The National Aquarium

Baltimore was quite a lot of fun.  I’m not a convention person but the energy at Otakon is enough to power a large city, and I can stand and talk to people long after I’ve lost my voice (mainly through grunting and the occasional smoke signal).

The  exterior of the Baltimore Aquarium. The rainforest exhibit goes all the way to the top of that glass pyramid.

The exterior of the Baltimore Aquarium. The Australia exhibit goes all the way to the top of that glass pyramid.

Before that madness started, I was lucky enough to snag a few hours and visit the National Aquarium at Baltimore.  Jennie and I arrived early on Friday as they were opening the doors and we ran in to beat the crowds — there’s something spectacular about having an entire museum to yourself, as though all of these fantastic things are laid out for you alone.

The major exhibit is Australia: Wild Extremes.  It starts with a seven-story waterfall, overgrown with moss and plants, cascading down the length of the building.  You follow the waterfall up through the building until you reach the central exhibit, which is a sunlit reproduction of niche habitats in the Australian outback.  Most of these are water-based (remember: aquarium) but there are nooks and crannies stuffed full of lizards, mammals, and other oddities from The Land Where Everything Can Kill You.  There was also a darned awesome owl that sits no more than three feet away from the visitors on a stump, all day long.  There is no glass or mesh between you and this owl, just some clever rock placement to pull him beyond human reach.  He just spends his days staring and waiting.  There’s probably a poem dedicated to him out there somewhere.

The interior of the Australia exhibit.  Try and find the one non-poisonous tree!

The interior of the Australia exhibit. Try and find the one non-poisonous tree!

After you pass through Australia, you walk through more familiar aquarium exhibits.  I cut my teeth as a young’un at the Boston Aquarium (to this day I can’t hear a sea shanty without thinking “I can walk like a penguin” ) and the layout is very similar.  A massive central tank, filled with the big fish, that spirals downward and opens out on smaller exhibits with specialized themes.  The one difference was the large tank was cut in two — at the top was an Atlantic coral reef exhibit, and in a separate section under the reef were sharks, rays, and game fish.

I’d never seen an Atlantic reef before.  Hobbyists tend to set up tanks that display Pacific fish and invertebrates, as these are loaded with color (the exception being some of the stuff off of the coast of Florida and Mexico).  The Atlantic reef had schools of angels, Atlantic Blue Tangs, large groupers of several varieties, and several others that I couldn’t recognize.  The tangs were huge.  I can’t imagine anyone keeping one of these tangs in a household tank.

The fish in the Atlantic reef were … neat.  That’s about the best you can say.  Healthy, lovely to look at, nice to say that you got a chance to see them, but nothing that blows your mind and leaves it in a little dish.  What I really wanted to see was the Pacific reef, but…

The Pacific reef exhibit at the Baltimore Aquarium.  Next time you go there, stare straight at the pretty fishes and ignore the little kid who keeps asking why they don't have a shark in there to eat them.

The Pacific reef exhibit at the Baltimore Aquarium. Next time you go there, stare straight at the pretty fishes and ignore the little kid who keeps asking why they don't have a shark in there to eat them.

… well, it was very nice.  The Pacific reef was lovely but it didn’t sparkle like some of the other reef exhibits I’ve seen, nor did it have any livestock that you couldn’t find in any decent fish store.  It was a low-maintenance reef with a ton of soft coral in several different shades of browns, tans, and orange.  All of the fish and invertebrates appeared very healthy, which is never a bad thing.  It was… very nice.  But going in, I had hoped to see a reef exhibit like the one at the Georgia Aquarium, or better yet, the London Aquarium.  The London Aquarium was what a hobbyist would make for himself if he had an unlimited budget and no day job.  The Pacific reef at the Baltimore Aquarium, though, was … very nice.  Maybe that’s how it is, though, for a hobbyist.  The stuff on display is great for the layperson, especially for the kids who want to see Dori and Nemo, but the exceptional tanks are those that are kept by specialists and are a private collection.  Browse any one of these Tanks of the Month and compare it to that photo of Baltimore’s Pacific Reef and you’ll see what I mean… a larger version of such tanks is what I would like to see at our national aquarium.

Oh, and while we were leaving, we passed by a window that opened on the plumbing equipment they use to keep these hundreds of thousands of gallons of water up and running.  One day, after I’m rich and famous, I’ll ask for the behind-the-scenes tour so I can ask why they need the piece of equipment that looks like a dishwasher crossed with a train engine.

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~ by KBSpangler on July 21, 2009.

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