Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aquarium of the Pacific

Last year, my son wrote this lovely poem called "Ocean"

Old as the Earth
Clear blue Water
Every day you're different
And so many fish
Never stopping.

It was a runner up in the California Coastal Commission  art and science contest, and he was awarded four free tickets to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. He was one proud little boy, with one happy big sister. My Girl Child  has had a long standing love of the ocean and it's creatures, so she was probably as excited as he was. She currently hopes to become a marine biologist someday, and of course we want to nurture that enthusiasm, so we get her to the ocean as often as possible (not to mention that the ocean washes away all sorts of life stresses, and in general, makes all of us all around happier people.)

We decided to incorporate a trip to this aquarium on our Southern California Family Learning Adventure. Unfortunately, when arranging and rearranging dates to incorporate visits with as many family members as possible, we didn't realize we would be going to the aquarium on Childrens' Day, which meant there were about 12 million people there.

I normally prefer to visit places like this mid week, preferably on days they are not hosting large numbers of classroom field trips so we can actually enjoy and learn without all the loudness and chaos. We did enjoy ourselves, and we did learn quite a few things, but we couldn't spend as much time at each exhibit or explore as much as we would have liked. The most crowded exhibit was interestingly enough on "Overpopulation of the Human World." We had to bail mid display on several portions when other visitors with Tubercular sounding coughs started hacking nearby. I have a thing about not inhaling air with potentially diseased droplets- I'm just funny that way.

Anyway, the shark tanks were a very cool feature. They had over a hundred sharks you could pet, along with several beautiful rays (who had their stingers removed- they assured me it was a quick and easy process, but the rays weren't offering any comment.) Most of these touch tanks were outside so I didn't feel quite as distressed about the air sharing in the crowds. The rays had wonderfully smooth skin, very different than the sharks, and were for the most part very friendly creatures, as though they enjoyed the attention. Many of the sharks stayed on the darker side of the tanks and slept, but we did get to pet quite a few who swam by. Two little sharks kept swimming by my son and they would roll over on their backs putting their bellies up like a dog when he pet them.

He, of course thought that this was very cool, and that he had a magic touch with sharks. Apparently, some people do not have a magic touch with the sharks, or know how to touch them nicely at all. The aquarium had these informative signs all over the place, to help people who might think it's a good idea to grab or scratch a shark, or to stick their fingers in its' mouth realize that in fact, those are not good ideas at all, but a good way to get bitten.

In the walk-through-aviary, they had these more direct signs that told people outright that the lorikeets do bite. I liked them so much, I'm thinking about making one just like it for my gate. I found it ironic though that they were selling nectar for $3 outside the entrance to the aviary so that people could feed these biting birds. One poor little girl was holding her cup of nectar out and had it stolen by a cranky little bird that was all hopped up on sugar. I thought her father was going to try to get it back, but when the bird thief gave him a threatening look and hissed with it's nut cracking beak, he opted to cut his losses. Many of the birds looked like they had come down from their sugar high- all overfed and lazy, hanging around slack beaked on branches. I could just imagine those birds on a couch with a soda in one hand and a remote in the other.
I think the Overpopulation exhibit was the one I learned the most in- I didn't realize how quickly our world has grown, especially in the last 50 years, and Southern California is certainly a place where you can feel the results of that growth. If it had been less crowded, perhaps we could have stayed and learned even more. But despite the overpopulation, between the beauty of the jelly fish exhibits and the excitement of petting sharks, we had a good day, learned a few things, and added to our appreciation of the wonders of the sea.