Monday, October 06, 2008
Occasionally, over the past few months, I’ve taken folks around to see the wonderful creatures we have at the Aquarium of the Pacific, having fun sharing all sorts of interesting facts with them and taking photos on some of their visits.
The first tour was in August, when I shared my love of the Aquarium with my nephew, Gianni, who is 18 and a freshman at Cal State Monterey Bay. Then, I took Chiara, Gianni’s 19-year-old sister (a sophomore at UC Santa Cruz) around later that month; she followed me around while I worked and got to see a bit of what it is like to be a day captain.
The third and last of the recent tours was two weeks ago, when I took my Mom and some of her Italian friends, Lidia, Agatha, and Gabriella (who was visiting from Italy) to see the animals.
Each of the visits was loads of fun and I enjoyed every minute! (It appears that my guests did as well.)
It figures that I’d forget to bring my camera on a day when two fish decided to pose for me and tease me because I couldn’t take their photograph! It was on the trip with Mom and her friends, and the fish, which have narrow pointed snouts and tails, suddenly sat up against the window, tail to tail. It was the perfect picture and I missed it! Bummer!
I did get some good shots with Gianni, though, and am sharing some of these with you in this blog, including one that he took.
My tour with Mom and company seems to have been a memorable experience, based on what Mom’s friends told her later. It was fun to speak Italian with the ladies, and to see the looks on the faces of fellow volunteers and staff members, seemingly pausing to try to figure out what language we were speaking.
I wanted to take my guests to feed the fish up at the top of our Tropical Pacific habitat. After getting permission from the dive safety officer I started our tour by taking my guests upstairs to the dive locker, but we were disappointed that we were unable to feed the fish after all. It turns out that we were out of nori—dried seaweed pressed into thin sheets and used especially as a seasoning or as a wrapper for sushi—which you crumple up and toss into the water; it is incredible to see the colors as dozens of fish rush up to the surface to grab a bite. A diver even tried to help us find some nori, but to no avail. Oh well. C’est la vie!
We left the dive locker and returned downstairs to check out the Blue Cavern habitat that is our tallest exhibit and which replicates a real diving spot, of the same name, located off nearby Catalina Island. Our next stop was the Southern California Baja gallery, which includes an exhibit filled with lobsters and two California moray eels (Gymnothorax mordax), one of which had head surgery a few years ago (I mentioned it in a previous blog; click here to read it). The far end of the gallery is loads of fun as it is the seal and sea lion tunnel, where you can watch seals and sea lions cavorting away as they swim right before your eyes. On this particular day, one seal was lounging in a corner, apparently asleep for a while, and one of my guests expressed concern that it might be ill. I explained to her that harbor seals can stay under water for as long as 20 minutes at a time. To do so for that long, they slow their heartbeats way down; they usually only dive for three or four minutes at a time, though. My guests found this information fascinating.
Our next stop was Shark Lagoon, where no one was brave enough to pet any sharks or rays, but everyone enjoyed looking at them and learning about their habits. Why, for example, do our small bamboo sharks lie on top of one another at the edge of the touch pool? To look larger, so as to make predators think twice about attacking, information that was of interest to all.
We planned to eat lunch next, and on our way upstairs to Café Scuba, we passed through the Aquarium Resource Center, or ARC, as we call it, en route to the elevator. The ARC is where the Aquarium’s education specialists work, and includes two classrooms, a library, and shelves filled with artifacts that I shared with my group.
The ladies were amazed to see the flat teeth of rays, which must crush exoskeletons of crabs, shrimp, and other tasty crustaceans. They also were fascinated by the shark teeth, which are positioned in rows; they easily could see how when a tooth falls out, another one is ready to roll into place. Did you know that sharks and rays lose up to 30,000 teeth in a lifetime? Imagine that!
Once in Café Scuba, Lydia and I ordered ham and cheese panini (you probably think I should say “paninis,” except for the fact that the word “panini” already is in the plural in Italian; “panino” is the singular). Mom, Agatha, and Gabriella all opted for sustainable fish and chips. In both case, we chose quite well, I’d say, because all of us raved about the food. Yum!
After lunch we resumed our tour, first visiting the Northern Pacific gallery and then continuing on to see all of the colorful Tropical Pacific inhabitants we are lucky enough to have in our charge.
Mom later told me that Agatha was very impressed with my extensive knowledge of the animals, which was a nice compliment to hear. Honestly, I can say that I learned pretty much everything I know about marine animals and the ocean in which they live while on the job. That education is one of the many wonderful benefits I get out of my volunteer work at the Aquarium!
Speaking of volunteers, another thing that really impressed my guests was the large number of volunteers we have working at the Aquarium. In addition to 322 paid staff members—including those working full time, part time, and as temps—we have 642 active volunteers, some of whom are interns. These numbers include, by the way, four paid divers who manage a volunteer staff of 158 scuba enthusiasts (who are all at least dive rescue certified!).
All in all, I must say that I enjoy giving tours to my friends and relatives. I even gave a tour to a lovely German couple, whose January visit I mentioned a while back (click here to read about it).
Won’t you visit with me soon so I can show you around as well?
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