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.
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.