Posts Tagged 'London'

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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Tonight in London: Dave on Dinosaurs

Just a reminder to those who may have missed it or forgotten, tonight in Brixton I’ll be talking about my research on theropod dinosaurs and their feeding and hunting habits. Drop in to hear me, or to talk dinosaurs before or afterwards.

All the details are here.

Dinosaurs on Film (again)

A while back I put up a post about dinosaurs in film and got some great responses on films I’d missed or not seen. I didn’t say at the time as things weren’t certain then, but this was for a project I’m doing with a London cinema chain to talk dinosaurs, films and the like for a day. In fact, it’s this Saturday. Anyway, I suppose I should advertise the thing now we’re this close, so here’s the link to the event.

I appreciate that few readers are in London and at least some bits of the talks might be pitched a bit low, but well, there will be dinosaurs, films, King Kong on the big screen, and lots and lots of me. And yes, I fully appreciate that the last part of that is unlikely to be the biggest draw / will be the most off-putting, but at least there will be dinosaurs. So, if you’re interested or know people who are, do sign up.

Crystal Palace mammals

My final Crystal Palace post and this time covering the various extinct mammals on display. To be honest, I simply didn’t know these were represented so they were a rather pleasant surprise. Above we see the rather tapir-like Palaeothrium and below we have successively a rather trunk-snouted Megatherium, a group of Anoplotherium, and finally the ‘Irish Elk’ Megaloceros. All except the Megatherium were represented by multiple models which was nice and gave the impression of real groups of animals where the others were rather just laid out on the island. I should also add that the mammals are rather off to the side in their own little section which helps to provide some metaphorical distance from the dinosaurs as well as some real separation.

Crystal Palace assorted critters

Having covered the dinosaurs and pterosaurs and with the mammals to come, it’s time to break out the ‘left overs’. Perhaps a harsh term, but I don’t want this series running into double digits of posts so I had to fit them in somewhere, so sit back for some marine reptiles, crocs, and a few more distant relatives. It also makes a little sense as with the exception of the mosasaur, these are all grouped together on one side of the main island that houses the models. I don’t have much commentary here so I’ll simply stick up the photos I have and the identities of the various models, starting with the early amphibian Labyrinthodon above.






A second, smooth, Labyrinthodon

The head of Hylaeosaurus

Following the comments of the dinosaurs post, an explanation was forthcoming about this. It’s obviously a head but was just sitting on the ground a few dozen meters from the other models but it was not entirely clear what it was and there was no sign to indicate it’s origins. It is however, the original head of the Hylaeosaurus now displaced. Given how little of the model was visible in my photos and the fact that I do have this image knocking around it seemed worth spending a few minutes to get this up online, so here it s.

Crystal Palace pterosaurs

Today it’s the turn of the two pterosaurs, or more specifically, Pterodactylus. As noted before, all early pterosaurs went by this name, but it’s clear that these really are based on that genus. There are obviously some bird-like influences in the necks and heads – anyone working from an actual skeleton would realise the head should be as big as neck and the body, but instead is much smaller and overall these are swan-like proportions. Still, the wings are nice and broad and ‘membraneous’ with no extra fingers to support it or anything. More intriguingly, one at least is in a nicely quadrupedal posture and really very close to how we envisage them walking today.
In this case there was sadly quite a lot of overgrowth on the tree and so the second model was not very well exposed, though I was able to at least get decent shots of the open wings (if not the head). These must have been tricky to sculpt in concrete, though I recall Darren Naish talking about them having been damaged by vandals before and perhaps the hew ones are of a different material. They still require some repair as you will note that one is lacking a lower jaw sadly. Still, these were great to see and generally nicely done.

Crystal Palace dinosaurs

So today it’s time to take a stab at the dinosaurs. All three of the ‘early’ species united by Owen into his Dinosauria are represented. A pair of squat and skulking Iguanodon with spiky noses and rather graviportal stances (i.e. they look really fat). Hiding in the background (those damned trees meant I never got a shot of the head) is an enormous and spiky Hylaeosaurus. Finally there is the humped Megalosaurus prowling around and making its way towards the unsuspecting (and apparently blind, coz it’s really not that far away) herbivores.

All three rather suffer from being enormous and ‘overstuffed’ by modern standards, but of course back then there was very little to go on, and Owen’s ideas ruled the day, and certainly where these were concerned. Even so, some of the features are a bit odd. Hylaeosaurus clearly has some plates as well as spikes on the slab, but there’s no sign of them on the models and while obviously Megalosaurus it more than a bit scaled up the known legs and pelvis material simply wasn’t big enough to warrant an animal that size. But that’s not really the point of these, so I’ll shut up and let you enjoy them.

The prehistoric creatures of Crystal Palace

It’s my strong suspicion that most readers are generally aware of the dinosaur models at the former site of London’s Crystal Palace (and for those that are not, it’s not worth me simply adding another poor rehash to the large number of good ones available – in short Richard Owen managed to get the funds to have some models of his new ‘dinosaurs’ build for public exhibition and they are still standing). Obviously these are of great historical interest as they catch a moment in time when dinosaurs first hit the public’s imagination and of course the early interpretations that went with this – waddling behemoths and giant lizards.

Despite being a Londoner (well, from the edges) and my career, I’d never actually seen these things. My parents apparently tried to take me when I was young but couldn’t find them. So having a little time and unseasonally nice weather, we went over last week to take a look. They were rather more impressive than I’d expected being in generally great condition and there being rather more animals over a bigger area than I had expected. As a result I took a ton of photos and my intended single post will now probably stretch to a whole week’s worth of posts on the subject, and I’ll keep this as a general overview.

There are some nice notices dotted around which give a guide to what the animals are (or less charitably in some cases, supposed to be) and shows their changing interpretations and the basic information about them. The original plan was rather nicely done with most of the animals being on and around a series of small islands next to a large lake (though the water was a bit shallow and some extra land bridges had formed). Some of the trees were rather overgrown too meaning some animals could not really be seen very easily which was rather a shame despite the otherwise nice landscaping and use of ‘scene-setting’ plants like cycads. Some nice details of the original plan had survived too (if in imperfect condition) such as the crafted geological sequence complete with a fault and shifted beds, a great example for the layman.

I’ll leave it here as we have a number of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, marine reptiles, and fossil mammals to get through over the next week and I don’t want to give it all away. More to come.

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