in houston (part 3)

The Aquarium from the top of its ferris wheel.
The Aquarium from the top of its ferris wheel. Sure, it looks big, but only the first floor is an aquarium. The rest of the building is for their restaurants and other non-aquarium stuff.

And finally I have made it to the present day. This is the obvious problem with not blogging as things happen.

We had been planning to go to Houston’s new aquarium pretty much since my arrival, and we finally got the chance to do so today. Having been spoiled by the Shedd in Chicago, I was expecting something glorious that would befit a city the size of Houston. These expecations were not met.

The building looked very nice and modern on the outside, with fountains and water running down the walls. We could see a ferris wheel off to the side, which was a little confusing; wasn’t this an aquarium? It turns out that this wasn’t so much an aquarium as a tiny amusement park.

It cost $16 per person for a “day pass” which was supposed to give us access to everything at the aquarium. They really stressed that we should get this kind of ticket (and I didn’t see any other kind or price) so that we could see everything there was to see. This implied (to me) that there was a lot to look at and that we’d be disappointed if we didn’t get these day pass tickets.

Upon entering the facility, my first thought was that this was a more poorly lit place than most, which makes little sense for a place designed for visual observation. The first few tanks were freshwater fish common to the States, and so a little boring except for the gigantic and terrifying snapping turtle.

The next few tanks were salt water, and had some nice specimens of grouper, eel, and other well-known ocean fishes. They all looked healthy and well-kept.

After the salt water came tropical freshwater fish, such as pirrhanas and catfish. There was little that appeared exotic or especially interesting here.

The second-to-last exhibit contained touch-pools for Limulus and little rays. I was angered by this, since I can’t imagine that being constantly touched by random dumb people can be good for thest animals. I was not so concerned for the horseshoe crabs, since they are well armored, but people (and children) were supposed to be poking the skin of these poor little rays who clearly wanted to escape from their tiny enclsure. A few had areas of their skin that looked irritated, and at least one had scratches. I don’t know that these were caused by people instead of the tank, but the fact that they could have come from people is not okay.

At the very least, there should have been aquarium staff present the entire time, showing patrons the proper way to carefully touch the animals so as not to irritate or injure them, and making sure that the people were careful about it. A touch tank with no supervision and available to anyone in the world is a dumb, dumb idea. One would never see this at the Shedd!

The last exhibit was… drum roll please… white tigers! ??? …

Yep. White tigers. At the aquarium. And you may have noticed that my description of everything else was short. That’s because the aquarium really is that short, and really has that few of speciments. It took us just over half an hour to walk through (and we were going slowly).

Now don’t get me wrong, I like tigers just as much as the next guy, and perhaps more so (I love cats), but tigers do not at all belong in an aquarium.

But then that’s just the point, this place wasn’t really an aquarium. It was an aquarium-themed amusement park that lacked amusement.

After recovering from the surprise that we had finished wandering the aquarium in such a short time frame (or, more accurately, that the aquarium was so short), we went outside to get the most from our “day passes”.

There was a little train called the Shark Voyage that we supposed would take us through some sort of shark observation area.

Entering the Shark Voyage tunnel.
Entering the Shark Voyage tunnel.

We got on, and the ride started with an enthusiastic recording telling us how the movie Jaws skewed our view of the wonderful shark, which is really not as dangerous as people believe it to be (as anyone who watches Shark Week would know). I was happy to hear this, but my pleasure turned into sad amusement at the end of the ride, which had a Jaws theme!

A bit of a hypocrasy...
A bit of a hypocrasy...

Right before pulling back into the “train station” the announcer became agitated, and suddenly a giant shark head exploded out of the water to the left of the train (as in the Universal Studios ride… there are probably copyright infringement issues going on here). The announcer closed his ramblings with “do you want to go back and catch that thing. *chuckle* I didn’t think so!”

So we started the train ride with comments on how wonderful sharks are, closed the ride with things designed to make the rider scared of sharks, and in the middle rode through a giant tank full of sharks and rays. To the “aquarium’s” credit, the specimens were very nice and healthy-looking. But the tank was just like the one at the Shedd, only smaller, and we were stuck in a stupid little train.

After this ride, we hopped onto a carousel (perhaps the lamest ride ever invented) and then the ferris wheel.

My faithful carousel steed...
My faithful carousel steed...
Downtown Houston, from atop the carousel.
Downtown Houston, from atop the ferris wheel.

These were the last of the rides…

If you have no better option, and have not been spoiled by something like Chicago’s Shedd aquarium, I still can’t really recommend this aquarium to you. If you’re interested in water life, take a trip to Chicago.

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