My sister, her husband and son Miles came to town this weekend. They stayed in Dallas and I spent Saturday with them. The Aquarium sounded like a fun place to take Miles, so we walked there from the Hotel and spent a good 3 hours there.
The walk takes you thru Dealey plaza, there was some kind of scientology protest going on, although we weren’t exactly sure what, they were holding a mismash of placards. Frankly visiting the spot where JFK had his brains blown out gave me goosebumps and I think we were all glad of an excuse to move on past.
The Aquarium itself is oddly concealed. It seems like a derelict commercial district, you duck down a little side street and half way along is one of those buildings that looks like a former warehouse converted to apartments and then abandoned. In short – the aquariaum looks like an office building of some kind.
“Aquariaum” is also a bit of an understatement.
In an odd twist, most of the displays are behind glass. One imagines it makes it easier to provide them with better climate control, but it seems to result in very small enclosures for the creatures :( The jaguar, for instance, is in an enclosure you might have difficulty turning a king sized bed around in.
While they had a fascinating variety of animals, what they mostly had to display was animal sleeping behavior. We passed the jaguar’s enclosure right as some kind of Mayan or Peruvian cultural display was going on involving dancing and loud instruments. The noise really seemed to piss the jaguar off but all it did was lie there with its ears back and a snarl on its face. But it also showed all the classic signs of a depressed cat: it didn’t twitch a muscle, it just lay there, kind of glassy eyed, staring.
Some of the smaller animals have a decent amount of space, and seemed lively enough. There are a couple of fish displays you can walk under and you just have to try not to notice that they seriously bite into the space available to the animals.
There was a baby gator, which didn’t so much as flinch when one of the turtles in with him fell and landed on his snout. There was a huge croc – I think – which was asleep in the same location both times we passed.
And near the book shop was a large tank with various predators, including squirrelfish that seemed to be trying to sleep, they weren’t swimming around, they were just sort of hanging in position (I made a few kids giggle by getting a half dozen of them to follow me around for a little while).
That was one of the neater displays until I noticed that one of the squirrelfish had a seriously infected eye, looking like a fungal infection, and the fish was swimming in circles and twitching real badly. I looked more closely at the other fish in the tank and noticed several of them had a bit of a filmy look to one or more of their eyes. It could just bad water in the tank. Rachel got the attention of a member of staff who seemed both to not care and unable to see that one of the animals was clearly in serious distress (we later found a lady who did seem concerned).
There were some really neat displays, although by the time we’d been there an hour we were starting to feel a little guilty about how the animals are kept. Unlike Sea World, you don’t have the sense that this is where they show the animals which have access to larger habitats somewhere else. The manatee seemed to have a reasonable amount of room beyond the immediate display area and seemed reasonably lively, whereas the otter had a tiny enclosure and seemed to be alone with no-toys or anything to keep the incredibly active and inquisitive nature of an animal like an otter occupied.
I have to admit I spent quite a bit of time at the manatee tank, but mostly watching the Arapaima – it breathes like a missing like and it looks like a missing link :) You have to see them swimming to really get a sense of how odd they are.
Despite my reservations and guilt, had a great time doing the full tour with the family. I had a little accident while trimming my hair so I’m down to a skinhead again, which made Miles scared for the first few moments but I got him to rub my head and it felt so funny to him that he kept wanting to rub my head for the rest of the day :)