Delving into an Aquarium

They’re practically aliens living on our planet. In order to move, they must propel themselves without legs…or wings for that matter. In order to breath, most of these creatures inhale a substance that is fatal to human lungs. Some actually radiate light in the darkest depths. However, as you delve into their realm, you find a food chain similar to our own-starting with vegetation; many organisms in that foreign world find themselves prey to man. I’m talking of the mysterious world of marine life. And for many people, aquatic habitats are nearby, yet, because of physical constraints, never actually witnessed. A trip to Shedd’s Aquarium offers a glimpse into that exotic universe.

I must confess, this particular museum, aquatic center, aquarium, whatever one calls it, doesn’t pique my interest. This was my girlfriend’s wish, and I felt obliged to share time with her. I think the price is steep at forty dollars a person. However, I also understand that maintaining marine environments is more expensive than your average zoo or museum exhibit. And while I felt some features may have been better suited for past generations, there were a couple that did wow me. However, we spent two and half hours there; things that registered on my ‘cool meter’ could be counted on one hand. Well, maybe there were a few more. I was mostly bored however.

Excuse me, I do like to inform. Yet, sometimes I like to do a bit of journaling to refresh myself on past excursions. The first few paragraphs really don’t pertain to the attraction. If you’d like, skip over those and get to the meat of the writing. For those that would like a chuckle, I’ll divulge my follies for everyone to witness. Just read the following words.

Our epic endeavor to find marine life in a somewhat natural habitat.

It’s nearing eleven o’clock on a Friday morning and the stress is thick in our SUV. I’m upset because I feel our GPS provided a round about route. Heidi’s worried that we won’t make our time slot, being that our aquarium passes have an entrance window of 11:-11:30. What’s more, traffic is at a crawl and I really have to pee.

When we reach our exit, I fail horribly. I take the exit, but when our navigational aide tells us to stay left, I just don’t trust it. Seriously, it appears as if it’s taking us right back on the highway. Heidi is shouting at me as we miss the ramp, and I’m trying to focus on how to get back on track.

After a little bickering, and back tracking, we make use of the Soldier Field exit. And all would be well, except I really, really, really have to use the rest room. And if I remain sitting idle in the car, I’m going to wet my pants.

So, we reach a stop sign at museum campus, and I do the unthinkable. I check the rear view mirror, throw the car in park, and tell Heidi to find a lot for our vehicle. Then I run to Shedd’s, full speed, leaving Heidi in our running car stopped at a city street’s intersection.

I notice, as I make my plight towards a restroom, that I’m freaking people out. Museum goers, I think, fear that I’m being chased by someone. Maybe I’m running from the cops, who knows.? I just know, as I’m kind of frantic right now, that eyes are wide, watching a middle aged man bolting towards the entrance of this place.

In the end, all turns out well. Heidi found a spot, I didn’t wet my pants and, despite the time now being 11:40, the good people of Shedd’s graciously admit us. We’re in business.

Back to the topic of my blog…

As we enter and gain towards the ticket counter, my mind recalls all the history surrounding this unique landmark, which is set on Lake Michigan’s shore. For many years, this was the largest attraction of its kind. Opening in 1930, this was the brainchild of retail protoge, turned philanthropist, John G. Shedd. The project was quite ambitious, being the first inland aquarium to hold saltwater exhibits. The oceanic life and sea water were transported by rail car. Numerous round trips from Key West, Florida to Chicago provided the five million gallons of sea water necessary for the aquariums. Today, the building is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Back to the present, we’re heading off to the museum’s 4-D theatre. I know what your thinking; this place is known for aquariums and we’re going to watch a movie? Hang on, It’s a CG feature about sea monsters. So, it should be fun.

It actually is, there are huge predatory beasts, teeth bared and mouths opened wide, surging right towards us. Heidi rears back with every attack. The graphics are a bit outdated, so, although it’s fun, the movie doesn’t affect me the same way. The tale is short, yet its a great overview of the natural world and how archeology retells the story of beings long extinct.

You’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be bored?”

Well, I’m not now, and the next exhibit is fairly cool also. It’s a dolphin pool, containing Pacific white-sided dolphins, and we watch them arc towards the surface. However, the breathtaking portion lies downstairs. There, we can watch these very intelligent mammals swim underwater. Many times, they are swimming upside down. I’m thinking they want me to scratch their belly. The viewing area is huge, I believe a couple hundred onlookers could actually fit down here. It would be cramped, but feasible.

As we meander, viewing the dolphins through the many ginormous windows, we find a cooler species awaiting us. This is actually my favorite portion of Shedd’s. Large beluga whales, nicknamed ‘the canaries of the sea’, are cruising past the viewing glass. The nick name comes from the wide array of noises they use for socializing, at least that’s what the Shedd’s website says. There’s even a cafe, which is not open today, where one can sit and surmise these magnificent, arctic creatures.

After we pass the beluga whales and make it upstairs, boredom sets in. I find an exhibit, and it’s really not a horrible exhibit, called underwater beauty. The goal of this exhibit is to demonstrate marine life’s adaptability. Here, in this showplace, there are colorful and interesting aquatic life. However, nothing grabs this middle aged man’s attention. Well, almost nothing, there is a cool tank with jelly fish hovering about. And, as I had mentioned marine life as practically alien, jelly fish would win the award for most alien looking.

After that, my boredom really sets in. There are three or four large rectangular rooms, containing fish from across the globe. They’re organized in segments, with one certain region’s species in a series of aquariums. That would be followed by another region, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the fish are sensational. There is a wicked looking moray eel that thrills my inner child, yet a lot of it is ho-hum.

The place is pretty packed and the tanks are not large. So, we find ourselves waiting on the people before us, and, many times, the fish or crabs or isopods aren’t blowing my mind.

As a series of yawns escape my mouth, finally finishing the procession of aquariums, Heidi asks if I want to go downstairs and check out the sharks. I shrug, as I survey the fairly long line, “I don’t need to see them.”

“Aww, c’mon. You don’t want to see sharks and sting rays?”

I have to admit, like any man my age, sharks would probably be the most alluring feature. So we wait in a line, which moves fairly fast. The thing that annoys me, as social distancing is enforced spottily inside Shedd’s, is the fact that only one of the two elevators are in use. There is also a ‘one family per elevator’ rule being strictly enforced.

When we reach the sharks, I’m really blown away. A large glass wall, and I mean pretty ginormous, stretches across a substantial open space. Bustling inside are all sorts of marine life. Here, I feel like I’m actually experiencing a natural habitat. Heck, I could be scuba diving or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, the view would be the same.

I should also mention that, on the other side of the room, stingrays make berth. You can look down and view them as they slide into viewing range. This is another room that, under normal circumstances, could probably hold one-hundred people comfortably.

Well, that would be it, right?

There is one last fun stop. And I have to admit, it’s pretty fantastic. It’s known as the Caribbean reef. A congregation of tropical species meander this enormous cylindrical aquarium. My favorite, as I think it’s everybody’s, is the large sea turtle. It’s fairly novel watching this giant beast lumber about, as she paddles around the tank.

After stops at both gift shops, we leave the museum. Although I was bored, there are a few interesting exhibits I’ll most likely remember. There are some smaller features I haven’t mentioned, but I think I’ve written plenty to highlight this spot.

I’m just not the guy for this place. However, I would suggest it to any family with critter loving children. It could also be an animal loving couple’s date night…or in this case, date day. All in all, this is a quality place. I can tell, by roaming about, that proud biologists and experts strive to make this an uplifting experience.

Safe Travels!

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