One vacation destination I am ALWAYS drawn to? AQUARIUMS, SON. We almost didn't get a chance to go to the Georgia Aquarium, but I woke up Sunday morning a determined woman-- I was gonna see a whale shark if it killed me!
How did I know about the whale sharks? Earlier in the week, my sister Sus and I were looking over the GA Aquarium website. Our attention was arrested by an advertising panel on that site that reads "When you wish upon a whale shark", touting the presence of these amazingly large salt water creatures in one of their attractions. Sus: "What would you wish for on a whale shark?" Me: "Another whale shark. And then on that whale shark, I'd wish for a habitat for the whale shark." Sus: "You oughta wish for a marine biologist. That would come in handy." Me: "Maybe I'll become a marine biologist!" And so on, and so on.
Though I forgot to take a picture of the main attraction, in all the bustling business of that particular part of the exhibit hall, here's what the guy looked like. And he was every bit as clear and impressive in real life!
The opening of Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium in 2005 was due in large part to the generosity of Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, who donated $250 million dollars towards its creation. It's the world's largest aquarium (!!), and features five separate areas for different kinds of creatures (river, tropical, saltwater, etc).
I was surprised at the number of "see me, feel me" type activity stations at the aquarium...and by surprised, I mean totally enchanted by these opportunities to try and pet sea creatures in a safe, non actual ocean environment. In this first one, you're invited to a shallow pool of sting rays (ok, cool, yeah, they used to have those at Opry Mills) and SHARKS! Teeny, harmless little sharks, but sharks nonetheless! I did pet one friendly little ray, but couldn't get a shark to give me a second glance to save my life. Heartless beasts!
Here's another touch-exhibit that had sea anemones and starfish. Didn't they look like so much stringy marzipan, all bright colors and undulating little tentacles! The anemones really felt like "nothing" to touch, as they were so soft and pliable, but then, with all manner of slyness, they would gently attach to you finger, as if pondering the question, "Food? Food? Food?"
Here, Matthew salutes the skipper of the mockup ship in the River section of the aquarium. Captain Crawdad, you were not overlooked in our visit.
What I kept thinking about, looking back on these vacation snaps? How PHOTOGENIC fish and other underwater creatures are! I don't know if it was lighting or what, but in spite of my blurry, shaky hand photography, some of these guys still look like screensavers.
Lionfish, giving a saucy little wave:
An eel, looking well nigh terrifying. His mouth kept opening and closing like something out of a horror movie. For all I know, this may be the Pierce Brosnan of eels-- he may look very attractive to his own kind, but WHEW, his looks give me the heebies.
More me! As I walked through the metal detector at the Aquarium (both World of Coca Cola and the Aquarium have metal detectors), I asked if I needed to take my necklace off. Don't you usually have to take off metal necklaces at the airport to go through security? The very young, Eddie Murphy lookalike security guard eyeballed me briefly before going, "No, it's cool, you can keep your pharaoh."
Matthew was totally gobsmacked by this albino alligator. I don't know why I wasn't impressed enough with him-- maybe I've seen too many albino creatures in the past at zoos and aquariums! "It looks like something out of Dark Souls!" he said, referring to the PS3 game. "Or like it was carved out of stone! How is there even anything like that around?" Alligators are weird, period-- sometimes I like to think about John Smith-era pilgrims to the new world, and how completely hellish most of the wildlife must have seemed to them compared to what they would see in England. Sure, you have rats, and birds, and fish in England...you have deer in the countryside...but imagine, having never seen an alligator, suddenly spotting one lurking in the same river where you wash your clothes. It would be like something out of a nightmare! Even worse if it was an all white one like this....spookiful, kids.
The expression on the faces of many of these creatures reminded me of Jim Henson's puppets. How does nature even think to MAKE things that look like this?
A giant crab. You remember how impressed I was by these in Chattanooga. I am no less impressed by them now.
Beluga whales were a huge part of the attraction, with their own special tank. You can even book "a night at the aquarium" where you have one-on-one time with these things. I don't know what it is about them...is it the tubular shape of their muscled bodies? Their weird, somewhat craggy heads? But I had no interest whatsoever in these creatures. Maybe it turns out we both like Dario Argento movies or cold ketchup on hot fries, but I'm just judging a book by its cover, I don't think I like beluga whales!
Matthew once again demonstrates the inter-relatedness of Babs to penguins:
The always beautiful, obligatory jellyfish snaps:
And last but not least, a just-about-perfect tree frog. There was a whole section on frogs on the second floor, which was really cool.
My only criticism of the aquarium, which is lavishly put together and really just amazing in sheer scale, is the family-geared tone of the whole place. That sounds like I'm a crumbhead, but hear me out on this one! An aquarium is a GREAT place to bring kids, obviously, but in some exhibits, the subject and presentation was obviously more intended towards the elementary school age kid or below. Example, the dolphin show, AT&T's Dolphin Tales. Anything a dolphin does is pretty much amazing to me, so I was looking forward to the dolphin show. Happy memories of Lisa Frank covers or reruns of Flipper cloud my judgement as I type the very word "dolphin". Maybe he'll bop a beach ball with his nose, or do some really cool flips. I'm in!
Yet, the show we took in was B-A-D bad because of the forced narrative of a Vegas-style "Starskimmer" ship's captain. This figure took the proscenium, over a large tank that held the trainers and their dolphins, in a light-up cape. He sang, in a ringing tenor, about how the dolphins would resurrect his ship to sail across the stars. I know this sounds like it could be awesome, in a "Knights in White Satin", psychedelic type way, but no. Take my word for it, with a CGI team borrowed from Veggie Tales, it was really NOT for anyone over the age of say four. I could honestly imagine a five year old going, "CAN WE JUST SEE THE DOLPHINS?" :( That said, the dolphins were still pretty cool....I just wished they done this SeaWorld style instead of spending so much money on floorshow aspect of the performance.
Well! Overall, I'd have to say the Georgia Aquarium was pretty cool! Skip the dolphin show if you can help it, but make sure you make your wish upon a whale shark!
Have you been to this aquarium? Have one in your area that boasts something even cooler than a whale shark? What's your best memory of going to an aquarium? Let's talk!
That's all for today! My third and final Georgia post will be tomorrow, before we get back to the vintage swing of things. Have a great Tuesday, and I'll see you tomorrow!