POSTED ON AUGUST 13, 2008:
Our guy does his part--and is rewarded with free live music and an appreciation of downtown Tulsa
Cristi was away from Tulsa for the majority of last week, so my main goal from Tuesday until Saturday was to make it to Saturday night without the house catching fire. Avoiding disaster was at the top of my list, directly in front of a healthy dose of computer gaming. I made it. The house made it.
Come Sunday (post-reunion), after several days of relaxing in different locations, we decided on a last minute afternoon date to the Oklahoma Aquarium. We'd never been, had nothing planned, and both love aquatic life. Terrestrial life's cool, too, but we were thinking fishes.
Only a short journey from our home in midtown Tulsa, we arrived in Jenks, America around 3pm, which gave us sufficient time to tour the Aquarium prior to its 6pm closing time. We were welcomed with 105-degree heat. Steamy 105-degree heat makes metallic, dark objects hot. Keep this in mind.
Cristi is a photographer. She's one to recognize and seize a photogenic moment. On our way in she reminded me of this, "Hey, go sit on that bronze alligator." My mind immediately flashed to the slideshow we'd be watching in four to five hours: "Now that's a good picture. Remember when I jumped on top of that alligator. I'm sending that one to my mom. She'll freak out."
I quickly made my way towards the crocodilian, but seconds before I leapt on its back I remembered what the summer sun can do to such objects after eight hours of exposure.
That metal will most likely be hotter than the sun, I thought.
After explaining my concerns to Cristi and observing the smirk that followed, I realized this had already occurred to her.
Anything for a picture! I squatted on top of the powerful beast as Cristi quickly snapped a couple shots. I finished by attempting to place my head inside the open alligator's mouth. Very convincing. My mother would be shocked!
Seconds later, I found myself looking over the map of the facility, after paying my $13.95 entry fee. I heard the voice of a gentleman explaining the map say, "you've got about five minutes until they close the touch tank." I had no idea what a touch tank was, but I assumed it was a tank with something in it worth touching, so I bolted in the direction he was pointing.
Children were standing on their tip-toes and placing their hands in a tank full of small sharks and rays. I would share with you the animals' species names, but I'm not an experienced marine biologist and the signage at the aquarium was, well, lacking.
I had the pleasure of holding a stingray several years ago in the Cayman Islands, although it took me some time to warm to the idea. It was an odd experience. I gently held a female stingray with a four to five foot wingspan. They're very similar to cats in the way they cuddle or rub against things, but they feel more like a giant portabella mushroom. I won't forget it.
The children at the touch tank were braver than I ever was. They were having a blast. There were real connections occurring: the entire point of an aquarium. The touch tank and feeding tanks were a buzz with curiosity. "Dad, look at this," one child would echo the next.
For me, it was exciting to see children curious about the natural world. Education is the real aim of institutions like aquariums, zoos, museums, et cetera, but I can say that Oklahoma's Aquarium needs some improvements to make my grade.
Obviously, the aquatic life makes the aquarium. To only be separated by a few inches of glass from some of the most beautiful sea life in the world is the real power and draw of the facility. But, merely throwing aquatic organisms into a tank doesn't capture the hugely important educational responsibility such an institution owes the general public.
Not only did I expect signs and literature further explaining the organisms I was observing, I craved it. Yes, the bull sharks are amazing creatures, but the only information I found about the bull sharks was on the map I was given. Two sentences. I saw no sign or television explaining bull sharks aggressive and unpredictable behavior. There was no mention that these sharks were one of the three most common species of sharks to attack humans.
Additionally, one of the few explanatory signs in the facility had two typos. Unfortunately, it wasn't a big sign. Three paragraphs about coastal marches that could have been grammatically corrected with a routine spell check. Maybe that's harsh of me, but I expect a lot from an aquarium. I wouldn't have mentioned it had there been thousands of paragraphs of information provided about aquatic life, but there weren't. I would have let it slide had the photos of the organisms been clear and without blemishes, but they weren't.
When I visit an educational institution, I typically hold it to a standard. That standard exceeds what I would expect from a college freshman. Especially when I pay $14 to enter. Outside of the Ozark Stream Exhibit, I found the information lackluster.
Having a balance of: "Oh, that otter was so cute and gregarious," and "The otter's fur actually traps air against the skin in order to keep it completely dry" is what an aquarium or zoo is made for. Aesthetic and physical observation mixed with probing facts gives visitors an unmatched experience. Because of this, the Oklahoma Aquarium has room to improve.
I will say I enjoyed the day at the aquarium and I would return. I'll always be like the children with their hands in the touch tank. Curious about the natural world.
Ambling through the aquarium you would have heard me often say "wow" or "check this out," but the loudest "wows" always followed observation and fact commingled. The octopus was cool, but the fact that an eight-foot octopus could fit through a hole the size of a quarter blew my mind. "What a contortionist!"
Not everyone is as big a nature lover (or dork) as I am. I admit it. So maybe this type of information isn't important to all. Everyone loves the jellies, sea horses, and lionfish. They're hip-looking dudes.
For me, the variety of fish names was pleasant: porkfish, black durgon, four eye butterfly, rooster hogfish, rainbow parrotfish, and porcupine puffer. But, next week I'll have forgotten all those multicolored fishes, because all I had on them were their names. A fuzzy picture and a name. No details.
On the other hand, I will remember that the Archer fish preys on terrestrial organisms by spitting on them. I'm a terrestrial organism. And, the lionfish's spines are venomous. These types of facts are not only important to learn, but to remember.
I'm also not going to be touching any electric eels anytime soon. Some "electric eels can generate a charge of 650 volts to use on their prey." Those rectangular batteries used in fire detectors are nine volts. I appreciate the information, Oklahoma Aquarium. Now I could use a little on some of the other animals housed at your institution.
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