Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Red Tide

Magnet # 263: National Aquarium Shark

Material: Clay

Purchased By: Me

Having just been to the Georgia Aquarium, I hadn't really planned on visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on my trip to the Mid-Atlantic last year. But so many people told me how neat it is that I finally changed my mind and visited it on the morning of October 24. Unfortunately, I had far less time at this aquarium than I would have liked - I think I gave myself about an hour to run through it, as my time in the city was limited. In fact, some guides were a little stunned when I asked them if that was enough time, but I went nonetheless. So my trip there wasn't as thorough as my other aquarium visits last year, but I still got a feel for the place, and it was pretty nice.

The National Aquarium was a critical part of Baltimore's downtown renewal and opened in 1981. It has since become the biggest tourist destination in all of Maryland. Many consider it to be among the best aquariums in the country and even the world. What I really liked about this place was how its Pier 3 Pavilion slowly took me up its five stories, building my own anticipation as to what I would see next. On the first level, just below where the visitors walk, is an exhibit known as Wings on the Water. It's a large, lit pool filled with creatures such as small sharks and stingrays and they almost seem to fly through the water. And as the levels increase, sea animals both native to Maryland and from across the world are on display. The journey peaks at the fifth level's Upland Tropical Rain Forest. This area is particularly hot and humid and is a recreation of an Amazonian Rain Forest. Here, sea creatures take a backseat to reptiles, amphibians, birds and monkeys in an exhibit filled with tropical plants that stands out from the rest of the aquarium. And the Pier 4 Pavilion, which is accessible through a covered walkway, is home to a dolphinarium, where the dolphins perform, although I wasn't there at the right time to see them. It's also home to temporary exhibits and currently features a collection of jellyfish. There really is so much to see and do at this massive structure and it's easy to see why it's a favorite of many visitors.

What convinced me to try out the National Aquarium was hearing about their famous shark tank. People told me that the stairs headed down wind around this tank and they were nervous that the sharks might crash through the glass and get them. I admit, I had pictured something very different in my mind - a spiral staircase in a narrow tunnel, where I would be constantly surrounded by huge sharks just inches away from me. The reality wasn't quite so dramatic. In the Open Ocean exhibit, there were wide ramps instead of a staircase, leaving visitors with the option of getting close to the tank or staying further away. The exhibit was sparsely lit, though, making it a little creepier. And there were all sorts of menacing, huge sharks and giant fish making their way around the tank on each level. I can see why people who are a little nervous about sharks can be intimidated by this part of the aquarium, although it would have been nice if I hadn't built it up in my mind so much.

So if you're ever able to see the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, its National Aquarium really is worth a look. There are more than 16 thousand creatures to keep you enthralled. But I do recommend giving yourself more than an hour to enjoy all that this gigantic structure has to offer - with all of the work that's gone into this place, it's a great place to spend an entire morning or afternoon.

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