Northwest NEWS

March 18, 2002

Features

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A day at the aquarium

by Carol Edwards
   Looking at brightly colored fish, watching the otters play and being able to reach into a tide pool to feel the creatures makes a trip to the Seattle Aquarium a great adventure.
   A recent outing with two of my grandchildren proved that no matter how young - 9 months and 2-1/2 years at one end or how old, almost 60 at the other end - there is a sense of awe that comes from seeing the creatures that swim in the sea.
   The 2-year-old's favorite was the octopus; mine was the seadragons. The 9-month-old was just wide-eyed at it all.
   A new 3,500-gallon tank, complete with aged pilings and timbers, features Puget Sound's giant Pacific octopus, the world's largest octopus species. "Dudley" is weighed every Saturday and can grow to over 100 pounds with an arm span of more than 20 feet. The new octopus exhibit shows octopus anatomy, reproduction, natural history and the current research being done at the aquarium. The exhibit also features a "light" octopus that changes colors, just as real ones do, and a hands-on rubber octopus to feel.
   Octopuses only live about three years, can grow at a rate of 1-2 percent by weight a day and can eat 2-4 percent of their weight every day.
   The seadragons look like a collection of gossamer sea leaves with a dragon head and are fascinating to watch as they gently float through the water.
   Part of the Myth, Magic & Mystery exhibit, the Australian leafy sea dragons and seahorses and pipefish are representatives of the Syngnathidae family.
   As with all exhibits, there are wall-mounted informational panels that describe the individual species.
   "Q" is a new resident at the aquarium, flown in from Sea World San Diego on Feb. 26. The 3-year-old male harbor seal is getting used to his new surroundings and roommate in a tank you can see from two sides.
   The 2-year-old loved the Discovery Lab where visitors are encouraged to reach in the water and touch the creatures that live in a tide pool. An aquarium employee provides information about all the species.
   Watching the otters play held all of our attention. In constant motion, in and out of the water, floating on their backs, chasing each other, the otters also spent time watching us.
   The exhibit, with a rock ledge on the far side, allows you to see all the otters above and below the water.
   The aquarium has wisely put in a forested play area where children can release some energy climbing on and walking through logs in the Sound to Mountains exhibit.
   Following a drop of water from a mountaintop to the ocean, the area shows the need for conservation and preservation of watersheds, the source of our drinking water and where animals live and salmon spawn.
   The Marsh Room features hands-on opportunities with interactive exhibits and a rushing freshwater stream, complete with natural plantings and several species of salmon, crayfish, tadpoles and aquatic insects.
   The wooded area is enhanced with natural sounds, aromas and mists culminating in a 750-gallon-per-minute waterfall.
   One exhibit features shore birds. There we watched the Tufted Puffins and Common Murres diving deep into the water looking for food.
   The Underwater Dome is the aquarium's largest exhibit. Two short tunnels lead into a spherical underwater room which provides all-around views into a 400,000-gallon tank filled with a wide variety of fish. It is here where we got our first close up look at a shark. There is a public feeding of the fish by aquarium scuba divers at 1:30 pm every day.
   The life cycle of five species of salmon is featured in one area where the eggs taken from returning adults are on display.
   Visitors can watch them hatch and see the young salmon fry develop before they are released from the aquarium into Puget Sound. When the salmon return as adults, visitors can observe them jump up the aquarium's salmon ladder as the cycle continues.
   There is always a lot going on at the aquarium which offers both onsite and outreach programs. The aquarium also provides outdoor adventures for a reasonable fee. The next adventure is a May 4 trip to Sucia Island in the San Juan Islands.
   You can also rent many parts of the aquarium facility for special events. The Dome is a popular for parties and weddings and can even feature scuba divers in the tank to hold up your special message. There are private rooms available for children's birthday parties or other events.
   Memberships are available to The Seattle Aquarium Society at several different levels.
   For more information, go to www.seattleaquarium.org or call the 24-hour information line at (206) 386-4320.
   The aquarium is open daily from now to Memorial Day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
   Admission fees are adults (19-65) $9; seniors(65+) and disabled $8; youth (6-18) $6.25; children (3-5) $4.25; and children (2 and under) free.
   The aquarium also sells the City Pass which is good for nine days and six Seattle attractions: The Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Harbor Cruise, Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Woodland Park Zoo and Museum of Flight.