Last weekend, I got to pining something fierce for the beach. Waves in my face, sand in my butt, the whole thing. So J and I talked briefly about driving a short way to the Gulf Coast for a day and I got all excited…but then the next morning I decided to postpone that idea because seriously, y’all, there are all these coast alerts about flesh-eating bacteria cases and the last thing I felt like doing this weekend was having a happy day in the water and then coming home only to have my leg rot off, or something.
Instead, J reminded me that his work had given him 2 passes to any of the Audubon facilities. Oh happy day! So there’s the Zoo, the Insectarium, the Aquarium…
Since it’s still HOT, because it’s summertime in da South, the zoo was out. And if I want to see bugs I’ll randomly turn my bathroom or kitchen light on in the middle of the night when they think we’re asleep and it’s safe to come out. And, since I was pining for water, we could at least go look at water critters. Thus, we found ourselves yesterday at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
Back in high school, I spent time during the course of two summers working with my cousin at the JL Scott Marine Biology Center in Biloxi, MS. Life-changing, that was when I developed a soft spot for, and understanding of, water critters. If I hadn’t been relegated to attending college in New Mexico, there’s a chance I may have delved into Marine Biology myself. Hard to do in the desert, though. Anyway, because of all that, aquariums have always been a special sort of field trip for me.
Because I get to hang out with my Spirit Animals.
So here’s a journey through our day of Spirit Animal Hangout Time.
When it comes to water life, first and foremost, my heart belongs to the Sea Turtle. Always. This started back during one Biloxi summer when I got to chop up squid and feed it to Shelby, one of their turtle rescues. Do you know how soft a sea turtle’s flipper-pits are? They’re really soft. And Shelby was so sweet and so wise. They all are. It’s in the eyes. Go right now and look into their eyes.
Many years after that, I was in Hawaii, on Maui, and at the end of an ocean-filled visit I got a turtle tattoo on my ankle. It’s definitely one of those zero-regret decisions. 14 years later, I’m still damn proud of my Honu!
That being said, I stood there yesterday and watched the Sea Turtle cruise around the huge tank, whacking sharks in the face at every pass, for a considerable amount of time. But I couldn’t get a good photo, so that moment was just for me.
Then there were the penguins. Omigod, these guys! I love penguins, and when I’m happy I tend to do a penguin-butt-wiggle just like they do. So I spent another considerable amount of time watching these guys gather into their little Forum meeting:
And then I spent a further considerable amount of time watching Flippy here, along with what seemed to be her husband, Sticky. At least, I’ve decided in my head that they’re a couple because they hung around each other a lot and kept smooching beaks. Sticky was in the water, and it seemed like Flippy was totally not into joining him. Sticky would cruise around, come back to her rock, poke at her, get ignored, and do it again. Finally, Flippy essentially pooped on his head and he gave up.
And that, folks, is marriage.
Next around the corner was the Frog Section. Frogs are fun, I think they’re really cool. And it was neat to peer into their terrariums until you could actually spot one. Like Where’s Waldo, but infinitely more rewarding.
I was delighted to finally meet the Tree Frogs, a new spirit animal I’ve acquired just since we started camping down here in Louisiana. You see, when we camp, as the sun goes down and it begins to get dark, the Tree Frogs start singing. It’s the perfect background music for campfire-staring. The first time we camped, they were so vocal I couldn’t ignore them and eventually started laughing like I’d heard the best joke in the world. They just brought me this huge sense of well-being and joy. But I’ve never been able to actually SPOT one out there in the woods, so I was really excited to meet one finally, and put a face to the music:
In the Mississippi River exhibit, you come around the corner and lo! There is a White Alligator. Delight. Pure delight. Here is why:
During the course of my character development for Professor Deserand at the Avistrum Academy of Sorcery, I determined, as it made complete sense, that my Patronus was a white alligator. That was quite a number of years ago, and yesterday, at last, I finally got to meet one. I was really sad last fall when I heard the news that Spots, their previous white gator, had passed away at the age of 28. I’d missed my chance, I thought. And I am still bummed that I didn’t get to meet him. But apparently, a new one, who had until last fall been living in one of their facilities on the Westbank, moved in. I wish I knew his name. I did some research and saw all of the news articles about the new resident and about the ballot that was up for folks to vote on his name. And then the trail ran cold. I can’t find anything after that. So, can anyone please, please tell me what this guy’s name is? I need to know.
There are only about 15 white alligators in the world. So my Patronus is pretty durn special:
You know what’s really cool, though? I’ve been going on and on about MY spirit animals. But yesterday, suddenly, J found HIS.
It started at the main tank, where all the Big Kids swim. These Rays, spurned on by a playful human diver, were all gathered up like a Spring Break Frat Boy group photo session. (“God Ray, get in the photo. Carl, stop photobombing, man!”) Their faces just make you want to smile right back:
J was so delighted he even took a Selfie with one. (He never does that!) He named his new buddy Samwise. Samwise the Stingray:
Later on we came around to the hands-on spot common in quite a number of aquariums: Pet the Sting-Rays! And we hovered over this tank, shoulder-deep in water with our two fingers out, and waited for them to deem us worthy, whereupon they swooped past and we got to pat them on their slippery, slimy, sandpapery heads. I think that was it for J. His spirit animal bond was complete. 😉
There were also Moray Eels. I love these gentlemen because everyone’s afraid of them, but really I think they’re just smartly anti-social and incredibly wise:
There aren’t just water critters at the Audubon Aquarium. In the rain forest area, you have to not only look at the water, but keep your eyes aloft as well. I caught this guy looking at me:
And I discovered this one sleeping. Of COURSE he’s sleeping. He DOES work nights, after all. I found out this morning from a friend of mine who works there that his name is Frosty.
…Frosty?! WTF, Aquarium. He needs a name FAR more noble. I hereby dub him Aloysius Beaksworth.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing more fun than a hungry Otter. This was one busy guy, beating his crab leg up against the glass to get at the good stuff:
So, I love seafood right? But I’ve always had this *thing* about eating it at an aquarium restaurant. It’s like going to a party to hang out with your friends, then chowing down on one of their arms while you’re staring them in the eye. The food court at this aquarium doesn’t really offer up much in the way of seafood, but you CAN take a stroll through the Local exhibit and wave hello to the trout, black drum, shrimp, and mudbugs all swimming safely around without a menu-care in the world. It was kind of a walking gallery of lunch, yuk yuk. I even heard a couple of local kids debating, as they peered into the crawfish tank, which one looked best for eating. Ha!
I think it’s all about balance, though. These guys really are tasty. But they are beautiful, too:
At long last, we came to the end of the exhibits, and I went from embracing my spirit animals to revisiting an age-old childhood terror: Jellyfish.
When I was a little kid, we’d go to the beach all the time. Galveston. Mississippi. Alabama. Jellies used to wash up on the shore in Galveston and I’d give them a wide berth as I continued my sand-patrol, hunting for seashells. There was one time, out in the water in Alabama with dad, when I practically climbed him in an attempt to get out of the drink when two brightly colored jellyfish came drifting our direction. And, in my teens, one day out at Ship Island, MS, I found myself out boob-deep in the damn things, because I was swimming around right in the middle of their mating season. Wall to wall jelly action, there. I closed my eyes and bounded back to shore, unscathed.
And that’s the funny thing about my Jelly Terror. All of these encounters, all of my life, and I’ve never been stung by a. Single. One.
So maybe they ARE a spirit animal, after all.
Afterward, of course, we hit up the gift shops. I can’t resist oceany loot. J got a little stuffed sting-ray, which I paired with a little stuffed sea turtle. Oh, and they have these really super cool tshirts right now with the Batman logo on them? Except the bat symbol is a sting-ray (J’s), or a sea turtle (mine), which is really, really awesome.
As an aside, when you get hungry during your visit, you could swing upstairs to the food court just to fill your tummy, which is what we did – but it’s not all that exciting. Pizza, hot dogs, wings, pre-packaged wraps. I personally would recommend, however, holding out until you can hit the street when you’re done and wander to one of our many myriad Really Good Restaurants. Where you can have a drink, eat the great seafood and, as a bonus, not have it looking you in the eye while you’re doing it.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
#1 Canal St
New Orleans, LA
Mon – Sun | 10am – 5pm
$24.95 (plus sales tax): Adult
$18.95 (plus sales tax): Child (2-12)
$18.95 (plus sales tax): Senior (65+)