For Mother’s Day this year, we visited the Vancouver Aquarium. I hadn’t been in ages. Frankly, there are some things that I’ve long enjoyed that have simply fallen by the wayside, as my children have grown up. Zoos and aquariums generally fall in that column. I haven’t stopped liking those places, but they seem less enticing without little kids who crave the explanations we have to give, and who oohhh and ahhh at each fish or animal they see. However, on Mother’s Day we found ourselves in Vancouver for Dim Sum, and then made our way to the magnificent Stanley Park (a gem if there ever was one!) and then just wandered over to the aquarium. (Maybe we should have thought twice before eating at the Dim Sum restaurant that had these fish in their tank, but the food was great! Believe it or not, these bad boys are not only alive, but were thrashing a few minutes later.)
The first time I ever visited the Vancouver Aquarium, Smart Guy and I were visiting Vancouver while he attended a conference, in the late 90’s. I brought my paints and paper and headed off to Stanley Park, to explore a la artiste. I watched the Orca whales, which were kept in a too small tank back then. I’d never seen Orcas and was amazed to be so close to them. So I sketched images of them and absorbed the unique feel of Vancouver, never imagining that one day I’d live less than an hour away. The Orcas have been gone for nearly ten years now. The popularity of Free Willy, and movements to consider more carefully the care and maintenance of such large mammals, lead to their sending the last remaining killer whale at Vancouver Aquarium to a facility in the U.S., after thirty years of having Orcas on site.
Now there is a much larger dolphin habitat, where the orcas were, and three Beluga Whales, as well as otters and full array of ocean and fresh water fish and critters. It was a hot sunny day and the cool dark interior of the Aquarium was particularly soothing and calming, despite all the small children racing around oohhing and ahhhing. Reminders of my own babies, now grown. My grown teens (China, Denmark and Little Man) did their share of gesticulating, and calling our attention to things that continue to amaze. Killer frogs in green and blues and reds that seem too amazing to be real. It’s easy to forget that all of those just like real plastic animals that my kids collected for years, really do look just like real!
I’m a sucker for the Jellyfish. I love them; never get bored watching them. If I could, I’d have a big tank in my room, to watch jellies each night as I go to sleep. I find them so soothing, as beautiful as anemones but far more interesting. Their pink bodies against the deep blue of the tank is so stark and stunning. The way their bodies undulate from the bottom to the top of the tank is mesmerizing, their tentacles dragging behind or swaying with the currents. Once I’m there, I often stand watching them until someone in my family insists I move on. Mackerel or Sardines are my next favorite. To see them swim in huge schools, circling their tanks in unison and switching directions on a dime, is nothing short of stunning. Their instinct to follow one another is compelling to watch, as they move en masse. I’m not sure what it says about me that I like the group fish and the odd jellies, but if I were spending an entire day at any aquarium, I’d spend most of it in front of those two tanks.
Near the end of our day, we wandered out to see the dolphin show, followed by the beluga presentation. The sun was still high and hot and we all sought shade as we listened to the trainers tell us about the environment, and ways we can all help the creatures we were watching. It’s impossible not to think about the fine threads that tie us together, as I listened to details of how dolphins and whales birth their babies, care about family (pods), and communicate to each other to convey danger, community or care. They’re amazingly intelligent animals, and it’s hard not to be humbled around them.
Just as the beluga show was ending, I couldn’t take the sun one more moment and stood up to leave. I had been in the front row, so when I stood up I was blocking a lot of people, so I intended to leave quickly. However, the trainer said “If you are looking at a whale’s body parts right now…” I turned and glanced toward the tank, just as she added “you’re about to get very…” I ducked, but not in time. “WET!” I was completely, completely, doused by cold, salty whale water. Cold, salty, whale pee water. I saved a lot of front row people, I can tell you. I was dripping wet. Drying-myself-with-paper-towels-in-the-bathroom soaked. Lots of people came up to share a laugh about it with me, havin witnessed my whale induced “moment.” Sardines don’t swamp people. Jellyfish float; they don’t splash you for kicks. That beluga was laughing. Shoulda stuck with the jellies.
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** All photos are my own.