I love animals and wildlife experiences are amongst my most favorite whenever I travel. Of course I always make sure that the experiences are done in as a sustainable way as possible and more than anything else that the animals aren’t hurt. Besides zoos, another wildlife related activity I’ve been known to engage in is to visit aquariums whenever I travel. I still have great memories of visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore as a young child and marveling at the giant tanks and the rainforest recreated on an entire floor of the massive institution. But the more I visit these sights, the more I realize how similar they all are to each other. No, not just similar, but almost the same.
The Largest, Bestest in the Whole Entire World!
It seems like every aquarium I’ve ever been to has had some superlative attached to it. The largest tank, the biggest building, the most impressive squid – you name it, they all seem to feel the need to impress with size. You don’t see this in the zoo world; the National Zoo doesn’t advertise by saying it has the world’s largest camel enclosure. (It doesn’t, I made that up) I don’t understand why size has to play into it at all actually. If an aquarium is well curated with interesting exhibits, I don’t care how big it is. In fact, the larger it is the greater the risk of them screwing something up.
Every aquarium is exactly the same
Yes, that’s right, every aquarium is the same; each and every one features the same general displays. There’s the ‘indigenous’ section where local fish and small mammals are displayed in a sometimes awkward but usually boring fashion. The Georgia swamp exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium was just painful. So while yes, this section changes by the location, its very presence is entirely predictable and you know what, it’s usually not all that interesting.
Then there’s the cute animal section, usually populated by manatees, dugongs, dolphins, river otters or the like. This is when the kids and those with fancy cameras get all excited, even though it in no way differs from any other aquarium in the world. There’s also usually a freaky or scary fish section with piranha, things that light up and a few poisonous things, preferably dart frogs.
To shock and amaze, every aquarium also has one of those water tunnels, under which not really surprised visitors pass in order to see the underbellies of rays or sharks.
I realize I’m not the demographic towards which these are geared, but they’re there so I’m going to talk about them. When is the last time you went to an aquarium show without someone under the age of ten? Try it and let me know how long you last; I bet it won’t be long. First, there are some ethical concerns about putting on entertainment shows using hyper intelligent dolphins or snappy looking seals, enough of a concern that I refuse to participate. Even if the institution can prove the animals are fine, unless you are the aforementioned toddler you only need to see one in your life. Just make sure to take a lot of photos so that you’ll remember it and you’ll be fine.
And that brings me to the last point. Children, in a far greater ratio than zoos or other similar experiences, heavily populate aquariums. That’s fine, but I think that’s also why I won’t be visiting any more aquariums. I just don’t think I’m their demographic any more. I think that for children the idea of seeing animals, any animal, in action isn’t only a great learning opportunity; it’s a lot of fun for them. They haven’t been jaded by visiting far too many of these watery wonderlands and instead will hold that day in their memories for the rest of their lives, just like I have.
And maybe that’s the real issue here, maybe in reality aquariums really are for kids, for families. Maybe that’s why I’ve grown apart from them, even though I still love exploring new (reputable) zoos. Yes, I do think every aquarium is pretty much the same. They all have a couple of small, unique exhibits that separate them from others around the world, but even those don’t matter. Do you think kids care who has the largest tank or the most impressive whale sharks? Naw, they don’t care. The parents don’t’ care. Most visitors don’t care. Other scientists care though and I’m sure it’s a nice fundraising tool, but in the real world of deciding whether or not to visit an aquarium, such thoughts don’t enter into the equation.
What does enter the mind of prospective patrons is what the experience will do for them and their families. You SHOULD visit an aquarium if you’ve never been to one before. You SHOULD visit an aquarium if you have kids. But, if you’re like me simply looking for new and fun animal experiences, then this is an entirely avoidable stop on your travel itinerary.
So aquariums, while I do love you (I really do) you and I are done, and I think I’m ok with that.
What do you think about aquariums? Do you visit them when you travel?