Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gone Fishin' - Mote Aquarium in Sarasota

 One good thing about having my car serviced in Sarasota is that it gives me an opportunity to check out some of the local attractions.  Yesterday my destination was the Mote Aquarium.  Many years ago I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and was blown away.  I wasn't expecting anything quite so grand from the Mote Aquarium but I was interested to see if it was more than just a fun place to take a kid for an afternoon outing.  The answer is a resounding "yes"!

I started my adventure with the stingray petting pool.   I wasn't sure if I would actually stick my hand into the waters but after taking a look at the stingrays swimming around for a couple of minutes, I couldn't resist.  They're kind of smooth and slimy as you might expect.  The Aquarium has lots of staff and volunteers on hand to ask questions of and I learned that stingrays can crack open mollusks for food with their teeth plates.  (They are located underneath their heads.)  I also learned a bit about how they reproduce but it's way too complicated to explain here (and none too romantic!)

The Aquarium has another pool where you can touch hermit crabs and other types of sea life.  I didn't think I was too interested in this pool until I saw what looked to be a piece of zucchini attached with a clip to a variegated sea urchin.  I had to ask what was up with that.  As it turns out, sea urchins eat zucchini!  Because the seaweed that's in the pool is artificial, their diet has to be supplemented and zucchini is one of their staples.  How they actually ingest it is a bit confusing to me, but the openings underneath the shell are their mouths.  The volunteer also told me that the reason sea urchins decorate themselves with shells is both for purposes of camouflage and for shelter from the sun.  Sounds sensible to me!

My next stop was the mammal building, where I watched two sea turtles being trained to swim onto a platform.  From there, the staff can weigh them, clean them and give them medical treatment in a non-stressful manner. Each turtle has its own target that it has been taught to follow, with the prize being a bite of the pound and a half of shrimp and squid that constitutes its daily diet. The targets (a blue triangle and a green circle) are on paddles that the trainer moves through the water in front of the turtle.  (Sea turtles apparently cannot see reds and oranges very well.)   They also use clickers to guide them by sound.  Fascinating!

Then it was off to see the manatees -- Hugh and Buffett.  There are a lot of manatees in Southwest Florida, but the closest I've ever come to one is a manatee mailbox.  It was feeding time, and they were enjoying a nice taste of romaine lettuce.  Each day the two manatees eat 72-96 heads of romaine and kale, carrots, beets, apples and monkey biscuits with vitamins.  (I was wondering if Worden Farm supplies them with organic produce!)  They apparently have a significant amount of flatulence as a result of their diet.  I really couldn't make this up. 

The rest of my visit was dedicated to enjoying the fish and other aquatic life in the tanks.  The Aquarium has an area where they nurture baby seahorses, which are called fry.  It is the male seahorse that gives birth, usually about 100 babies at a time.  They are so tiny you can hardly see them.  There are of course lots of funky fish, with one of my favorites being the none too happy looking gulf toadfish.  And there are incredible moon jellyfish.  They swirl around in this one tank and you feel like you're looking at a lava lamp.  Groovy, man!

Needless to say, my trip to the Aquarium was a great success.  Like any good educator, they sneak in a lot of learning by engaging all of your senses and making it fun.   Something for me to remember when I'm developing my tutor training program this summer!    

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