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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fish story

There is something humbling about standing underneath a six-foot manta ray as it glides overhead. It’s a cool way to view them, no doubt. You can see their huge wing span, as they fly (so to speak) gracefully through the water just inches from you. It’s impressive and one of the highlights of the Georgia Aquarium.

But it’s also an odd sensation to stand in a clear glass tunnel watching the rays and all the sea life in millions of gallons of water swirl around you. Of course, I was also mentally converting gallons to tons and thinking how glad I was that there were no cracks in the glass. I should take a queue from my fearless 7-year-old—he thought it was just “awesome.”

We had the pleasure of attending Emory Night at the Georgia Aquarium this past Friday. My three children, my husband, and our 16-year-old German exchange student headed to downtown Atlanta that night for the event. We were greeted at the door by the Emory Campus Life staff who organized the event, sitting behind a table with a huge Emory banner hung across its front. The cool Emory flip pens they handed out were a definite hit with my kids.

Courtesy of Emory, the tickets were heavily discounted, a definite incentive for bringing the whole family, but it was also a great time of day to go to the aquarium. It was not overly crowded, but I saw so many Emory staff and alumni out together—and a surprising number of students, having their Friday night pre-party at the aquarium. The jazz band was lively and the assorted beverages were a nice touch.

We started our visit at the touch pools. The kids got to feel rays, sharks, sea urchins and starfish. My son was fascinated by the giant hermit crabs. He got a laugh from the aquarium staff, when he asked if they painted the shells to make them so colorful. He couldn’t believe that the black and red paisley and polka dot patterns were natural. My 3-year-old daughter spent most of the evening trying to find Nemo. We looked in earnest for Ariel too, but apparently the aquarium doesn’t have any mermaids.

I guess I can thank Disney for helping my youngest appreciate sea life.

Second to the touch pools, my children’s favorite activity was watching the big ocean fish swim by in the Ocean Voyager section. The Aquarium has big laminated cards with pictures of the fish and their names on it, which made for a fun, live matching game for my 4-year-old. My son was fascinated by how big the fish can get and how many “Dads” long they are. FYI, the whale shark can grow as long as seven Riley’s dads.

After pausing at each remaining exhibit, just long enough to connect creatures on the displays with their living counterparts, we headed for the whale slide. Going down the slide involves hiking up two flights of stairs, then walking along three long catwalks, before finally reaching the top of the slide. The ride down takes a whopping three seconds ... but the kids each made the trek a dozen times.

They then discovered the shrimp tank beside the slide and made several failed attempts to catch them. These shrimp fortunately have no claws, but the kids were too scared to actually retrieve one, though they tried again and again. The aquarium staffer, talking about the shrimp, said, “these are same shrimp we like to eat.”

My 4-year-old was horrified, and asked if he eats these shrimp. No, the aquarium staff does not eat the shrimp that die there. “They get to live out their natural lives with plenty of food and clean water, and just the occasional chase by miniature human hands that disturb their blissful existence.”

That sums up our night at the aquarium: listening to relaxing live jazz, while watching the back drop of sealife, peacefully glide through the water all around us, and one fishy misunderstanding with the aquarium staff—how blissful.

Thanks for organizing a blissful night, Emory.

-- Sarah Cook 95C, senior director, initiatives and technology, EAA

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