Monday, January 14, 2008

A day with dolphins, iguanas, manatees and an orca

The ambiance at Miami Seaquarium was not stunning, in fact it felt run-down, tired and sad. But the day was, thankfully, cool and nice, and we had come to see animals, not to be entertained by a park.

Although some aspects of the park were entertaining if we didn't actually want to use the vending machines, which were mostly broken. What was in them wasn't that appealing. I've already mentioned that we were trying to eat healthy food on this trip.

The dolphins were cool. Actually, I get pretty excited seeing almost any animal up close, and dolphins are magical.

One young visitor was chosen to get up close and personal with a dolphin. She seemed ecstatic and could hardly believe this was happening to her. I liked the herons and pelicans that hung out where the fish were being given away, too.

Hey, kids, beware of the . . . shark? You could have your picture taken with it; but it's shift was about over, and a few minutes later it got up and walked away.

Nice pelicans, but the shot was on the run. I wish the focus had been better. We were on our way to see what was in "Discovery Bay: A Wildlife Expedition."

I usually think of alligators as being green, but the ones here were very gray and rough. There were several on the gray sandy beach to the left, and I could see where a person could trip over one if they weren't careful. Yikes! But these were off limits behind a fence.

There were two colors of iguanas. I don't know if they were male/female, different species, or what, but this guy was in the branches of a tree not far from the circular visitors' walk above a lagoon, and we spent a long time admiring it while I was taking pictures. It was amazing to watch it eat. Here's another post about this iguana that I made on the day of our visit. The post I'm writing now is after the fact, but dated correctly.

This second iguana's coloring was even more striking than the first, although it was further away from us and I couldn't get as nice a picture.

Below the iguanas in a lagoon were several sea turtles, most or all of which had been badly damaged and brought here for refuge. They seemed stoic enough and even sort of friendly.

The greenery was nice. It was different than what we were used to in Oregon. That is, Oregon is very, very green, but we don't have a lot of palm trees.

Here's one of the stars of the sea lion show. They kind of look like big, wet dogs when they're young. There was an older one, also. I read that some of the sea lions at Miami Seaquarium were bought from the State of Oregon, where they tend to get shot for eating fish in the Columbia River. There's a whole history between the sea lions and the fishermen. The sea lions have proliferated for reasons I don't remember, and there are so many now in Oregon that they threaten the fishing industry. To be honest, I haven't learned as much as I could about it. They come back when they've been relocated, and nobody knows what to do with the ones that won't cooperate. There are a lot of people around here who would just as soon shoot them as not. I like watching them when I can see them in the river, or when they're sleeping and resting on the docks.

Manatees are just strange, no matter how you look at them. Stuffed and other toy manatees are constructed to make the heads more appealing to humans, but the shape of a manatee is like nothing else. The head is tiny compared to the body, like a flattened bump on the end of a massive floating blob. The manatee in this photo is on its stomach (right side up), but they often just float upside down and wait until the food gets near their mouths, then suck it in. Or at least they do that here in the Seaquarium. Sue loves manatees because they're peaceful and friendly. It's also their downfall. They get hurt easily by boats and careless humans. The ones here had all been injured, some pretty horribly. Manatees are endangered and there are apparently signs all over Florida telling boaters to watch out for them.

This flamingo was an elegant surprise. I'd seen flamingos lots of times before, but in memory, at least, they were most often PINK. This flamingo was an incredible color of orange with pink under-plumage. It was unbelievably striking to look at - not to mention the crazy way it kept twisting its neck nearly into knots.

I got lousy pictures of the orca, except when it was relatively still like it is here. It was late in the day, the sun was off the tank, and the exposures didn't allow for much movement. And the animals were fast! Once again, it was amazing to be so close to such a huge creature of the watery world. You think about their intelligence and their gentleness. The tank seemed kind of small, but I understand that conditions have improved, and the original tank was much smaller. Still, I'm always torn because something like this should have an ocean, and yet to be able to be close to one is a remarkable experience. If we humans don't learn about and fall in love with the animals, we aren't as moved to do something about the ones that need our help in the wild. Of course, they usually need our help because of what others of our species have caused, but I won't get into that here. The animal ambassadors like this one that make us care for their species and other wildlife deserve our gratitude.

There were several dolphins in the show tank with the orca. They were a different species from the first dolphins in this post, with different coloration. They were smaller, and oh, could they leap high and fast! The sun was going down over the edge of the amphitheatre and you can see that the dolphin's head has found a patch of warm light.

Here's one of the dolphins from the first show, this time seen from deep below the tank's surface in the fish aquarium area that surrounds the big dolphin tank. The dolphins come right up to the glass to check you out. I kept wondering what they were thinking. It's amazing being watched like that.

I loved the bright green moray eels. I'm not sure how much of the coloring is due to the lighting, or if they are always this green. Anyway, they are stunning.

I got a few good fish portraits despite the low light levels in most of the tanks. You can see some sparkling color if you enlarge the photo.

The sky was turning to dusk as we left, and this rather crudely-made sculpture looked a lot better in the low light. The statue appears almost majestic here.

It was quite a drive back, and was completely dark when we reached "home." And we found a good restaurant, Sarah's Tent, which at first I didn't even realize was a restaurant. We turned into the parking lot looking at something on the other side that was closed, then wondered what the large building was that was pointed on top. It didn't have flashy signs. In fact, it hardly had any signs at all. It turned out to have excellent food, classy, friendly service, and was interesting because it was Israeli, Jewish, and Kosher. There is not a lot of that in Astoria. They had a place along one wall where the Orthodox could wash their hands between courses. I think we ate about right for once and, as it turned out, we were only about two blocks from our hotel. Nice.

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