Posts Tagged 'aquarium'

Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach

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Lying on the waterfront at long beach is the actually rather well hidden Aquarium of the Pacific. Exactly as with the LA Zoo, for me the great thing here was the quality of the exhibits and in particular the combination of rare species I’d not seen before, and those I’d come across at various times but never seen properly, or got good photographs. As a result, the collections here were superb and coupled with a few impressive outdoor tanks (again, the local weather means you can keep tropical species in the open air) made for an interesting collection.

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In part I did well here because the lighting seemed to be superb. Even the very dark tanks provided sufficient light I could get decent pictures (and just generally see) the species on display. In most aquariums, even the well-lit tropical tanks can be dark, so this was refreshing, but nothing was too bright, and the animals and plants did seem to be doing well, so it wasn’t any kind of negative on the welfare front.

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As with a couple of other aquariums, it really did need a few places to sit and take a breather which would have helped and later in the day it was rammed with people making it a bit awkward. Indeed this was the one thing that I had an issue with, as with any number of places, there were a couple of large touch-tanks, where small sharks, rays and some other fish roamed in shallow waters and people could interact. There were a host of staff on hand to control these and keep things gentle, but at peak times there were so many people I can’t help think the animals were stressed and at least on shark had some damage to the dorsal fin that I can imagine came from too many people stroking it as it went past.

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This really was my only issue, and at least some animals very obviously enjoyed the experience (one ray made a beeline for people every time anyone appeared at the tank) and in every case there were some out-of-bounds areas the animals could use to get away and none seemed to take advantage. Still, cutting down on the numbers at peak times would probably help a lot here.

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On to the actual exhibits though. Inside there were the usual mix of a few giant tanks with larger species and hosts of small ones and then lots of smaller dedicated selections. There was a superb deep-water area with low lighting with some great novelties – hagfish (my first), giant isopods (only seen once, partially hidden and with no good photos before), lantern fish, tons of interesting crabs, chimera, and various other oddballs and with a great mock-up of a decaying whale for them to clamber over.

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The big Pacific tanks were also superb and accessible from multiple angles and again had lots of species that were new to me. Overall there was a nice emphasis in places on invertebrates (and not just crabs) with selections of jellyfish, tunicates, ctenophores (always a highlight for me), giant sponges, various molluscs and others. There were some large animals too (sealions and seals, sea otters, penguins) and one outdoor tank had the largest sawfish and stingrays I’ve ever seen, and by some margin. There were also some more terrestrial species, as well as crested auklets (my first ones, and something I’ve long wanted to see thanks to mentioning them in my sexual selection papers), puffins, and indeed non-marine animals with various birds including in particular the super rare Guam kingfisher.

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The highlights for me were some rarely seen favourites – leafy and weedy seadragons, both present in large numbers in superb settings, and then to top it all off, a krait. Despite having been to some major collections all over the world, this was the kind of thing I never expected to see and so to have one at all (and then I was lucky enough that it sat alongside the glass for a good time) was incredible.

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The place as a whole lacks the raw impressiveness of the giant tanks of somewhere like Osaka, but more than makes up for it with the setting and arrangement of tanks, as well as the variety of species and real rarities and very special animals. It was an instant classic for me, and something I absolutely loved visiting. I could easily have gone back the next day, not because I’d missed anything, but some many species were out and active and behaving naturally, a second visit would not have been anything like a repeat or dull. I can only hope I get another chance to go again in the not too distant future.

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London Aquarium

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Alongside my trip to London Zoo at the start of summer, I also took a day at the London Aquarium on the South Bank. The last time I had been was not too long after it opened, probably around 1996 and I remember being fairly unimpressed. There were three giant tanks with the same inevitable fauna in them and not that much else. For various reasons I’d simply never been back and this trip was largely to see what had changed in the intervening years, not least given a recent revamp that had apparently added a fair bit in terms of additional enclosures.

Turning up, my the first impressions were worrying – originally an independent creation, it is now owned by the SeaLife Centre chain. I’m not a big fan of these, not because they do a poor job keeping and exhibiting animals, but having visited a number of them I found them to be almost carbon copies of each other. It probably works as a business model, but I used to be excited at the prospect of seeing any new collection in the UK, but these were so similar when I visited at the back end of the 1990s that it virtually was ‘one you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’ and I rapidly lost interest and had not been to one since.

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Happily, the aquarium confounded both my fears and my memories. The former perhaps offset by the existing set-up that was used to good effect, the latter because things had changed a fair bit compared at least to how I (possibly incorrectly) remembered them. This is very much a modern aquarium with a nice balance between classic things like big sharks in big tanks and tropic reef fish, local fauna (there’s an excellent section on fish from the Thames), popular exhibits like penguins and piranha, and some oddities like spider crabs and morays.

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The major new addition since my first visit is a rainforest section that has a mixture of the inevitable (tetras, terrapins) and the less usual (a Cuban croc, the first I have ever seen), though all of it well laid out and with some excellent set-ups. The place as a whole has lots of viewing spaces and some very large windows into the bigger aquaria, and actually despite being in the very heart of London, it’s not a cramped space, though with hordes of visitors and it not being the size of even a small city zoo, it was a bit of a squeeze at peak times or for the more popular spots.

My only real complaint was that there was almost no where to sit anywhere at all – in addition to simply wanting to kick back and watch the animals (especially in the big tanks where it takes time for some of the animals to come around), I’m sure there are plenty of people who are aging, infirm or with kids who just want to take a break for 5 minutes and that’s all but impossible. It’s probably a combination of the space (limiting areas for seating) and a desire to keep crowds moving, but I’m sure with a bit of thought they could generate two or three spaces for a bench or even a couple of chairs and they’d be most welcome to plenty of visitors without disrupting the flow.

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Overall this is hardly on the scale of some of the larger aquaria, but this is certainly one of the best in the UK and well worth a visit. If I had only one day, I’d still take London Zoo as my sole trip and by a wide margin, but this is not something to be overlooked and, compared to the aquaria in Europe that I have been to, is very much at the top end and will satisfy most enthusiasts.

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The Horniman Museum aquarium

I spent yesterday catching up with my old friend and colleague Paolo Viscardi (known to fans of mystery biological objects as Zygoma). He’s a curator at the Horniman Museum, a small site in southeast London and one of those old style museums split between three major collections –  archaeological artefacts, musical instruments and natural history. While the latter part is well worth talking about and I have a number of posts lined up on various parts (including some very retro dinosaurs) there is also a small, but well stocked, aquarium attached. Some important breeding programs go on behind the scenes including work on various corals, seahorses and recently some cuttlefish too. It’s been a while since I’ve managed to cram a decent number of living species into these pages, so here, have some fish (and a lobster).

Oh, and a frog.

 

Pittsburgh Zoo

This was my first ever trip to an American zoo and I have to say I was impressed. OK, so I’d expect nothing less, but this was nevertheless an excellent day out. The layout was great, the species interesting, and as usual even for a real zoo-phile for me, there were some unique treats.

Just to get the slight bad out of the way first, a couple of turkeys, flamingos, penguins and an ostrich aside there were literally no birds at all in the zoo. I assume the presence of the aviary has a lot to do with it, but it was still a little jarring that there was nothing at all. I wouldn’t call it a negative as such, but it does rather under represent a pretty major group of vertebrates to say the least, and I can’t see how couple of enclosures would really kill them or impact on traffic to the aviary. My other very minor gripe would be (ironically) the lack of local species, or more rather there were setups for porcupine, skunk and American beaver but none of them were on show, which for me was a shame as these are things I’ve not seen before, dull as they may be to most visitors. Such is life and it’s not the major issue, but it piqued me at the time.

So onto the good, and there is so much good. The enclosures were generous and well-planned, there were some great mixed exhibits, and the layout was clever. You revisit most of the enclosures at some point, doubling back and coming across rhino or lions again from a different angle and gaining a new vantage point and an opportunity to see something missed before, and some of the environments were well stacked Hagenback style to increase the look of the thing. ‘Difficult’ animals like polar bear, African elephant and gorillas were all doing well and showing natural behaviours. In the case of the elephants, the bull was clearly unhappy about something and was giving a full on rumble – something I’d not even seen in Kenya. There’s real power in there, would could feel the room vibrate which was no mean feat given the volume of concrete involved. As for the gorillas, something unique: a pair of silverbacks. Apparently the two are twins and get on fine with each other, so the colony has a pair of dominant males.

Onto the superb and brand new aquarium. This has a strong conservation focus with an admirable record for breeding seahorses and keeps numerous corals which is no easy task. There was a colossal marine tank full of the usual sharks and reef fish, a lovely Amazon setup full of the big and bold, a nice penguin tank, a great collection of large rays and best of all (if sadly unphotographable) a pacific giant octopus nursing thousands of her eggs.

Most memorable though was the outside aquarium for sand tiger sharks. A massive enclosure with viewing ports at various levels and a walk through tunnel too, this was simply bare walls and lit by the overhead sun. The effect however, was magical. Huge animals cruising incredibly slowly and gently around the tank, barely moving their tails or fins it was silent and beautiful, not just the sharks themselves, but their shadows too and those against the stark blue walls with the ripples of light from above was worth watching in its own right.

Finally there was an exhibition centre, objectively to bring the animals closer to the public, though in reality not much more than a combined reptile and small-mammal house with numerous snakes, lizards some bats and the like. And finally a new mammal – an American possum, if looking a bit rough around the edges. All in all a great day, a great zoo and great fun.

Osaka Aquarium again

I’ve written before (and posted lots of photos) about Kaiyukan, the aquarium in Osaka, but on my last trip to Japan I took the opportunity to go again. In fact, I took an extra day simply to go, so delighted had i been the first time. Of course not that much had changed in the intervening years (they rarely do in such places and especially when the place is dominated by a few major tanks). Even so, there were new delights and new species to see which was a pleasant surprise. Here are some new additions and some old favourites.

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Tokyo Aquarium

The Musings is clearly long overdue a zoo review and this summer brought me to two new places to explore – the Osaka Zoo and the Toyko Aquarium. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get round to covering the former as while it was, on the whole, perfectly satisfactory, it had little that was truly novel or exciting except a giant but underused free flight aviary and then a superbly designed Hagenbeck-type African savannah exhibit. The aquarium in Toyko however, had numerous exciting and interesting exhibits and I enjopyed my visit there immensely, so that’s what you’ll be getting today.

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Beijing Aquarium

Beijing is actually home to three public aquariums, but the one I’m covering here is actually inside the Beijing Zoo, though it can be visited separately hence the separate review. It’s also big enough in its own right to warrant a separate review since it can easily occupy three or four hours of your time. It’s rather new having been open only since 2003 I believe.
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Kaiyukan Osaka Aquarium II

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Well, I want to show off more of this amazing place, so you get a second dose of aquarium photos. The first lot are here for those who missed out:

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Kaiyukan Osaka Aquarium

crabIn a break from tradition (well, archosaurs), here are a bunch of photos from the amazing Kaiyukun Aquarium in Osaka. I have long wanted to visit this place and finally got my chance with my recent research trip to Japan. I have long been a keen amateur aquarist keeping all kinds of fish and inverts (and the odd amphibian) and actually did some work on fish locomotion as part of my Batchelor’s degree, so this was always going to be special. I have been to a large number of zoos and aquaria over the years, but almost all of them in Europe meaning that often the diversity and size of exhibits was limited. In a few hours here I probably saw well over a hundred species I had not seen before, and many of them are not on display anywhere else in the world. Overall the design was clever and original, the tanks were small in number but huge in size, well laid out, well lit, brilliantly set-up (decor, structure, plants, etc.) and well signed. I’ll let the photos do the speaking for me, but suffice to say it was an incredibly memorable day. If you don’t already know, it also contains the single largest tank in the world, all 11 000 tons of it and houses whale sharks, manta rays and many others. Enjoy:

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