Monday, December 31, 2018

Last Post of 2018 - Aquarium Links (with A BABY WALRUS!)

Happy New Year's Eve Day, and best wishes to all for a very happy New Year!

I had a lot fun writing the post about visiting the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks exhibit at the New York Aquarium. I enjoy it when I need to do research for a post, I like tracking information down, and for that post I did a little digging because I knew Sandy had set everything back by a couple of years, and I wanted to talk about things like how long the facility was closed to the public and how the construction timeline had been affected.

I ran across some pretty interesting articles in the process and though I would share those here, including this video, created for the 2018 conference of the American Zoological Association. It offers a glimpse of the downstairs area of the Sea Cliffs exhibit, where I used to go play with the scarf-chasing fur seal, with a couple of feet of sea water in the exhibit area, plus a pretty complete walk-through of the new exhibit. I see that I really did zip by a lot of information. Unfortunately the one I really did notice was with the types of shark teeth, it was quite interesting but I say "unfortunately" because what really caught my eye was that knuckleheads have already broken off most of the teeth and the entire lower jaw set of the seal-catching teeth was missing entirely. Maybe the exhibit was designed that way so that they can replace the teeth, not the whole head, when too many get broken, but it looked like poor Grandpa Shark lost half his dentures. Why must knuckleheads be such knuckleheads? Sigh.

On a cheerfuller note, it was fun to see an aerial view of the beach grass plots that I'd mentioned in my boardwalk stroll post as being planted by some of my swimmer friends and lots of other volunteers from the Coney Island community. You can see those really well in the flyover shots in the 2nd minute of the video.

Anyways, I also found some good articles that I wanted to share. I started with Wikipedia, of course (just donated to them as I do use that site a lot!), and they have a pretty solid article about the aquarium. That's where I got the bit about staff actually staying on-site and being able to save an impressive 90% of the animals who lived there, and fortunately the authors of that article did a really solid job with their references -- you know how I said "speaking of terrifying, I can't even imagine what the scene there must have been like as the Atlantic's cold October water came washing through the facility"? Turns out that I don't have to imagine it, the director told the whole story to the Times not long after Sandy. Click here to read that article, and then there was an interesting follow-up on the repairs and new construction in May of 2017. The Times of course also did an extensive review of the opening, but that repeats a good bit of the info from the older articles, so here's a shorter review from Curbed NY.

Will be watching for what comes next (maybe repairs to downstairs in the Sea Cliffs?), and just can't resist closing with a video that was not part of my low-key research, but is linked to in the first Times article after Sandy, and I just had to share. Enjoy! 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas Eve Day 2018 Part 2 - Sharks!


oh, wait, that's a penguin, only terrifying if you're a herring.

 :D />

Bring on the sharks!

The boardwalk stroll was a beautiful bonus, but the main reason for my Christmas Eve Day trip to Coney Island was to go see the New York Aquarium's new exhibit, Ocean Wonders: Sharks

The aquarium got absolutely wrecked by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 and a lot of the exhibits are still being repaired, like the inside portion of the Sea Cliffs exhibit, where I used to love playing with one of the fur seals. I figured out that this seal was up for a play session after I waved my scarf for some reason while in front of the underwater window one day and the seal saw it and came zooming down and hung there looking exactly like a dog waiting for a human to throw a stick. I rolled with it and for a couple of visits before Sandy, a good game of chase-the-scarf was one of my favorite things to do at the aquarium. Ideally you run back and forth and play hide-and-seek with the seal behind the tank supports; these folks didn't get quite as into it as the seal might have liked, but you get the general idea:

But I digress from the sharks! The aquarium had gotten funding for this new exhibit not too long before Sandy, and it was originally scheduled to open in 2015, but of course the hurricane delayed everything. According to the Wikipedia entry for the aquarium, "A small group of WCS staff who remained onsite during the hurricane were able to save 90 percent of the animals in the collection" - speaking of terrifying, I can't even imagine what the scene there must have been like as the Atlantic's cold October water came washing through the facility. They reopened in the spring of the following year, with (if I recall correctly) signs posted at the entrance that a good deal remained closed due to hurricane damage.

Groundbreaking on the shark exhibit finally happened in January 2014, and construction went steadily from that point on to when it opened in June of this year. The aquarium invited the public with half-price admission up until Labor Day; I managed to miss that but I thought that Christmas Eve Day might be the perfect day to go - it was, as shown, a beautiful day, and I thought that there was a pretty good chance that a lot of people would be too tied up with holiday preparations to go. I think I was right about that, the crowds were small and also really, really into what they were seeing.

And it's pretty spectacular. The heart(s) of the exhibit are three large aquariums, each with a sort of a special effect all its own. 
You enter the exhibit through the first, this spectacular tunnel through a coral reef, with sharks and other fish swimming right over your head. The exhibit mostly focuses on out local waters. This is a really cool thing about it - it's mostly about what's going on in the waters right here around NYC, which a lot of people still think are horrible and radioactive and "ewww, how can you kayak there, do you glow in the dark?". I do have to say I get that a lot less often than I did back when I started paddling in the area back in 1999 (or was it '98?), but there's still a lack of awareness among a significant number of residents about how well our waterways are doing these days, and it's great to see the aquarium working on that.

I don't think this first tank is representative of a local environment (OK, I have to admit that I rushed through a little bit because TQ was working and I'd told him I was making duck soup for Christmas eve dinner, so I had to be home in time to make the stock, which just takes a certain amount of simmering time, and then I'd cut into my aquarium time with my boardwalk stroll - I'll go back one of these weekends and this time actually read the signs that tell you what things are!) but it sure does make you go "wow". Click on the picture above - this couple was really loving pointing out the fish to their baby!

The second large tank is bringing you into NYC, with the cityscape along the wall that curves around the big cylindrical tank full of creatures you'd find in local waters. 
Hello, flounder, I see you!

And this big what's-out-there-in-NYC-waters aquarium has a special surprise for kids as you walk further along the curved glass of the tank - there's another tunnel here, this one letting youngsters (and adventurous adults) crawl right into the aquarium for a sharks'-eye view!

I would totally have crawled through but was just a couple of days past throwing out my back and wasn't sure that was a really good idea just yet. The kids (and some of their grownups) were absolutely loving it, though. 
The next thing you walk into is a simulated shipwreck, showing how the many sunken vessels in the NY area become habitats. 

And then you walk out of the shipwreck room into what I would like to nominate as the most soothing room in NYC. 
This is the Canyon's Edge display. There's peaceful music and underwater ocean sounds playing quietly in the background, and shafts of light illuminate the water as a variety of sharks and other fish swim by. The back of the tank is lost in darkness, as though you were actually looking out into the endless sea. There is at least one sea turtle in here, I caught a glimpse of it swimming towards the darkness at the back when I came in, then it was lost to view - perhaps it had had enough being looked at for a while and went to take a nap. 
If I didn't have duck soup to make I could've just sat in here for an hour. Some children came in yelling with excitement - even they quieted down almost instantly, and I didn't hear their parents hushing them, I think it was just the calming effect of the space.
Did you know that there are sharks that like to snuggle? These are nurse sharks, first there were two lying nose to nose, then the third one came swimming down and joined them, cuddling up like puppies at naptime. 
Sharkshadows - something really neat about seeing the shadows on the sand as the sharks passed through the light.

So that was a quick dash through the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks exhibit at the New York Aquarium. There are a lot of educational displays that I'll have to go back to look at sometime when I haven't promised someone duck soup that night and haven't made the stock yet - but here's one I did have a moment to look at! That's right, even the bathroom is educational.

one last look back at the Canyon's Edge (aaah)

And then it was time to head for home. Coneyscape from the Q train platform.

BTW I actually did a bit of research for this post and found some really interesting stuff, including shots of the downstairs area in the Sea Cliffs exhibit showing the extreme damage. This post was already long enough as is but my next post will have links to those. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Coney Island Boardwalk, Christmas Eve Day

Christmas Eve Day was another beautiful early winter day here in NYC. In my last post, I'd talked about the first 2 of 3 things I'd wanted to do during my staycation. 1. Help TQ move in - check; 2. Go for a paddle - check. Third thing was way more optional, but the weather on the 24th was just perfect for checking out the new Ocean Wonders: Sharks exhibit at the Coney Island Aquarium.

In my last post I mentioned that there was more blue sparkle, plus sharks - figured I would start off today with the the sparkle and move on to sharks in the next post. This short stroll on the boardwalk wasn't really part of the plan, but it looked so lovely when the Q train got out to where you can start seeing out to sea that I decided to get off one stop before the aquarium and walk there. Just gorgeous.

The beach grass patches you'll see in 2 of the photos are actually fairly recently planted, a volunteer effort with which a lot of my swimmer friends helped out. I was interested in joining them but I think that ended up being one of those "do I paddle or do I go plant beach grass" days, and I ended up paddling - that turned out to be a good call because this was a really popular volunteer project for a whole lot of Coney Island folks, not just swimmers, and I heard they had it all planted in something like a quarter of the time planned! Anyways, the grass seems to have established itself pretty nicely, people were good enough to respect the guard fences that were up during the summer and it's great to see it doing well - had to share a couple of pictures. Nice work CIBBOWS and Bears!

That's it for the write-up - click on any photo for a slideshow view. The one above was my favorite, for some reason! 

Monday, December 24, 2018

12/23/2018 - Sebago Canoe Club to Cross-Bay Bridge and back

Merry Christmas Almost! 

And I'm absolutely delighted to finally be blogging a Brooklyn trip report here on Christmas Eve - it's been way too long since my last one! Lots more photos at the end, btw, so if you haven't got time for the full report, skip on down to those, my camera battery is on its last legs so they aren't as extensive as sometimes, but it was a very photogenic day!

I took last week off from work, and it's been quite a staycation - this isn't a relationship blog and TQ's not into social media much, so I don't talk much about us as a couple except for where we go do fun things together, but I will just say that after over a decade together, I finally suggested that my place might work OK for a couple, if he wanted to think about it, and he thought about it for a bit and decided that sounded good to him, too. That was this summer; since then each of us took an independent week off to do our own sorting and prep, and then we both took last week off from work to move most of his stuff over here, and now I have a roommate and I'm liking it so far!

The moving went pretty well, he only lives a few blocks away and he has a car, so rather than one big moving day, we were doing lots of little runs. The most New Yorky moment was when we loaded up his sofa on dollies and walked it over through the streets, because it was too big to fit in his car; we both realized later that we really should've taken pictures, but we aren't about to recreate it. It was pretty funny, though.

I did manage, of course, to throw my back out - I think it's pretty likely that when two people in their 50's decide they're going to do a move themselves that at least one person is going to end up hobbling around with back spasms, and with TQ having worked for years at a retail job that involved moving large, heavy, awkward objects (specifically, small boats, that's how we met, in fact), I was by far the more likely candidate. Fortunately that wasn't until the 22nd, and we'd already moved everything that took two people, so I was able to take a break on Saturday while he kept working on the move and took care of the day's meals for both of us.

I was OK sitting, which was good, because there were 3 things I'd wanted too do during this staycation - 1 that just had to happen, 1 that I really, really wanted, and 1 that was nice but not necessary. 1, obviously, was getting TQ moved in. That was a must-do. 2 was going paddling. I've been absolutely aching to get out for a paddle, between bad weather, busy weekends, and weekends that were both busy and crappy, we hadn't been since October. My paddling bag was still packed for for cool, not cold, water from a paddle we'd planned a few weeks back (water temps were hovering at 50 but it's always hard to put on the drysuit for the first time in the off-season, and the forecast had been really nice, so I was shooting for one last paddle in a Farmer Jane & neoprene top), but that one got called off for one reason or another.

TQ was up for a paddle too - my last paddle in October was with him, and I don't think he's gotten out since then, either. We'd been watching the forecast for Sunday all the way through the move, and it had cooperatively staying just about as nice as you can ask for this time of year - air temperature mid-40's, breeze 7-10 kts (enough to get your heart rate up on the upwind leg without quite becoming a slog). When Sunday came around, we'd moved enough stuff to reward ourselves with a play day, and anyways, I still wasn't going to be up to actually moving anything (my back was feeling enough better to be encouraging, but still pretty twinge-y), so we packed up our gear and headed off to the club, where we found exactly the weather NOAA had promised.

I let TQ move the boats - I did help him carry my Romany out of the container, but it didn't feel very good at all, and the most annoying thing possible would've been me re-throwing-out my back this close to the water, so I told him "OK, I am not gonna be a hero here" and he took over. We were launching around 11, low water was at 2:30, and this was just a paddle for the sake of paddling; taking into account the fact that I didn't know how my back was going to feel, I suggested that we just hang a left outside the basin and paddle against the current, as that way if things went wrong we would have a tidal assist going back (now, I know he would get me home one way or another if things went wrong out there, but I figured this would make it easiest for him). Once we were out in the bay and had been underway for a mile or so, I was feeling good, so suggested we go to the North Channel section of the Cross Bay Bridge.

It was just gorgeous out there, one of those clean blue sparkling days that reward winter paddlers for schlepping and donning all the winter gear. We saw 4 boats over the entire paddle - one little white motorboat out fishing, one Harbor Police launch patrolling, and 2 Sebago racers who were launching just as we got back. I can never get over that sense of having so much space to ourselves, so much of the NYC experience is about crowds and hustle and bustle and being able to be anywhere in the city where the only creatures you see are birds is just magical. We've got the winter birds right now, by the way - bufflehead and brant, a laughing loon (love that sound) just outside the basin, and even a couple of longtailed ducks. I've seen more of those out in more open water, but one popped up from a dive about three yards in front of my boat as we were cruising along! I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or the duck - it responded to seeing my kayak bearing down on it with an emergency crash dive, so fast I wasn't sure what it was, just that it was a black and white duck but not a bufflehead, but then I saw another pair swimming along a little ways away.

We turned around just shy of the bridge, we'd gone most of the way there sheltered from the ebb current by the marsh islands and when we got closer to the bridge and started to have to push a bit more to make progress, I decided that it would probably be smarter to not overdo it. That meant a nice current assist all the way home, the entire paddle was just under 8 miles, and I got out of my boat back at the dock to find that Dr. Romany and Dr. Werner are pretty good chiropracters - TQ and I had thought that the gentle repetitive rotation of paddling at an easy cruising pace would probably help loosen things up, and it did. I still let him take care of putting the boats away, it still wasn't perfect, but this (probably) last paddle of 2018 was just what the doctor ordered in every way.

Here are some photos from the blue & sparkling bay - click for a slideshow view, as usual.

Oh, and I did pull off the third thing I'd hoped to do today - that'll be another post, it was lovely, with more blue sparkle, plus sharks! 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Escape from Black Friday - Thanksgiving warmup!

Sorry, this one's not open to the public like the walk I did with some family members the day after Thanksgiving, or the neat park with the elaborate cement bridges. This one goes way way back for me though - this is on the farm where my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bill (mentioned here and there on this blog as "Canoe Building Uncle", he's built and restored so many beautiful boats) brought up my cousins, and then handed it off to my cousin Sharon and her husband to raise their kids. Visits to this branch of the family were where I think I got my earliest taste for paddling - Michigonians (or is that Michiganders?) LOOOOOVE their canoes and I think I was being plunked down in an old aluminum Grumman on family trips here since before I can remember. No paddling in November, I was traveling light with just a carry-on stuffed with books and fancy chocolates, no room for a drysuit, but there was plenty of time on Thanksgiving day for a quiet walk around the pond. 
It's deer season in Michigan, nobody was supposed to be hunting this private property on Thanksgiving, but I did ask my cousin's husband for some blaze orange, just to be safe. So stylish, right?

So nice to get a little time to myself outside, and stretch my legs after my very sedentary work/fly Wednesday, and I got back just as Canoe-Building Uncle was taking the turkey out of the Weber kettle - oh was it ever delicious!

Great great visit - a little too short, and the last-minute plane tickets were steep, but I'm so glad I went. That's it for the writeup, click any photo for a slideshow view.