March Break Highlights: Seattle Aquarium

March Break Highlights: Seattle Aquarium

I like aquariums. I’ve toured several since I started this blog, and always make a point of documenting the experience. Every time I enter an aquarium, I have two objectives: be hypnotized, however briefly, by the jellyfish. And meet the octopus.

I love jellyfish. I keep the Monetary Bay Aquarium’s Jellyfish cam on bookmark for bad days. Just in case I need a little jelly bliss to lift me through the day. I could stare at jellies swimming for hours on end. I’ve even considered one of those little home aquariums, except I think I’d be devastated when the jellies died.

I paid homage to my love of all things jellyfish in the form of Ryn’dar’ud, the giant space jellyfish bartender I occasionally write about.

It’s easy to post entire murals of jellyfish photos because most museums have an entire room dedicated to their glory.

But there’s only ever one octopus. And every time I’ve tried to visit one, they’ve either been fast asleep or hiding in an out of sight alcove.

Until Now!

No sooner had we entered Seattle Aquarium than did my husband grab me and escort me to the octopus tank. There were not one but TWO octopuses in clear view!

The first octopus – CJ, the male – was asleep. He curled himself into a corner, oblivious about anything going on around him. In fact, the staff gave him a Lego puzzle at lunch time with a fish locked inside, but he couldn’t be bothered to open it.

So my husband hustled me over to the smaller of the two tanks to meet an octopus that was awake. We learned later that she’s female and her name is Bailey. Bailey clearly enjoyed having an audience because she showed off. She moved back and forth through the tunnel in her enclosure and spread herself to her full length. While we were taking pictures, she first gave us a side view of her glorious head. Then she turned so we got to see her tentacle suckers pressed against the glass.

She even changed color and made herself look like the nearby rocks. I tried to give the tank some distance whenever she did that, in case she was upset. But she never seemed to stay that way for long.

On our way back through at the end of the day, we caught a small presentation on the octopuses and saw them eat. Bailey wrapped her tentacles around the stick on which her fish were presented, trapping them between herself and the rocks. She stayed like that while she at the fish.

CJ, on the other hand, woke up only long enough to eat his fish, then promptly went back to sleep. But it was still cool to meet him!

The rest of the trip was spectacular too

Meeting Seattle Aquarium’s octopus turned out to be the highlight of an already fantastic day. When we realized we were heading back into the city near lunch time, we decided to take advantage of some of the amazing food we tasted earlier in the week. So we ordered our Pike Place Chowder flight and a large serving of World’s Best Mac and Cheese and spent about half an hour fussing over how fantastic it all was.

Meeting Bailey seemed like the cherry atop an already fantastic cake. But it was still the beginning of our trip, and there was plenty more to see.

I will say, Seattle doesn’t seem to have a lot of jellies. They have an epic ring of moon jellies just behind the octopus enclosure – which I’d love to have installed in my living room. And they have a smaller tank of spotted jellies as part of a later exhibit. That was all we found, which made me a little sad.

But Seattle’s focus seems to be on local wildlife, which I loved. Their 360 underwater dome seems to feature fish that could be found a short distance away from the busy port. They’ve even built an epic spawning ground for local salmon.

As with Vancouver, most of their big exhibits seem to hold rescues. Their coastal bird exhibit made a point of mentioning that the birds on display could no longer survive in the wild. And the presenter at the octopus tank mentioned that they keep their Pacific octopus for only about six months, releasing them back into the wild when they’re ready to mate.

If you ask me, serving as an interim caregiver and using that time to impart knowledge about the world we inhabit is exactly the role an aquarium should serve.

It wasn’t just fun, it was educational

Our trip to Seattle Aquarium was, at least in part, a home-schooling field trip for my friend Rowena’s two boys. The younger is particularly keen about reading the signage. To the point where we sometimes had a hard time getting him to focus on what was happening in the tanks. But he delightfully confided that he was thrilled about all the available facts.

The Aquarium’s volunteers were out in force during our visit. Rowena’s boys being as talkative as they are, they got plenty of attention. One lady helped us identify the various different fish in one of the tanks. She noted how one of them liked to nibble on a giant clam spread out near the base of the tank. While she spoke, the troublesome little fish got too close and the clam decided to snap closed. We stuck around long enough to see it start opening again, but the boys were quite impressed by this display.

Another volunteer near the touching tanks spent some time explaining the difference between sea urchins and tube worms, and why they suddenly constrict whenever one of the boys put a finger near them. It was great to see so many people interacting with them and answering their questions. I, too, learned a lot from the experience.

We were lucky enough to catch most of the large tanks around feeding time as well. So after watching the sea otters eat, we got to watch them rub themselves down for a bit of a bath – which was too precious for words!

Aquariums never fail to entertain

Aquariums are always full of random, fun experiences. While we were at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, a giant stingray randomly fell along the glass right as my mother-in-law was snapping a picture. He certainly caught her by surprise! We also saw an insistent little girl demand her father take off her shoes. Because she thought she could go for a swim in the shark tank!

At the Seattle Aquarium, we encountered at least one fish that we totally overlooked because it made itself look like a rock. I came back to the tank a few minutes later, gasped and pointed to the rock fish before admitting I thought the tank was empty before.

Another highlight was the seahorses. We spent several minutes watching one battle the tide so it could curl around a particular piece of grass near the base of the tank. For some reason, I always think they’re adorable.

We entered one room with so many tanks people were excited to share with me, they started calling me back and forth across the room. It quickly became a game, but I had a blast. I do love all things that live under the sea, after all.

All in all, we had a blast at the Seattle Aquarium. I got to see a lot of things I hadn’t before. And we made it an educational experience at the same time.

Rowena and I rounded the day out with a girl’s night out to a local pub before we re-joined our men across the water.

What’s your favorite creature from under the sea? Let me know in the comments!

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