I doubt if I will ever find an aquarium that will ursurp Monterey Bay Aquarium as my favorite,
(Besides being the first ones to successfully keep bluefin in their tanks, right now they have a GREAT WHITE SHARK collected off of HUNTINGTON BEACH on exhibit, and VIDEO of it feeding in captivity. MBA, in my eyes, is just simply put the best aquarium in the world. On a side note, three years ago my sister Merin took her beginning sailing class out of Newport harbor, just minutes South of Huntington Beach, and saw a huge congregation of boats circled around something. She decided to return to the Orange Coast College docks, and found out that the boats were watching two white sharks feasting on the carcass of a dead whale. It will be interested to see if and what white sharks predate on around Huntington, as I don’t recall any attacks on surfers around this area (probably because there are not many seals and sealions anymore), or if they just use the area as a sort of nursery or something. By the way, this program that surveys pelagic marine animals is worth a look as well.)
but I have to say that Japan does its aquariums very well. Among the aquariums I have visited in Japan, Osaka Kaiyukan ranks among my favorites. Kagoshima City aquarium is also very well done, and located right across from the still-active volcano, Sakura-jima, which sits in the middle of Kagoshima Bay (my favorite exhibit was the electric eel tank where the voltometer, mounted above the tank, measured the electric discharge that the eel uses to stun its prey during feeding time). My other favorite aquarium is in Okinawa, the Churaumi Aquarium. If you happen to go diving and miss out on seeing giant mantas and whale sharks, you can head over here and see them no problem. In fact, you can see whale sharks (not the largest specimens, but still quite impressive) at all three of these exhibits. One thing I did notice is that 5 years ago, Osaka had a pair of whale sharks, but now there is only one. I wonder what happened to the other one.
Sea otters are always so fun to watch because they are definetely the marine mammal that has the behaviorisms of an ADD child – they remind me of a marine Jack Russel Terrier. It’s amazing to think that they once ranged across a massive arch spanning the Pacific from Japan up to the Kurile islands off of Russia, across the Aleutians, and all the way down the West Coast of America down near Baja California. To think that all of the Southern Sea Otters (enhydra lutris nereis– the ones along the Pacific coastline of America) almost died out, except for a remote colony hanging out in Chinaman’s Cove (in Big Sur). Seeing the sea otters in Monterey feels different than in Japan. There’s always the chance that you will see one as you stroll along the beach, looking out over the beds of giant kelp. And to think that fishermen actually get so pissed off at the otters, and resent them taking back their native habitats around the Channel Islands (due to a partially sucessful reintroduction program on San Nicholas), claiming that the deplete fishing stocks. Hmmmm… which puts more pressure on sea life- drag nets that scrape all traces of life off of the sea floor and other commercial fishing practices, or the greedy sea otter?
The rascally sea otter is not as cuddly or loving as it may look. People look at raccoons with a similar naiveity, and after they get their hands mauled trying to pet or feed a raccoon their conceptions of a fuzzy woodland friend is shattered. The people who have to clean up their ransacked garbage cans every week will tell you- raccoons are intellegent bastards to be reckoned with, not at all what they saw in Pocahontas. Next time you go to the sea otter exhibit look for scars on their noses. When they are courting and fighting, they bite eachother so hard that they draw blood during their mating season. Luckily for the sea otter, it is a very cute animal and fur is out of fashion (sea otter fur has to be the most silky and just pleasant textures to touch- I can see why they were so relentlesly hunted).
I looked at this guy handing out scraps of seafood to the various residents of the main tank and though that this must be a pretty cool job. I wonder if you can log hours scuba diving in an aquarium like This (that’s kind of lame really, but I bet he has a lot of time logged). A group of eagle rays were begging like puppy dogs and swimming all around him for scraps. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, a giant guitarfish (kind of a cross between a shark and a ray) swam up from below and started trying to ram him. It was cool to watch the diver grab the guitarfish’s nose and forcefully push the giant lug away- kind of reminded me of Marmaduke. This giant tank held many beautiful specimens including mantas, whale sharks, groupers, tuna, giant sea bass, and more things than I can remember.
Perhaps my favorite fish to watch are giant groupers. They seem really friendly and good natured, like golden retrievers. Ever since reading about Jewfish in the diving magazines (while waiting for my father to take me to get some good Mexican food after work) I have wanted to go wreck diving in Florida and to check them out. Looking through the foot thick plexiglass, I sometimes get the feeling that they’re observing us as a source of amusement.
Swimming at the beach in Japan during the wrong season, meaning jellyfish season, sucks. I never bring meat tenderizer along because I don’t know what it’s called in Japanese and doubt that it can be easily purchased. I have never been stung so badly that I have wanted to ask someone to piss on it, but if I keep swimming who knows? The amazing thing about getting stung about jellyfish thusfar has been that the intense laser-hot burn only lasts for a short time (no more than 20 minutes so far) and sometimes leaves temporary whip-like scars that go away in a few weeks. I have read accounts of what it is like to be stung by a box jelly (supposedly, even morphine doesn’t do you any good), and have no desire to risk going swimming in Australia during their jellyfish season, no matter how wonderful of an excursion I might be missing.
I have no problem with moon jellies, though. When I used to teach boy scouts at the sea base in Newport Beach, we would take them to a place dubbed “Jelly Fish Cove” where they would all congregate during the middle of summer (If you are familiar with Newport, it’s down by Hooters where all of the cigarette boats are stored) as a reward for being good. The jellies were so concentrated that you couldn’t see all the way down (5 feet) to the bottom, and you had to cut the prop so as not to chop them up. The kids would grab a hold of the jellies (cupping the mantle) in both hands, and our four boston whalers would hastily retreat (executed by instructors yelling at kids to stop throwing jellyfish) cutting off their inexhaustable source of ammunition. Luckily, no one ever got a stung in the eye or mouth (as their nematocysts in the stingers are not powerful to penetrate regular skin, but more than adequate to deal with mucous membranes. Can you imagine- “I know it hurts…but if you just let me urinate on it the sting will go away.”.
The Brazillian Pinocchio Turtle (or so the katakana read- I can’t seem to find any information). The Amazon makes some pretty strange creatures. I really want to go on a fishing trip down there, but have phobias about falling in waters teeming with electric rays and fish, piranhas, and other things that might kill me.
My kids used to also have fights with the molted exoskeletons of California Spiny Lobsters. This one is cool, because it is purple and teal colored unlike the black and orange species from California.
It seems strange to me that Japanese don’t make a distinction between shrimp and lobsters. They consider the lobster(iseebi) a type of shrimp(ebi). Just so you know, the best way to eat lobster is as sashimi.
I know what the great majority of Japanese people think when they go to the aquarium because they say it out loud. “Oishiiiiiiiisouuuuuuuuu”- it looks so delicious! I have gone with three different groups of friends and acquaintances and they all like to discuss which fish, cephalapod, or shellfish they have eaten, haven’t yet tasted this season, and which morsels that they will eat next. I think that Japanese and Americans enjoy the aquariums through different lenses of perception. I go and get a hunger of a different kind. I stare into countless gaping maws of the healthy anchovies and sardines, swimming an infinite counter-clockwise donut (bait) tank conveniently located right next to the showcase tank. I think, damn, if I could net a few of these and freeline them over there, why, I’d hook up with that bluefin in no time!
I spend about 50 percent of my time in front of any of the main tanks of the aquariums (especially the Long Beach Aquarium, with it’s huge school of yellowtails-why aren’t they listed in their database of marine life?) of the world fantasizing about hooking up with the fish that are safely enclosed within, never to feel the bite of a hook through their lip or the aching tug of 20 lb. test. I think, if I worked here, I might just give into my temptations, sneak in during the dead of night with my rod and reel and have my pick of any damn fish that I could ever wish to hook up with. I imagine catching a small fish, which is in turn eaten by a bigger fish. Every cast is guaranteed success, and my arms become sore from battle after battle. The fantasy always snaps back to reality when I think about losing track of time and getting caught by the Janitor when he clocks in six hours later, who winks with a conspiratory smile and says “Dude, I’ve always wanted to do that!” (partially based on a true story). The more I think about it, the surer I am that someone has done this in a major aquarium. Even for marine biologist who spend their lives working for the conservation of marine habitats, I imagine the temptation is just too great to resist.