pray and Joe Lockridge, Dreyfuss said he had not read Peter Benchley’s book when he was contacted by Spielberg about playing the role of the marine biologist Matt Hooper.

“I’m lazy, and that’s going to be a bitch [to film],” he recalls thinking.

He said he turned Spielberg down twice. But then, in 1974, after seeing a screening of his starring role in “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” he changed his mind.

“I watched my performance and I said, ‘If this sells in the United States, I will never work again,’” he said. “I called up Steven and begged him for the part.”

Dreyfuss also admitted that, after filming of “Jaws” was completed, he didn’t have high hopes.

“Of course I’m also the one who, on the set of ‘American Graffiti,’ said, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just a little movie,’” he said.

Dreyfuss said “Jaws” really was made without a script, with many of the iconic scenes either being ad libbed (example – one of Dreyfuss’ favorite lines: Hooper chuckling to himself “They’re all going to die”) or included after collaborative discussion (example – Dreyfuss crushing a Styrofoam cup).

“It really was an improvised epic,” he said.

Perhaps that’s why, as Dreyfuss admitted, parts of the story don’t make sense.

“Like, why we took the Orca and not my triple-deck decked-out boat,” he said.

Spielberg, he said, wisely threw out several of the subplots that exist in the book, and also decided that, in the movie, Hooper would not die.

“You couldn’t kill my character because I was too likeable,” he said.

In real life, Dreyfuss said he is a capable (if not officially certified) scuba diver.  “Jaws” did not scare him out of the water.

But, he added: “What I will not do is just walk off the beach into the water. Neither Steven or I will walk off the beach into the water.”

See more images here.


The event sold out months ago … with most tickets being snapped up when they went on sale first to Maritime Aquarium members. Such exclusive ticket opportunities are just one of many advantages of a Maritime Aquarium membership.


Dreyfuss chats with Michael and Nathalia Chandler, who came to the Aquarium event all the way from South Carolina.

Here’s the best story about that:  Michael and Nathalia Chandler live in South Carolina. They’re big “Jaws” fans. They watch it a couple times a week, he says.  Earlier this year, Nathalia discovered online that Dreyfuss would be at The Maritime Aquarium for a “Jaws” event.  They called the Aquarium, bought a membership and got their tickets … not just for Dreyfuss’ talk but also for a pre-show VIP meet-and-greet with the actor. And so they flew in to Boston a couple nights ago and, on June 14, found themselves at The Maritime Aquarium, thrilled for the chance to have a brief chat with Dreyfuss.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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Students and parents of Jefferson Science Magnet School take part in The Maritime Aquarium’s Seal of Approval Awards on June 11. They surround: Dr. Brian Davis (in black suit), president of The Maritime Aquarium; award recipient Sandy Bria (in tan sweater), manager of corporate citizenship for GE Capital; award recipient John Reynolds (in blue shirt), principal of Jefferson Science Magnet School; and Tom Naiman, the Aquarium’s director of education. Behind Bria and Reynolds is Cathy Hagadorn, who was coordinator of the Aquarium’s “Whole School Partnership” with Jefferson for many years.

On June 11, we were pleased to honor Sandy Bria of GE Capital and John Reynolds, principal of Jefferson Science Magnet School, with The Maritime Aquarium’s 2015 Seal of Approval Awards.

The Seal of Approval Awards honor individuals who create change in the community and support the mission of The Maritime Aquarium.

Dr. Brian Davis, president of The Maritime Aquarium, presented the awards during the annual end-of-year celebration held at the Aquarium for Jefferson Science Magnet School students, parents and teachers.

Under Reynolds’ leadership, in 2006, Jefferson became the first school to partner with The Maritime Aquarium in our “Whole School Partnerships.” In these collaborations, Aquarium educators work with every child and their teachers in every grade of a school, providing multiple science experiences while integrating the Aquarium’s science curriculum into the schools’ coursework. The result has been a demonstrated improvement in standardized test scores, closing science achievement gaps.

For its success in closing the achievement gap among its students, Jefferson was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014 – the only Connecticut school to be honored.

As manager of corporate citizenship for GE Capital, Bria led the way for GE Capital to fund some of the initial programming for the Jefferson-Aquarium “Whole School Partnership.” GE Capital continues to provide funds for new educational opportunities within the program.

Bria also is the liaison for some 25 volunteers – herself included – who mentor Jefferson students.

During the June 11 event, Jefferson families had exclusive evening access to the Aquarium, including a special presentation of the IMAX® movie “Humpback Whales.”

Past winners of The Maritime Aquarium’s Seal of Approval Awards are Jack and Mimi Cohen, Ellen Morrone and the late Dr. M Hyman Hodish – all long-time Aquarium volunteers. The Cohens and Morrone also are charter members of the Aquarium’s Legacy of the Sound Society, whose members have included the Aquarium in their will or trust.

– Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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What better time than World Oceans Day to receive an assessment of how Long Island Sound – and Norwalk Harbor – are doing, health-wise?

Results of the first-ever ecosystem-health “report cards” were released today in a special presentation by the Long Island Sound Funders Cooperative.

Not surprisingly, the Sound scored an A at its eastern end but the grades worsen until becoming an F at its far western end. As the report explains, the scores change “corresponding to the progression of less developed and lower populated areas to more developed and highly populated areas.”

The Sound was graded in five regions:

•  eastern – A.

•  central – B.

•  western (Bridgeport to Norwalk) – B-

•  eastern narrows (roughly New Rochelle to Darien/Great Neck to Eaton’s Neck) – D+

• and western narrows (essentially the back end of the bathtub, which gets little tidal refreshing, where the Sound connects to the East River in New York City) – F.

Norwalk Harbor received a C+.

The University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science determined the grades after analyzing locally collected data – for Norwalk Harbor, particularly data of the Harbor Watch initiative of Westport-based EarthWatch.

Caroline Donovan, program manager of that university center, presented the results today (6/8) in a ceremony at Sherwood Island State Park in Westport.  For the Sound’s grade, she said, rated factors included the water’s clarity and its levels of dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, nitrogen and phosphorus.

For Norwalk Harbor, she said, factors were water clarity and dissolved oxygen levels, and also the numbers of fish, crabs and other invertebrate creatures found.  Pollutants running off the land – pet waste, lawn fertilizer and leaks from cars and boats – are the harbor’s biggest issues.

“It’s getting better but it’s still not food enough,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told those in attendance representing numerous environmental organizations. “The citizen advocacy that you are providing plays a really critical role because government cannot do it alone. … This report card is a call to action.”

Blumenthal said he was about to return to Washington, DC, later on Monday.

“I’m going to tell my colleagues in New York, ‘You should be ashamed,’’’ he said, referring to the western narrow’s grade of F.

State Sen. Bob Duff reminded the group that many people in Connecticut rely on the Sound for recreation but also for their livelihood. He praised the idea of the report card, which will inspire us “to stay on and be vigilant about what is really our back yard.”

The Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative (LISFC) is a group of funders with missions that include protecting and restoring Long Island Sound.

“It’s not so much about the grades,” said Hugh Killin III, executive director of the Jeniam Foundation (one of the collaborative members). “It’s about starting a conversation about what happens next.”

Explore the Report Card at

– Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

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When you were in high school, how great would it have been to have an educational mentor? Someone to help you with your understanding of the sciences?  Maybe to encourage and challenge your interest in certain sciences?  Someone who was helping you prepare for the whole college thing? To take you on college visits and introduce you to people working in careers that interest you? To just help polish you up and make you ready for the world after high school.

For many of us, that would have been a huge help. And a huge weight off our minds, right?

That’s what The Maritime Aquarium offers each school year to teens at the three Norwalk high schools through the TeMPEST program. TeMPEST stands for Teen Maritime Program Emphasizing Science & Technology. Its goals are to promote the teens’ STEM literacy, to prepare them for college, to make them aware of career opportunities and to develop skills that will help them in any profession.

Fifty-one students took advantage of the program this school year.


Dakota Thompson, Carla Valdez and Kimberly Aristizabal staff their shark-conservation booth titled “Sharks Don’t Bite” May 28 during the end-of-year celebration for teens participating in the TeMPEST after-school program.

The students this year met in three separate groups.  Some things, they all did. They hosted guest speakers from the Aquarium and other professions. They took field trips to the Museum of Natural History and other science-based institutions. They worked with Trout Unlimited to raise trout in the classroom and release them this spring. And some traveled to Boston for a three-day weekend for college visits, a whale watch, and a tour of the New England Aquarium.

They also took on separate special projects.

One group focused on using STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to explore the oceans, and ended up building a hydrophone and remotely operated vehicles.


Kiara Baguio, a junior at Brien McMahon High School, displays a maze she created that demonstrates threats to migrating sea turtles.

Another group zeroed in on the biological and genetic components of organisms, and how these can change to help a creature adapt to a changing environment. They produced news-style videos that explained animal evolution and adaptations.

The third group tackled how to communicate conservation issues. They created hands-on activities that would engage visitors to, say, The Maritime Aquarium on how and why such animals as amphibians and sea turtles are endangered.

During the end-of-the-year TeMPEST celebration on May 28 at the Aquarium, Thomas Seuch, chair of Brien McMahon’s science department, told the students that their participation in TeMPEST gives them an advantage when they apply to colleges.  Colleges, he said, will have two stacks of applications – a tall one full of average applicants, and a smaller one with quality applicants.


Nazareth Hernandez (left), a sophomore at Norwalk High School, and Daija Brunson, a freshman at Brien McMahon High School, operate remotely operated vehicles they built during TeMPEST.

“Which pile do you want to be in? Programs like TeMPEST will get you into these piles,” he said, pointing to the imagined smaller stack. “Colleges want to see your ability to communicate, to collaborate and to problem-solve, and this program does all that.”

Sign-ups for 2015-16 will start early in the school year.

A big thanks to Newman’s Own Foundation for funding the program.

Plus, next year, thanks to a grant from the PCLB Foundation, some of the TeMPEST students will work as paid Aquarium interns, giving them even more experience, personal growth … and an exceptional college application.

– Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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From left: Hannah, Sarah, Michael and Nancy Herde of Boston, Mass. (formerly of New Canaan); Dr. Brian Davis, president of The Maritime Aquarium; Louise and Michael Widland of Norwalk; and Kit and Rob Rohn of Darien

We were pleased to honor and celebrate some of our biggest and best supporters on April 23 during our awesome annual Cirque de la Mer fund-raiser.

For their commitment to environmental education, the families of Rob and Katharine “Kit” Rohn of Darien and Michael and Nancy Herde (formerly of New Canaan), as well as the Norwalk law firm of Shipman & Goodwin, LLP, are recipients of The Maritime Aquarium’s 16th annual Red Apple Awards.

The awards honor companies, organizations and individuals who share The Maritime Aquarium’s concern for the natural world and environmental education.

The Rohn Family

Rob Rohn, a founding principal with Sustainable Growth Advisers, is current chairman of The Maritime Aquarium’s Board of Trustees. He’s been a board member since 2006.  Kit Rohn has worked for Inform, an environmental research organization, and the National Audubon Society, which was chaired nationally for 15 years by her late father, Donal O’Brian. She also is a founding member of Conservation International.

Kit and Rob Rohn chaired the Aquarium’s 2013 “Cirque de la Mer.”  Their children have been active at The Maritime Aquarium as well. Daughter Katie served an Aquarium internship, and son Nick has been a volunteer.

“As Board chairman, Rob guides the Aquarium with intellect, patience and commitment,” Davis said. “He and Kit always bring a warm graceful presence and passion to their involvement. They inspire us, and we are grateful for all they have done for The Maritime Aquarium.”

The Herde Family

The Herdes, formerly of New Canaan, now live in Massachusetts. Michael Herde, head of compliance for Fidelity Investments, is a former member of The Maritime Aquarium’s Board of Trustees.  Nancy Jumper Herde was a member of the Junior League of Stamford-Norwalk (one of the original founding organizations of The Maritime Aquarium).

In 2010, the Herdes sponsored an element of The Maritime Aquarium’s new exhibit, “Go Fish! Long Island Sound & Beyond.”  The exhibit’s Jumper Herde Café is a mock café that demonstrates how we – as seafood consumers – can make good choices in markets and restaurants to help support healthy fish populations and smart fishing methods.

One of Michael and Nancy’s four children, Hannah, while in high school, volunteered and interned at the Aquarium and served as co-chair of The Maritime Youth Advisors.

“We miss all of the Herdes, for their devotion to the Fairfield County community, for their influence on the Aquarium’s story and for simply being a collection of tremendous individuals all together in one admirable family,” Davis said.

Shipman & Goodwin, LLP

Senior Partner Mike Widland, his partner, Robin Frederick, and others at Shipman & Goodwin have donated countless pro bono hours to The Maritime Aquarium over the years. Widland is a longtime member of the Aquarium’s Board of Trustees, and has served as its chairman, vice chairman and – currently – its secretary.

Davis said Widland has been involved in virtually every major governance decision made during much of The Maritime Aquarium’s history.

“Mike has guided the Aquarium with wisdom over the years,” Davis said. “His connections, insights and expertise have been vital to us here in Norwalk and Hartford.”

Watch this space for more photos from this successful evening!

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.


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We won’t be changing our name to the Shed Aquarium any time soon.  (There would be too much confusion with the venerable Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.)

But there’s sure a lot more shedding going on here at The Maritime Aquarium these days.

That’s because our reptile population increased with last month’s opening of “Dragons! Real or Myth?”  The exhibit features nine species – seven of them terrestrial lizards – that all have the word dragon in their names.

Some of the dragons in “Dragons!” are young, most notably the year-old rare black dragon that currently is about 2 feet long but will grow to reach 5 to 6 feet.

As part of their process of growing, lizards shed their skin. How often a lizard sheds depends on factors like its age, growth rate, time of year and environmental conditions.  Younger lizards grow faster, so they shed more often than older lizards.


Shedding skin, loose in patches, visible on the back of a frilled dragon in "Dragons! Real or Myth?"

Our animal husbandry staff knows to watch for signs that a lizard will shed soon. These can include a dulling in color of the animal’s skin, decreased appetite and the animal being a little more irritable.

Most lizards shed their skin in patches – unlike snakes, whose skin usually comes off in one big long cool piece.  The shedding process can take a week or more.

So don’t be alarmed if you visit “Dragons! Real or Myth?” and see an animal that looks a little … well, flakey or peel-y. It’s just growing!

Oh and while we’re talking about shedding skin to grow, remember that arthropods – the phylum of animals that includes crabs, lobsters, horseshoe crabs, shrimp, spiders and insects – shed, or molt, their exoskeletons to grow. Similar concept. Different process.

Do you shed?

Yes you do.  It’s just not as obvious in us mammals, where shedding is an unnoticed process in which dead skin cells continuously flake off.  We shed not so much to grow (a la lizards) but to ward off microbes – like fungus and bacteria – that could cause us problems. It’s estimated that you lose 30,000 to 40,000 skins cells every hour. (Don’t worry. You have about 10 trillion.) By the end of every month, you have shed enough to have an entirely new body of skin.

–  Dave Sigworth, Maritime Aquarium publicist

Check back with our blog or sign up for updates for more from The Maritime Aquarium blog! In the meantime, you can stay up to date with us from every corner of the web. You’ll find us happily posting, pinning and tweeting away on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoogle+ and Tumblr.

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