Dribbling in Hoop City, Day One

It’s Final Four weekend and I’m coming to you from the heart of Hoop City here in Atlanta. I’ve never been to Atlanta before. It’s a really big city. Moving right along.

It’s NCAA All The Time right now. Everywhere you look the signage is screaming, WELCOME TO NCAA BASKETBALL. We’re staying at the downtown Hyatt and since it’s the official NCAA hotel you can’t get in the door without someone handing you another cute little commemorative bottle of Coca-Cola with a Final Four label. I guess Coca Cola is to Atlanta what Anheuser Busch is to St. Louis. Go figure. (You would think I would know more about sports and brands and that sort of stuff since it pays the bills. Ah, well.) Anyway, I’m going to have to start drinking our little souvenir bottles of Coke soon since every other beverage around here, including plain tea at breakfast, is 6.00 a pop.

Starting tonight we’ll have more free food and drink than anyone could possibly consume. I’m sitting here on the hotel bed, resting my feet, surrounded by all
these special passes and tickets in plastic neck holders: we’ve got tickets to all three games, four or five dinners, receptions every fifteen minutes, hospitality tents and suites and even some kind of ball (dance, not basket) tonight. That starts precisely 45 minutes past my bedtime and also interferes with Monk.

(Just this minute the phone rang and Karina from hotel catering inquired, "Hello, is this Mrs. L?  I just wanted to welcome you to the Hyatt and if there’s anything you need from catering don’t hesitate to call us at ext. 356."  What??? Okay, Karina. Could you send up an open premium bar and hor d’oeuvre buffet for me and ah, none of my friends?)

Seriously, I am having a quite an adventure here but not yet with Rich or basketball. He’s off working and today was my behind-the-scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium. The guy who owns Home Depot donated the money and then Coke and AirTran and lots of other philanthropic gestures funded it further, and it opened a little over a year ago as the world’s newest and largest (and debt free) aquarium. They emphasize that- it’s the largest in the WORLD, but I kept thinking, well, but you know, then there’s 71 percent of the earth’s surface out there with no one paying enough attention to it… There are more than eight million gallons of water in giant fish tanks over there. The place was absolutely packed with long long lines by opening time this morning; it’s Spring break plus there are all these basketball fans, so people are standing 15 deep everywhere I turn. Lucky for me, I went on a tour with 6 other people and a curator.

(Just in case we get too focused on aquariums and forget about the other 71%, I was happy to discover there’s this.)Instoce

It was okay but for some reason it raised more questions in my mind about our presumed sovereignty over other living creatures and our sense of entitlement around using them for our entertainment. This coming from the zoo lady, you say. Don’t get me wrong; this aquarium is really spectacular and well worth a trip to Atlanta. The exhibits are eye candy of the first order and it’s very accessible and user-friendly, especially to children. It has something of an amusement park feel to it, with food courts and "Deepo’s Undersea Animated 3D Wondershow" and the crowds were overwhelming today so that might have influenced my impressions of the place.

It’s also possible I was influenced by the article I read in the Atlanta Journal this morning over my 6.00 cup o’ tea about Norton, the whale shark who died recently of a perforated bowel. He stopped eating so they started tube feeding him but- he died. Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet, up to 40 feet long. The party line from the curator was along these lines: In Taiwan, fishermen are allowed to catch a certain number of whale sharks each year for food. The Georgia Aquarium went over and acquired two, Ralph and Norton, out of that food quota, thereby saving them from being eaten. Then UPS, as their gift to the aquarium, built giant crates and a huge team of scientists loaded these fish aboard a 747 and flew them here, the only place in the world where they are on display other than in Japan. Japan also recently started displaying whale sharks. So, it’s wonderful, yes? I’m not so sure.

First off, forget about my last post and all that anthropomorphic eloquence. I seriously doubt that Norton and Ralph would have chosen door number two- "let’s get dragged around in slings, boxed up as the world’s largest payload and earn our junior pilot wings before we go live in a giant fish tank" – over a quick wonk on the head enroute to the fish market. (Point in fact, they are being dangerously over fished, upsetting the entire food chain and added to the Endangered list in the process, so they shouldn’t be getting wonked either.)

Secondly, ah, I forget where I was going with this. Oh. Right. Here’s the thing. I think zoos and aquariums have changed for the better and they are actually beneficial places these days. I do believe that, sincerely, or I wouldn’t be working so hard to become a good volunteer at one. The formation of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act are HUGE in insuring that these places set an agenda of preservation, conservation and education above all else. When I spend time at the Lincoln Park Zoo I feel that philosophy in action every where I turn. I know that is true for the staff and volunteers at the Georgia Aquarium, too. These places are not like the zoos of decades past or like circuses. They are research institutions where animals get better care than most people do. (That’s a whole different post) They allow people to learn about and gaze in wonder at animals they would otherwise never see and in turn, visitors come to appreciate the importance of conservation and environmental awareness. Over ninety percent of the animals you see when you go to zoos and aquariums are born in captivity. Most people aren’t aware that controlled species preservation programs determine the breeding and births of almost all of these creatures. They are under our protection and care and by and large, we are doing a good job of it.

And yet. I always end up feeling as though there are boundaries and limits we fail to respect. Elephants, for example. Think about them. The very nature of their social organization combined with their size makes it wrong to have them in captivity. Ever. That’s just my opinion. Parrots and Macaws who live longer than any zookeeper and thrive in the wild, unless they are stolen from the nest by brokers from pet store chains. Giant whale sharks taken from the open sea.

So, today I saw state-of-the-art behind the scenes life at the world’s largest aquarium. Like our zoo, they have dietitians, veterinarians, and facilities to provide the finest care possible. The water treatment plant at this aquarium is mind boggling. I saw my favorites: the Cnidaria. Jellyfish, Moon Jellies, these Sea Nettles I photographed. I love these beauties and I could stare at them for hours. I also got to go up above the largest aquarium tank in the world on a cat walk and look down on Ralph. Ralph, the whale shark, who got door #2. I wonder how he feels about that.Jelly


16 responses to “Dribbling in Hoop City, Day One

  1. I hear ya. I am also troubled by the issues with zoos and aquariums. They are wonderful and awful at once. It would be amazing to see a Whale Shark . . . but . . . they don’t belong in an aquarium. The Monterey Bay Aquarium just had its second Great White on exhibition. We saw it in January. A few weeks later, they released it. It was starting to act differently. They didn’t know if it was good different or bad different but different wasn’t good so they released it (as had always been their plan). I can respect that decision although I’m guessing that the Great White would prefer not to be put on exhibition for any amount of time.

    You are STILL making me think. Sigh! 🙂

  2. I think aquariums and zoos will always present an ethical dilemma. Even when they are fantastic places, they are still prisons for animals. OTOH, I think animals that have reached old age, have trouble securing food, and need care would make great species emissaries in aquariums and zoos. If there were some kind of essential benefit to the animal for being there, that would make it a little better– like nursing homes for the elderly.

  3. Robin- that’s a good point that many zoos take into account in their collections these days. The Lincoln Park Zoo has a very “geriatric” population. Our chimps are primarily older rescued animals who live a good life indeed and, in fact, live much longer than they would in the wild because of good dental and medical care. Then you have this problem: if your population is older you have more animals dying and then you still struggle with bad press. It’s a tough call but I absolutely agree with basic premise- there has to be more benefit to the animal to be there than not.

  4. I’ve always have trouble with zoos. The ethical stuff gets to me… but I suspect it’s something deeper psychologically on my part. I think I project my own need to not be fenced in on animals. I assume they aren’t “happy” with it, because I wouldn’t be happy with it. For a really long time, I wouldn’t even go to a zoo (OH! That made me such a popular person with my in-laws who were and always wanted to go to a zoo when we visited. s i g h) but motherhood changed that. I’m glad to see that the whole zoo ethos is about preservation and ecology. If it serves to educate those of us who see ourselves as beyond all that… then, I suspect for the good of the many, the few do an excellent job!

    Your photos are simply breath-taking.

  5. Monk sounds like a good telefishion show. But, a ball would be salmonchanted evening, indeed.

    You weren’t prawn yesterday. Someone needs to teach the small fry regarding this shellfish haddock of sea creature viewing. If you don’t mind me carping along with you, may I chip in, just for the halibut, that there is nothing out of plaice about a little roe regarding our scaled friends. Stay tuna’d people: Eel isn’t freezing over, so noone needs to be knocked off their perch.

    Cod gave you a passionate sole, Vicki, and I seal my missive with a kiss and a riddle.

    Q. How do you keep a fish from smelling?
    A. Cut off his nose.

  6. Babette, my little mermaid- there’s something altogether fishy about your comment. Harbor or Grey? xo

  7. Oh, I was going to say something really boring, yada yada yada, and then Babette’s comment just blew me out of the water. Wow. Stunningly well done!

  8. I’ve always debated the ethics of zoos and aquariums also and agree that elephants among other species do not, in any way, belong in captivity. But, Vicki, I gotta tell ya, I’m still drawn to visit these creatures in their controlled habitats. Those photos were spectacular. I would have stood there for hours with you – my nose pressed against the glass. Oh, the wonder of it all!

  9. I’ve always debated the ethics of zoos and aquariums also and agree that elephants among other species do not, in any way, belong in captivity. But, Vicki, I gotta tell ya, I’m still drawn to visit these creatures in their controlled habitats. Those photos were spectacular. I would have stood there for hours with you – my nose pressed against the glass. Oh, the wonder of it all!

  10. Babette makes me smile and laugh and we all need as much mirth as possible. Personally, my favorite member of the fishy purrsuasion is…. (can you guess?) the CATFISH!

    Here we have the “Living Museum”.. a place where wounded or injured wildlife are cared for. They cannot survive in the wild so make their home here. Most are birds, foxes and otters.

    In Atlanta, you should visit the Coca-Cola museum… it tells the history and was quite entertaining. As for restaurants… you might want to forgo all the free food and try to eat once at “The Abbey” near the Fox Theater. The Fox is probably on Peachtree… but then it seems that almost every street in Atlanta is Peachtree something. The food is fabulous and the restaurant is in an old church and the servers are “monks”. But they don’t have OCD. Wow, I worked Monk in.

  11. Babette is phenomenal! I always worry about zoos and aquariums too, Vicki, but since I know so little about them, you can educate me anytime (and you did). The photos are spectacular!

    I am not home yet, but I’ll post about my trip in a day or two. Enjoy the Final Four. Mr. kenju was sorry to hear (on the radio in the car tonight) that Ohio State beat Georgetown. It must have been a good game.

  12. Hey, Vicki,
    Give a shoutout for Florida tomorrow.

  13. Babette needs our sympathy, not our admiration, for that paragraph of puns. Obviously, she can’t help herself. She needs help. Babette: the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

  14. I may be your only reader who has 50 pounds of Instant Ocean in his barn.
    It’s wonderful stuff.

  15. Ah, zoos and public aquariums. Waffle, waffle. I see the need for research, for protecting endangered species, etc. I hate that the animals are placed in areas so much smaller than their natural habitats.

    What do I despise? Sea World–making wild creatures perform tricks for our entertainment. What gives us that right?

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