Home > environment > In which I hit a bird on the way to an aquarium

In which I hit a bird on the way to an aquarium

2009/07/05

Really, very sorry bird. You just didn’t get enough lift in the damp air to make it over the hood and I didn’t have enough time at 70mph to do much for you. I know you were probably just a crow or something, but that’s no excuse and I’m very sorry for probably killing you (or leading to debilitating injury that drastically cuts short your life). I am sorry for that.

All the talk last week about providing more realistic displays of our natural world (with the toxic waste barrel in the river image) coupled with a late night showing of a documentary about four great U.S. aquariums put me in the mood to finally go to the zoo/aquarium complex nearby. I have been told that it is one of the great things to do here or alternatively one of the few things to do here in the touristy vein. And, my last aquarium experience was at this tiny display at a state park’s fish hatchery where the main attraction was a couple of good sized turtles, one of which was floating belly-side up. You know, in the standard goldfish way.

So, on to the newer aquarium/zoo. It was a little odd—there was this mix of new, immersive environments (jungle, desert, etc) with old-school dead log in a concrete box animal containers. And, sadly, some of the occupants of the old-school boxes displayed some neurotic tendencies. Like this puffin:

Sad Puffin

Sad Puffin (sorry about the quality)

This little guy just kept pedaling into the glass. I wandered through the aquarium twice, once at the beginning and once at the end, and he was still there. His mates did what I assume are fairly normal puffin things—sleeping, eating, swimming about, but not this one. I found it a little sad and disturbing. Especially when it seemed like everyone else just thought it was so cute.

And then, you go see something like this:

The highlight - moon jellies

The highlight - moon jellies

or this:

Luna butterflies

Lunas

The butterflies were definitely in an immersive environment. But even in some of the “immersive environments” the displays were more about the viewer being up close and personal rather than it being a reasonable facsimile of the natural environment. For example, the shark tank/deep sea component of the aquarium—yes, I was as close as I could be to the animals, but the overall feel of it was of an undecorated fish tank. There was very little built environment in the tanks; in one tank there was nothing—it was just a tube with the fish swimming in a circle. That was to demonstrate schooling, but I really don’t see where else they could go. It was all much sparser than it was made out to be, so actually I suppose I should fell a bit better about it all since they haven’t removed more animals from the wild. Probably just picked a bad day for it with the holiday and relatively mild weather for July. Half the time I felt crammed into the niches in the wall because there were either so many people (and those freaking mega-strollers (for freaking 5 year olds, what is wrong with you people?)) or rushed through the immersive exhibits because there were so many people and it was mapped out as a one-way path. I’m sure it’s a decent place to take the kiddies and as we noted before, something is probably better than nothing in terms of exposure to the natural environment.

Also, there was almost no signage. I’m standing there at a crossroads on the path going “one way will be monkeys, one way will be birds and the other way will be elephants, but which one is which?” Clear signage is so important in these venues. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but at least put a sign at the junctions saying “this way to elephants; that way to giraffes.” It would probably help avoid the massive toddler melt-downs as mommy and daddy try to figure out the map. Oh well, could have been worse—could have been a taxidermy free-for-all posing as a natural history museum.

So what did we learn? First, don’t watch documentaries like Planet Earth or anything about the Monterey Bay Aquarium before going to a lesser attraction. Second, don’t expect much except maybe that none of the animals are obviously dead. Finally, when entering these one-way path exhibits, carefully observe the groups entering just before and just after you. Look out for screaming toddlers or otherwise excitable children. And then wait a bit if possible. And signage. Always important, that.

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