Cooling Off at the Aquarium

I read an article the other day that said a nuclear power plant had to shut down because the lake water it was using to cool off was too warm for safety. That sounds like the beginning of some crazy, long joke that eventually turns out to be not really funny, but it wasn't, it was real. And of course not really funny. Not only that but it completely spoiled this image I have of fishes just kind of swimming around, all cool, calm, collected and relaxed. Apparently it's a lot hotter down there than I thought. And that's too bad because I thought this week would be an excellent time to take advantage of the special summer programs going on at various aquariums across the country and escape the heat. Luckily I came out of my heat induced stupor long enough to remember that of course aquariums are going to be air conditioned so I was able to say bring on the special shark exhibits, let's have the fancy seahorses and roll out the starfish; let's go visiting.

Image of Big Blue the blue catfish courtesy of the Tennessee Aquarium
Big Blue the blue catfish seen head on. (Photo by and property of the Tennessee Aquarium)

The best thing about writing this column is you, dear reader, but the second best thing is learning strange and wonderful things as I do my weekly research. For instance this week I discovered that not only is this catfish month at the Tennessee Aquarium but also that it is illegal to lasso a fish in Tennessee. The fish in the picture is called Big Blue and she weighs about 95 pounds. The aquarium is also running a special program called Pirates of the Tennessean designed to introduce you to real creatures of the deep like the giant Pacific octopus, sharks, and the pirate's best friend and not a creature of the deep, the hyacinth macaw. Kids can get a treasure map and go on a search that will take them through the fresh and saltwater sections of the aquarium. If they figure out the clues they'll be rewarded with some sort of treasure. This special exhibit runs through September 19th.

If there is one thing I didn't expect to find in a modern aquarium it's a dinosaur. But to my shock and delight, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk in Connecticut, does have dinosaurs at a special temporary exhibit running until Labor Day. There is a 3-D simulated ride and an IMAX film called T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous but best of all there are robotic dinosaurs, eight in all, ranging from the ever popular Stegosaurus to the difficult to pronounce Parasaurolophus. Apparently the roar of the dinosaurs is quite loud so you may want to bring your iPod and drown them out with some music, perhaps Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, the music from the segment about the dinosaurs in the film Fantasia. If you have time after seeing the beasts from before time began (doesn't that sound like the name of the worst movie ever made?) you can go see the sharks and the otters. Otters rule.

Those of you who would like to see a Komodo dragon, an animal that's been around since the age of the dinosaurs, will want to head to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. They've got an exhibit called Lizards and the Komodo King, running until February 28th of 2007. They also say they have basilisks but I find that rather hard to believe because I've read a lot of mythology and I know that the stare of the basilisk causes death so that sounds pretty risky for the guests. However, according to this zoo, the type of lizard called the basilisk today can run on water at speeds of seven miles per hour, is completely safe and is not the king of the serpents, so I guess you can take your chances and go to the exhibit. A little bit of danger always makes your visit to the aquarium that much more exiting. Oh yes, there is also a Gila monster. Why is this thing not called the Monsters and Myths exhibit?

Next week we'll bring you aquariums part two but before I close, this week we bend the rules and have a one-sentence review that is somewhat longer than usual from Sandra Elliott who is reviewing an exhibit she saw in Chicago on her recent vacation. Sandra says, "The U-Boat exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry was my favorite thing. They have interactive exhibits which let you look through periscopes, decode messages sent by Enigma machines, find and sink an enemy ship-- they even have the complete captured U-Boat you can tour. They have every part of the experience on display except the smell, and that they describe in visceral detail. So, in one sentence: Entirely indoors, in complete safety and comfort, half a continent away from the nearest ocean, half a century away from WWII, you experience from both sides an epic battle to capture, rather than sink, a U-Boat." Have you got a one-sentence review you’d like to submit to Quality Time? Send it in to me at and I'll run the best ones. You may focus on just about anything that fits a family entertainment format; games, movies, books, music - the sky is the limit.