Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Age of Aquariums: Amazing Animal Watching Vacations Part 2

Below the ocean’s surface is a world more mysterious than the dark side of the moon and with more animal diversity than the Amazon rainforest. Over 70% of our planet is covered in ocean, yet fully 95% of our oceans remain completely unexplored. But we do know that the habitats animals adapt to are more vast than the open ocean (In fact, many more animals are by the coasts than out in the open ocean). There are shallow sunlit coastal waters and deep dark ocean trenches, coral reefs, estuaries, and even volcanoes! This variety in habitats has resulted in an amazing variety of some of the strangest and most mesmerizing animals on Earth. The best way to get a close look at them is to go to an aquarium, and there are many breathtaking aquaria to choose from. Here are a couple aquaria with exhibits that feature local habitats and animals (with more to come in future posts):

A cartoon of a cross-section of dark-water habitats. These places are really difficult to
get to.  Luckily, we can appreciate their residents at aquariums around the world!
Figure from Orcutt et. al, (2011) Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews paper.

The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA) in Perth:

The Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA) in Perth, Australia has over 40 exhibits that focus on the amazing marine wildlife in the habitats off the Western Australia coast. Visit the Shipwreck Coast (Australia’s largest aquarium), the DANGERzone (where you can see some of the world’s deadliest sea creatures from behind protective glass), or the Marmion Marine Park (where you can interact with live animals in the touch pool).

Walk the coral reef exhibit for just $20! Photo by AQUA.
Are you one of those people that watch the divers in an aquarium exhibit and wish you could do that? You can at AQUA! If you want to get even more immersed in your aquarium experience, AQUA has awesome organized adventures. For just $20, you can walk underwater through one of the world’s largest coral reef exhibits (even if you don’t have diving experience). For a bit more, you can experience a guided snorkel or dive in AQUA’s shipwreck coast aquarium, coming face-to-face with sharks, stingrays, turtles and fish. And on Wednesdays, AQUA and Mills Charters run whale watching tours with guaranteed whale sightings.

AQUA has also taken an active role in animal research and conservation. The AQUA foundation is a non-profit organization that funded the development of satellite tags used to record the movements of great white sharks. This project discovered many new things about great white shark behavior, including that although they are capable of diving at least 570 meters deep (that’s over 6 football fields!), 80% of their time is spent within 10 meters of the surface! The AQUA foundation’s current project is the development of a specialized facility for the rehabilitation of sick and injured marine animals with the goal of returning them to the wild.

The Georgia Aquarium:

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world’s largest aquarium, featuring more animals than any other aquarium. It has more than 60 exhibits, each designed to inspire, entertain and educate. The Ocean Voyager exhibit is the world’s largest single exhibit aquarium with 6.3 million gallons of water and featuring whale sharks, manta rays, sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks, humphead wrasse, spotted wobbegong sharks, bowmouth guitarfish, tasseled wobbegong sharks, leopard whiptail rays, and sandbar sharks. Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, are especially extraordinary because you won’t find them in any other aquarium outside of Asia. Another notable exhibit is Georgia Explorer, the most interactive exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium featuring animals from local Georgia habitats. Here you can touch bonnethead sharks, cownose rays, and horseshoe crabs.

Whale sharks can grow to the size of a school bus!
Photo by the Georgia Aquarium.

The Georgia Aquarium also has a number of unique opportunities. If you are interested in pursuing a career in aquariums or even just seeing how they work, join a behind-the-scenes tour. Or put on a wetsuit and jump in the water with beluga whales and their trainers or swim with sharks in the Georgia Aquarium’s Ocean Voyager exhibit. If you’re looking for a memorable family experience, spend the night in an aquarium sleepover.

The Correll Center for Aquatic Animal Health is a state-of-the-art facility used through a partnership with the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital to provide the Georgia Aquarium with a complete aquatic animal health program while training veterinary students, residents, and interns. It is the only integration of a veterinary teaching hospital within an aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium also supports, conducts and leads research trips. If you would like to meet Georgia Aquarium’s whale shark research team while participating in a whale-shark eco-tour in the Gulf of Mexico, they have trips planned for July 13-18 and August 24-29.

For more amazing animal watching vacation ideas, check this out. And for a relaxing animal watching stay-cation, try this. Tell us below about your favorite aquarium and I’ll cover it in a future post.

Want to know more about oceans and their ecosystems? Check these out:

1. GRAY, J. (1997). Marine biodiversity: patterns, threats and conservation needs Biodiversity and Conservation, 6 (1), 153-175 DOI: 10.1023/a:1018335901847

2. Orcutt, B., Sylvan, J., Knab, N., & Edwards, K. (2011). Microbial Ecology of the Dark Ocean above, at, and below the Seafloor Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 75 (2), 361-422 DOI: 10.1128/MMBR.00039-10

3. Zeppilli, D., Mea, M., Corinaldesi, C., & Danovaro, R. (2011). Mud volcanoes in the Mediterranean Sea are hot spots of exclusive meiobenthic species Progress In Oceanography, 91 (3), 260-272 DOI: 10.1016/j.pocean.2011.01.001

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