swimming with the fishes

Maybe it’s because I grew up with a big saltwater tank full of colorful sea creatures, but there is something about an aquarium that brings out the 8-year old in me.  I liken it to an underwater safari, full of oohs and ahhs and close-up views of so many animals you’d ordinarily never see in their native environments.  And while even an exhibit as small as the handful of penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo gets me excited, I was down right pie-eyed during a visit to Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium.

A $250+ million gift to the city from the founders of Home Depot, the aquarium is not only the world’s biggest, it also houses the largest collection of aquatic animals. The specially designed whale shark habitat is as big as a football field; holding 6.3 million gallons of water, it’s full of giant grouper, tarpon, sawfish, blacktip reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and four of the world’s largest fish – the whale shark.  The scale of it is almost overwhelming. In front of one of the giant glass windows it’s also just a little bit unnerving – especially if you’ve seen Jaws 3-D.

For all the emphasis on scale, however, perhaps the most interesting creature I witnessed was this grumpy little guy in a small observation tank all by himself. (Click the image for better detail)  He used his fins like hands and had a second pair underneath which mimicked legs. In profile he looked like a fish.  Yet face front with that unicorn horn and beard of stalactites he had the appearance of an old lichen-covered rock.  It makes you wonder what kind of environment causes a creature to adapt with such specific camouflage.  More interesting still – as if to underscore how little we still know about what lurks beneath the surface – nobody could tell me what he was called.

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