Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Aquarium Adventures

So last weekend I took my new Wilderness Conservation Society membership and my friend Shauna and went down to the New York aquarium in Brooklyn. She wanted me to note that much to her credit, and unlike on every other excursion we have taken, this time she wore appropriate walking shoes, that as an added bonus, showed off her gay pride. Props to Shauna ...

First off, the aquarium is really in Europe, it is so far outside Manhattan. Because it is not just "out in Brooklyn", its waaaaay the hell out in Brooklyn. Getting there from my place in the Bronx is like a pilgrimage to Mecca.You go as far down the F or the Q as you can get. The ride is really long, but also exciting, as I spend a lot of time staring out the windows of the elevated train, admiring the variegated neighborhoods we were passing over. We slide along through the air, past brick and stone and stucco apartment complexes, over graffitied houses and tenements and empty dirt lots sitting where you would think nothing empty should be. I love riding the elevated train and seeing the different parts of the city, because it gives you a sense of the size and breadth of the city. In Manhattan, the place most people, even here, refer to as "the city", the huge towers of glass and steel dwarf everything including the sky, and block out all sense of the greater city. But out in the boroughs, moving across the northeast Bronx on my way home, or out into Brooklyn or through Queens to get up to Astoria, the different neighborhoods and skylines and people remind you of the squalor and grandeur and banality that really makes up New York City.

And speaking of the grandeur of the city, when we finally arrive at the New York Aquarium stop, we get off and are greeted by the cyclone, a true testament to the city's past glory. Sparing only a few moments for a glance and some pictures, we move off the elevated walkway, across the parking lot and into the aquarium. My expectations were immediately lowered, as the complex was fairly small and as soon as we walked in the door the doorman said "No penguins today."

Apparently the penguins are the biggest draw, without them it might not be worth going.

Despite the lack of penguins, my low expectations were instantly exceeded. Just past the entrance, after the non-existent coat check (everywhere in NY should have a coat check. Its cold outside and hot inside and girls like Shauna walk around in coats so large it looks like they have been eaten by their own clothing .... so they need to be able to put their coats somewhere. Otherwise they collapse under the weight of their own clothes), is a huge tank holding a rock reef and a crapload of tropical fish. The rest of the first building, called Glovers reef, concerned itself mostly with conservation and species education. There were a variety of exhibits on fresh water fish, frogs and other aquatic critters from around the world, many of which focused on endangered habitats or species no longer extant in the wild. My favorite exhibit contained a variety of different chiclids that used to be found in Lake Victoria, apparently a very damaged place. There were hundreds of varieties of chiclids here until they were eaten to extinction by the Nile Perch, a fresh water dump truck that was introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1960's and can weigh up to half a ton.

We educate ourselves a bit more, and then head outside. was the whole of the aquarium, but again I was pleasantly surprised ... outside there were aAt first I thought the first building number pools holding otters, seals and a very cute baby walrus and its mother. Apparently the baby walrus was the largest baby every born in Brooklyn. After checking out the mammals, we found ourselves inside a surprisingly large arena for the sea lion show.

The show was great, again surprisingly (sense a theme here), with the sea lions dancing around arena with their handlers, kissing people in the crowd and generally showing off some very impressive moves.

After the show, we strolled leisurely through the rest of the aquarium, checking out the octopus stuck up in the corner of his tank and the underparts of the walrus and seal tanks in the undersea cliffs area. Then we walked through the shark exhibit, looking at a number of huge white tails, turtles and manta rays. The sharks were nice and we were humored watching another guest spend 10 minutes trying to take a picture of the sharks through the glass and complaining that the flash kept ruining her shot ... but never turning off the flash.

We then moved over to check out the aliens of the deep and shoreline life exhibits, the last part of the aquarium. This area held a lot of critters and information about the deep ocean, particularly a lot of jelly fish. This exhibit was great, the jellies were beautiful and there were a number of reefs, shoreline exhibits and other great tanks. I really liked this ugly fella ...

One the way out we stopped at the gift shop to see the overpriced plastic. Shauna and I both loved the stuffed sea critters, and I found the stuffed poison dart frog particularly humorous. Nothing makes you want to snuggle like a deadly poisonous slimy frog. I mean, when I want to have something soft and cuddly for children to hug I don't want a deadly creature but rather a something cute that cannot kill you. The gift shop starts to close and we head out, walking along the boardwalk briefly before heading back to the subway. Fortunately the long trek home was broken up by a stop at a fabulous Thai place in Brooklyn, then a black and white cookie binge for desert (sure its not a traditional black and white but how could you pass up that smile) ...

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