I like a good story and I also like staring at the sea—
do I have to choose between the two?
Nope, not here you don’t.
Let me tell you a story…
Once upon a time, long long ago, I went to the newly opened Camden Aquarium with my dad, my little brother and my uncle. I must have been 15, judging by the level of embarrassment I recall feeling from the events of the day. (Edited: yes, I just looked it up. 1992.)
At that time, the Camden Aquarium featured native species, which was interesting on a zoological level but not so much on a visual level, especially for 8yo Robbie. We kids got bored pretty quickly— local fish aren’t much to look at, all browns and greys and fairly similar— and again, I was at that age where I was probably pretty vocal about how bored I was.
My dad’s solution was to start zooming from tank to tank with visible, uncontained excitement. “ROBIN! COME HERE! FISH!!”
Next tank. “ROBBIE!! COME LOOK!! THERE ARE MORE FISH!!”
Next tank had someone feeding the fish. “OH MY GOD!! THIS FISH LOOKS JUST LIKE A HUMAN HAND!!”
Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited with the kids to a media event at the Camden Adventure Aquarium. (The aquarium was Cass’s top pick for her birthday, so the invite was doubly special to us.)
We arrived before the aquarium opened to the public, and some tanks were being cleaned, and I was so pleased to be able to holler to my kids, “LOOK! THIS FISH LOOKS JUST LIKE A MOP!!”
My 15yo was not fazed, he doesn’t seem to embarrass as easily as I did. The kids found me mildly amusing, but my antics were entirely unnecessary; no boredom to distract them from. Today’s Adventure Aquarium in Camden is absolutely beautiful: engrossing and entrancing for kids of all ages.
How inappropriate to call this planet “Earth,” when it is clearly “Ocean.”
― Arthur C. Clarke
The aquarium is outfitted with tanks big and small, filled with every kind and color of aquatic life you can dream of. The architecture is beautiful, awe inspiring, and we were constantly happening upon details worth photographing. TONS of photo opps of all kinds (I’m inflicting only my faves on you here, I took lots more). The place is really just a photographer’s paradise.
Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events of their lives.
We took our duties for the day very seriously 🙂 We had every intention of seeing everything there was to see.
We started with a baby alligator…
and went on to see Mighty Mike (not to be confused with Magic Mike).
Mighty Mike is this summer’s big attraction at the Adventure Aquarium, and he’s pretty darn big. Weighing in at about 800 pounds and nearly 14 feet from tip to tail, Mighty Mike is estimated to be about 50 years old. He was captured in Florida after being noted as a public nuisance, hanging out by a public dock; luckily his captor recognized he was a remarkable beast due to his size and age.
Now Mike travels as an ambassador for the American Alligator, brought close to extinction 40 years ago and preserved thanks to research and conservation laws.
Gratuitous Mighty Mike tattoo pics, because we think we’re funny
After visiting with Mighty Mike we moved on to the penguins. Folks, I love me some penguins.
Stanley looked cool & detached, but then penguins often do.
As if penguins weren’t enough, we got to meet Casanova, a baby penguin born in January 2013. Casanova is adorb and his (her?) playful zipping through the water had all the kids shrieking with laughter (ok, maybe me too).
There will be a dramatic gender reveal for Casanova on July 17th. Place yer bets, ladies and gentlemen.
I happily visited with an old friend.
I found new species of turtles to add to my favorites list. (Really was taken with the softshell burrowing into the sand. Lookit his little snout. The Mata Mata is a great camouflager and so ugly it’s endearing.)
Then a viewing of SpongeBob SquarePants 4-D: The Great Jelly Rescue. Dude, these movies have come a loooong way since I saw The House of Wax in barely-focused 3D. It was fun seeing the kids reach out to “grab” images that seemingly jumped from the screen to just in front of their faces. The sense of depth and motion is really cool. It’s pretty short, but I think well worth the added price.
What makes it 4D? The added “dimension” of physical involvement. I won’t spoil the surprise, but my kids jumped a mile.
There are several “petting zoo” pools where kids can get up close and personal with sharks, sting rays, starfish and more. This was probably Cass’s favorite part.
I really think this is such an important experience— the tactile experience, the forging a connection with nature; particularly with species that aren’t “cute” and traditionally invoke fear.
Like everything else at the Adventure Aquarium, it helps us experience a sense of wonder. To help us see how bright and diverse and just wonderful the world is, and all who inhabit it.
A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year… the alienation from the sources of our strength.
― Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
Which brings me to my next point. As someone who champions the conservation and humane treatment of nature and wildlife, I am often asked why I am ok with visiting zoos and aquariums. (I am not ok with the circus. That is a separate blog post.)
It comes down to this:
“Humans seldom value what they cannot name.”
Where else can we stand nose to nose with sharks, run our fingers along rays (as they swim right towards our hands, as if eager to be petted)?
Where else can we experience the almost unimaginable variety that exists in our oceans?
Where else can we marvel at how the five of us can sit alongside and still not be half the length of Mighty Mike?
Where else can we run alongside a baby penguin and bubble laughter at how fast and excitedly he/she flies through the water?
Many of the creatures that live in zoos and aquariums are themselves endangered, and their presence there helps preserve their numbers. But more importantly, this forging of a connection helps preserve the sense of wonder and value for the natural world in our children and ourselves.
We learn. We learn to love. And hopefully we carry that love with us and care enough to make an ongoing effort to save their natural habitats, to preserve their existence.
People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. 97% of earth’s water is there. It’s the blue heart of the planet— we should take care of our heart. It’s what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won’t get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.
― Sylvia A. Earle
I’ve always been fascinated by marine life, briefly entertaining thoughts of a career conducting research as a marine biologist, before I was cursed with a really terrible biology teacher who killed my love for the subject. If you’ve been reading here awhile you know a documentary about Fiji rekindled my fascination, and I decided that my next huge life goal was to be able to dive the reefs in Fiji and see them before they’re gone. And then, to get in a shark cage, a lifetime yearning of mine.
Of course, I had to learn to swim first… and I have. Jeff is currently taking lessons to become certified for scuba, and I’ll follow suit once I’m strong enough to have done a sprint tri out in open water.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the little first person taste of the shark cage they have at the Adventure Aquarium— the “Cage Match.”
And I can’t help but think that THIS would be a sweet little stepping stone to hold me over until Fiji. Santa, are you paying attention?
No matter where you are, if you haven’t been to your local aquarium lately: go. Take your kids. It’s a wonderful family experience on many levels. Be sure to follow up by researching all your favorite creatures and what you can do to help ensure their continued existence.
If you’re in the Philly area, have you BEEN to the Adventure Aquarium lately? GO. SOON.
Mighty Mike is only there until Labor Day. They’ve made it easier for you to make it to see him, with weekend hours extended through the summer until 7pm.
The kids and I compiled a “Must See” Scavenger Hunt for the Adventure Aquarium if you go! You can print that out here. There’s also a bit of video for your ocular enjoyment 🙂
Last time you went to an aquarium? Which one?
What’s your favorite aquatic creature?
Disclosure: The kids and I were able to visit the Adventure Aquarium for free during a media event. We received no other compensation and all thoughts, opinions and nostalgic ramblings are entirely my own.