Thursday, January 03, 2013

South Carolina Aquarium

Our first item of business last Thursday was...

...the same business that is always our first bit of business everyday: getting ready for the day. This always includes forcing multiple little people to use the potty and put clothes on. I don't know why little people are so opposed to doing those two things, but they are. Mine are, at least. I don't know about yours. Mine could run around in pyjamas or dress-ups (or just naked) all day long. They only ever choose to go to the bathroom when it's absolutely eminent. And if we didn't own a hairbrush they'd be very happy children, indeed.

After we managed to get everyone ready we headed out the door and to the South Carolina Aquarium.

It was wonderful (and extremely overpriced).

Inside they have a gigantic tank—two storeys and 150,000 gallons—which holds a multitude of fish as well as some eels and a giant sea turtle and even some sharks. When we got there a scuba diver was inside the tank, talking to the crowd (through a microphone of sorts). She was right in the tank with the sharks!

From what I can see only nurse sharks are kept in the tank and those aren't particularly aggressive. They also feed them three times a week—and keep careful records of which sharks eat and which don't—which is rather frequent for a shark so it keeps them full and thus less likely to hunt. They mostly feed them tuna, which they don't keep in the tank, so they never develop an appetite for the other fish in the tank (or the scuba divers).

This doesn't look like a nurse shark to me, though, and it was also in the tank with the divers:

It must be a sand tiger shark (which is apparently also known as a nurse shark...but it's not the "wimpy" nurse shark) but that wouldn't be in the great hall aquarium. Maybe I took this picture in the ocean exhibit (but I don't think so). But I don't think so.

The aquarium is made out of acrylic so that it can be super thick but not distort the images. They had a block of acrylic sitting beside the tank so that we could see how thick the tank was. This block is 12 inches thick; the tank is 18 inches thick (27 feet high, and 15 feet high).

Ironically enough, when we came home from our day at the aquarium Grandma saw a news article about a shark tank breaking in a Shanghai, flooding the mall it was in and injuring over a dozen people—not due to shark attacks but due to flying chunks of acrylic. The sharks all died. 

I'm still torn over the idea of zoos and aquariums and things like that. On the one hand I think animals should be left alone and studied in the wild. On the other hand, they are fascinating to watch and easier to study long-term in captivity.

These lemurs (top middle), for example, are from the Duke Lemur Center:

I imagine they were bred in captivity. Lemurs are still wild but they seem friendly enough to be domesticated—and who's to say this is wrong considering dogs, cats, guinea pigs, horses, goldfish and so forth.

Miriam was rather fond of stingrays—this is a bluespotted ribbontail ray that was in the Madagascar exhibit. It was beautiful to see but its chance for survival in captivity is relatively low

Rachel was brave and lined up to touch an alligator.

She and I also touched a hissing cockroach (there was no line for that one):

The girls had fun dressing up in exploration gear:

And then we left Madagascar to travel through South Carolina's various habitats. Our first stop was a lecture on bird safety. The aquarium has an American Kestrel, which landed on an uninsulated wire in rural Tennessee and suffered a nasty shock. It lost some of its toes and most of its claws and if left in the wild would not be able to hunt, which means it would not survive and so it lives at the aquarium. 

This bald eagle has a similar story. Usually it's illegal to "own" a bald eagle but this poor creature had a mishap (possibly another run-in with uninsulated electrical wires) and was found badly injured and unable to fly. She's still unable to fly (she's missing part of one wing) so she's also living at the aquarium. She has a cage inside as well as a habitat on the roof (so that she can get some sun and some privacy). She has a little creek running through her habitat and sometimes they put live fish in there so that she can "hunt" for her meals.

Here are the girls playing around in an eagle's nest:

Here's another creature for which living at the aquarium is in its best interest—an albino aligator...or crocodile...I can't remember which: 

If it was out in the wild it would have spent its short life terribly sunburnt before being gobbled up by something bigger than it (obviously before it got to be as big as it is) because it can't camouflage anywhere but an iceberg (and there aren't too many of those this far south). There's something to be said for "food chains" and "survival of the fittest" but I don't think it's terribly awful to house such creatures in educational facilities when their wild alternative is death.

There were a few play areas throughout the aquarium. Here are the girls trying out a shark cage:

And here's one of the outdoor habitats where Miriam once again found her friends the rays:

They seemed just as curious about her as she was about them. She seemed to think they were waving at her as they wiggled their "enlarged pectoral fins that are fused to their heads" to squirm their way through the water. Rays are apparently closely related to sharks. But don't worry—Wikipedia assures me that they can be easily distinguished from sharks due to the previously mentioned enlarged pectoral fins (which are fused to their heads) as well as their flattened bodies and gill slits on their ventral surfaces. Probably their long tales are also a giveaway. In fact, they don't really look like sharks at all, do they?

Both sharks and rays are cartilaginous, however, which means that instead of bones they have cartilage. They don't have rib cages, for example, so "if they leave the water, the larger species' own body weight would crush their internal organs long before they would suffocate." So those sharks in China probably didn't suffocate after their tank burst. They probably were squished from the inside out. Interesting.

Even looking at these pictures today Miriam said, "Those are my friends! Those are my friends! I like those flat fish!"

From the roof of the aquarium we had a great view of this loading dock:

As well as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge:

Benjamin enjoyed the gentle breeze on the deck:

Here's another little play place:

And Rachel's favourite—the whale tail:

There are so many strange ocean creatures. Some of them, like this lionfish (I think?) Rachel couldn't trust behind her back:

All in all we had a great time at the aquarium. We learned a lot, saw interesting things, and made some wonderful memories.

I am so far behind in my blogging and I know that a few people are anxious to read about our holidays (hi, Mom!) so even though the aquarium was only half our day I'm going to post this anyway. I'll write about Fort Sumpter later. For now I'm going to work on getting all my primary stuff together and take a look at the work my mom did on her dissertation. I'll be back to regular blogging soon, I'm sure.