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. 


songbird's crazy world said...

Thank you for the tour, now I’m more eager than ever to see the aquarium

bonnie said...

You're welcome! It was fun to write, too.