Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Which animal at the Aquarium of the Pacific has been there the longest? Is it one of the sea otters? Perhaps its one of the seals? Maybe even one of the sharks? Actually the animal with the longest tenure at the Aquarium is Topaz the cat. Now… I know what you’re thinking: What is a cat doing at an aquarium? Well, truth be told, Topaz was here at the site way before the first fish ever swam here.
The first time I saw Topaz was when I took a hardhat tour of the Aquarium as it was being built back in 1997. Amidst the steel beams and construction equipment sat a young orange tabby. Warren Iliff was leading the tour, and he was the one that pointed out Topaz to us and joked that the Aquarium was being built around the cat.
Topaz showed up one day as a stray at the construction site. He made friends with the staff overseeing the construction from the Aquarium’s temporary office, a trailer in the midst of the site at the time. The staff bonded with the feline and made a little bed in the trailer for the cat to sleep in. I’ve heard that they did this because they were worried about the well being of Topaz. Gale force winds and a deluge of rain from the El Niño storms of that year were making the area around the proto-Aquarium dangerous for an unprotected animal. Even wild sea lions were having trouble coping with the stormy conditions that year. It was so rough that one exhausted sea lion pup even hauled itself into the construction area of the Aquarium during one particularly bad storm to find sanctuary. How do I know this? Well, my wife Pam and I were the ones that had to pick up the pup in the wind and the rain to take it to a rehabilitation facility that we volunteered with at the time. By taking Topaz in, the staff probably saved the cat’s life.
Topaz earned his keep over the years by being the unofficial greeter at the staff entrance of the administration office. Almost every Saturday morning since I’ve been a volunteer at the Aquarium I’ve been greeted by Topaz with his big green eyes waiting just inside the door to the office area of the facility acknowledging my arrival. And I acknowledge him back with a “Morning Topaz” or on a less formal day “Hey Towp”. Sometimes he’d meow at me until I scratched that certain part of his back that he likes to have scratched. It’s a nice way to start my shift.
Topaz has become such an institution at the Aquarium over the years that the tabby is even being acknowledged in the Great Hall during our ten year anniversary as “Fun Fact # 9”. Next to the Northern Pacific Preview on the first floor is a display that reads “One of the Aquarium’s first animals was a cat. Still with us today, Topaz is an orange tabby that loves to lounge in our administration offices. Topaz was a stray that lived along the harbor rocks when the Aquarium was in its construction phase. He befriended staff and when the Aquarium was finished, Topaz became an official member of our staff”.
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