While I’ve been aching for years to go to Adventure Aquarium in Camden, today was not the day. Instead I headed north, out of New Jersey and on up to Connecticut to check out The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. It is surprisingly close to New Jersey, only about 20-30 minutes over the border via the Tappan Zee Bridge. If you try to follow I-95 North over the GWB and through the Bronx, expect a lot of traffic and a lot more time. In fact, I went north past the GWB specifically aiming for the Tappan Zee just to avoid the higher GWB toll and the NYC traffic.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is a little pricy, $22.95 for an adult, but it does come with a free IMAX educational movie of your choice, from their available list obviously. When I went, there were four offered, although only three of those on the weekend. I picked the one about life in the ocean, I mean I’m at an aquarium after all. Aquatic education was the theme of the day and just made more sense than something on national parks or on orangutans and elephants. The final weekend available movie looked to be designed to show kids why they should consider the STEM track for education and careers. Alas, that ship has long since sailed for me so no point trying to sell me on it now.
Maritime Aquarium, not just for kids
The Maritime Aquarium is clearly setup for kids. With my hulking size, I had to crouch or bend over for pretty much every exhibit. Small tanks all seemed to end around my neck and windows looking into larger tanks were often around my groin or lower. Unless they were expecting me to flash the fish, I have to assume that height was meant for those smaller, younger versions of humans that seem to run around these kinds of places.
I don’t think the Maritime Aquarium tries to hide that fact they designed the place with kids in mind as they have educational stuff all over their web site, and a number of mentions of school trips. Heck, they offer educational guides for teachers. I’m not actually disparaging them for their kid centric setup, rather I think because of it, parents are missing out on a lot. You see, despite their child sized layout, they actually did a really good job of just being educational. If it hadn’t been for the heights of so many things, it might not have been as obvious. At no time did I feel out of place like I was in a child’s museum or similar. Unfortunately, most of the parents seemed to treat it like it was a kids place and didn’t appear to pay a lot of attention to anything themselves. To me it seemed like a standard adult friendly aquarium that just happened to have lower viewing areas and a huge number of kids running around.
Oh boy were there a lot of kids running around. And parents, constantly a few steps behind trying to keep up. My mother used to put a leash on me. Two in fact, as I would get out of one, so she did one backwards to sort of straight jacket me in. I’m thinking more parents should try that. Then you can give the kid a gentle tug backwards when it starts trying to leap up on strangers or bite someone.
The floor plan of the Maritime Aquarium is actually really nice. You can see everything without having to double back at any time. I love when places set themselves up that way. It’s not so much that I’m lazy and don’t want to spend time walking past the same thing multiple times. Well, I mean there is that too, but rather, when I have to back track a lot I always end up feeling like I’ve missed something somewhere. A single path flow just leaves me with a better feeling at the end that I’ve seen everything.
The first exhibit is a large tank with an assortment of rather large fish and several sharks. I somehow missed what kind of sharks these are. If you recognize them in the photos feel free to leave a comment. They are some kind of nightmare breed. I don’t mean like a great white where you just crap your pants and expect to be swallowed whole. No, these sharks actually have fairly small mouths. Sure there are a lot of sharp looking teeth, but honestly their mouths are so small they don’t seem all that menacing in that department. Instead they have these long snouts and beady little eyes and this evil teeth exposing grin. I’m not afraid of them swimming up to me in the ocean, I’m afraid of them hiding under my bed and waiting to invade my dreams.
I was surprised to see that there were no signs of the sharks eating the other fish. At first I figured maybe they just aren’t hungry right now. Then I saw a hook appear from above the water with a small fish on it and one of the sharks went right for it. Then another, and another. Soon fish were being thrown into the water by the handfuls. My timing was great as it seems I got there for their morning feeding.
What was interesting is the sharks would eat the dead fish if they were right at the top of the tank where the sharks were swimming. Even then, the sharks really didn’t alter their lap pattern to go for any fish. If one happened to float near their mouth, they ate it, if not, they let the fish sink lower where it was eaten by one of the others.
When I looked up why the sharks were not eating the other live fish in the tank, the answer fit with what I witnessed. It seems sharks are really lazy. In the wild they tend to go for sick or injured fish so the shark doesn’t have to spend a lot of effort chasing down its dinner. In captivity, apparently sharks quickly learn that fish will be handed to them, literally at times. So they pretty much just figure why spend any effort hunting one of these living things when they can wait until dinner is all but placed in their mouth. Come to think of it, I totally relate to this. Online ordering and delivery will be my undoing.
Seals do tricks for food, shocker.
The only time I ended up back tracking at the Maritime Aquarium was to return to the IMAX theater from the seal tank. That wasn’t the fault of the Maritime Aquarium. My timing was just off and I arrived at the IMAX theater too early. Since I noted the seal feeding times as I passed the seal tank from above, I decided to head to it early and catch part of the upcoming seal feeding before returning in time for my IMAX movie.
Because of the close timing I didn’t end up seeing the entire seal event. That’s ok. They did the introductions, I got to see a few tricks, and I got to see the seals eat some fish. Everything after that is just redundant. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I had seen it all, because I have this inner little kid that likes to sit there and scrunch up while squealing and clapping at things like seals doing tricks. My desire to not miss the first IMAX showing was just greater.
The Maritime Aquarium IMAX theater is one place I wish parents had leashes on their kids. Maybe muzzles. I’m sitting peacefully watching footage of pretty and interesting sea creatures. A relaxing narration is explaining everything I’m seeing and the wondrous facts about the creatures of the deep. Then I feel something brush the back of my head. Then I feel it again. Now its not a brush, its a full on friendly stroke. Someone is running their fingers through my hair in an overly familiar manner. I look to my left, not that person. I look to my right, nope. No one I’m sitting with is touching me. Now it stops. With a chill, I glance behind me and a kid is sitting directly behind me eating popcorn and licking his fingers. Oh My God! Did the kid behind me just use my hair as a napkin?!?
Now that this child has cleaned his hands on the back of my head, he decides he should follow up with kicking my seat. And kicking it. And kicking it. There was more turbulence in that IMAX theater than I experienced when flying back from Los Angeles while Hurricane Katrina was busy wiping out New Orleans. Add to the kicking a non stop din of kids doing that loud talk whisper thing they do about everything they see on screen. As well as everything they don’t see on screen. Heck, they just babbled in an airy voice about any darn topic they wanted. It sounded like a room full of demonic leaking tires were reenacting Mystery Science Theater 3000. The best was clearly this little girl’s exchange with her father:
“Daddy, what did they just call that thing?”
“Ahck…toe…puss….. Ahcktoe….puss…. Octopus! Octopus. Octopus. Octopus. Octopus? Octopus!”
Fantastic, she just learned a new word, and now we get the next 10 minutes of non stop “Octopus”. Peachy. Psst, hey kid, kick my chair a little harder, maybe you can snap my neck and I can be done with this.
Can touch this
In addition to the IMAX movie, the Maritime Aquarium had all the standard aquarium fare. Tanks of all sorts of fish. Big tanks, small tanks, big fish, small fish. Reptiles, seals, sharks, rays, jellyfish. The last of those they had touch tanks for them. I got to touch a jellyfish.
Wait, I’m not supposed to call it a jellyfish. The Maritime Aquarium says they aren’t fish so you shouldn’t call them that. You are supposed to just call them Jellies. And oddly, while they were specific about touching them gently, their sign said “Jiggle The Jelly”. That sounds less like a touch tank for aquatic life and more like something I do every time I dance.
I actually touched multiple “jellies”, because I can’t just touch one. I have this thing, see, I never really grew up. I’m as bad as any of those kids. I’m just like that guy from Monsters University. I see something and just yell out “I want to touch it!” I’m still dying to touch a goose. I just can’t seem to get close enough. That and I know if I do, its going to chase me and peck me. My fear is not of the impending goose attack, but rather someone won’t be there to snapchat it.
In addition to the jelly touch tank, there was also a shark and ray touch tank. The shark and ray tank had a life guard. How many kids had to fall in before they stationed a life guard? Who am I kidding, no kids ever “fell” in, they just climbed in to get a closer look. It’s what I wanted to do anyway. I’ve touched rays before at the Atlantic City aquarium, so those weren’t a new thrill to me. What I really wanted to do was touch a shark. Unfortunately all the sharks were sitting at the bottom of the tank. That didn’t exactly put them out of my reach, the tank was only about two feet deep. But it would mean I’d have to take off my jacket and go bicep deep into the water.
I was totally cool with reaching arm deep if it meant I could touch as shark. What stopped me was the pleading head shake and look on the life guard’s face of “don’t do it man, just don’t do it”. She and I both knew that if I reached down to the bottom to touch a shark, the mass of children already leaning precariously over the edge of the tank were all going to try the same. This would immediately result in a giant bobbing for apples event as kid after kid goes face down into the water trying to grab a shark off the bottom. Maybe if the IMAX kid who cleaned his hands with my hair was there I’d have tried it. Or at least given him a shove into the water as I walked away.
After the touch tanks, the only thing left I hadn’t seen at the Maritime Aquarium was an exhibit on the fish industry. I learned that we over fish and are killing off whole populations. Farming of fish sounds like a good answer. Yeah, know what else I learned? We suck at doing things right. Apparently many of our fish farms are poisoning the water supply or infecting wild fish populations. Much of our fish farming is also killing off the fish populations.
They had a big fish tank in this exhibit. I’m not entirely sure why because we weren’t allowed to go fishing in it. In fact, while they let you climb onto a platform that looked out over the surface of the water, they put a giant net over the top to keep you from reaching in. I’m pretty sure that was meant for me since I was standing there looking down going “I want to touch one!”
There were viewing windows around the outside of the tank so you could look in under the water level. A little kid, maybe 5, had stuffed himself inside one of the windows. There was a large fish right inside the glass and I really wanted to get a picture of it. I waited patiently for the kid to decide he was done and he climbed out.
Once he left, I squatted down to get into the little kid height window and took out my phone for a picture. Just as I’m lining up my shot, the kid returns and tries to shove his way back into the window. He can’t figure out how to get around my arm so he is now just yanking furiously on it to move it out of his way. At no time does he say excuse me or acknowledge me in any way. As far as he was concerned, my arm was just a random obstacle in his path to be broken off and discarded. I just sat there humored as I watched this tiny human pull on my arm with all his might and get more and more frustrated that he couldn’t get my arm to budge.
Photos done, everything seen, and it was time to wrap it up to head home. I made one last stop back at the seal tank before leaving the Maritime Aquarium, this time from the outside viewing area. I wanted to get a nice photo of a seal and there was one just hanging out. It was bobbing in the water doing deep breathing exercises or something. I tried to get its attention by calling out each of the seals names. Eventually it just yawned a clear “I’m in show business, you are nothing to me peon.” then drove the point home by looking directly at me, huffing then back to ignoring me. The upside is, I have a new move when I want to ignore people. I just cock my head back and breath deep.
Pics or it didn’t happen
Nightmare eyes sharks [youtube https://youtu.be/H7FyudyEi08]
Diva Seal [youtube https://youtu.be/GE64RznPI60]
Start of the seal show [youtube https://youtu.be/KEqkZEklRHw]