Thursday, July 23, 2015

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Better known than Kobe Animal Kingdom is the Osaka Aquarium. It is frequently said to be one of the largest aquariums in the world, though I get the impression that it is no longer in the top ten. Regardless of its relative size, it is an impressive institution.

Nearly all the exhibits at this aquarium replicate a specific ecosystem on the Pacific Rim. The main display area starts out with a Japanese forest, though these Asian small-clawed otters are out of place.

Some Japanese freshwater crabs.

I took this picture of the sea otter display to provide a sense of the general exhibit design. (I was unable to get a good picture of the main inhabitant, but you may be able to just make it out floating in the far back here.) Space is limited from back to front, but the main tanks here are very, very deep. The walkway is built as a downward spiral so that visitors pass by each display multiple times at different depths.

A ring-tailed coati, part of a Panama Bay exhibit.

It had a pit filled with soft substrate, probably to encourage foraging behavior.

A black doradid, an Amazonian catfish.

A capybara.

Three species of penguins were exhibited together: Adélie, gentoo, and king.

The surface of the Great Barrier Reef tank.

The biggest tank of the lot was the Pacific Ocean display, most prominently featuring whale sharks.

I had heard that there were manta rays in this tank, but, to my disappointment, that no longer seems to be the case. However, many other species of sharks were present, along with schooling actinopterygians.

Eagle ray photobomb.

Another tank contained a group of oval squid. Octopuses and cuttlefish are common in aquariums in my experience, but this was one of the few times I've seen captive squid.

Even more exciting was the ocean sunfish, the largest living actinopterygian (and probably one of the most unusual-looking).

At the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef tank, I witnessed some cleaner wrasse doing their job on one of their clients (which I couldn't identify).

The end of the spiral walkway gave way to a series of jellyfish tanks. These are Gonionemus vertens.

Ctenophores!

A couple of flame jellyfish.

Next came a series of displays on arctic sea life. Of note were the sea angels, swimming sea slugs well known in Japan but unfamiliar elsewhere. In fact, they served as inspiration for a couple of Pokémon. Less angelic-looking but no less interesting was this lumpsucker.

A ringed seal. Its exhibit had ice grains periodically dropping from the ceiling to simulate snow, which was neat.

Some of the last exhibits before the gift shop included a shark touch pool and these rockhopper penguins.

The legendary giant isopod plushies are real.

Yes, that's a bandanna with a feathered Tyrannosaurus on it.

The design printed on the gift bags they give you. As far as I can tell, all of the animals pictured here are species that are or have been on display at the aquarium. Can you name them all?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kobe Animal Kingdom

I just got back from a short trip to the Keihanshin region in Japan. Due to an oversight in scheduling, I did not get to visit the main zoo of the region, the Kobe Oji Zoo. Instead, I went to a different zoological institution, Kobe Animal Kingdom, which differs from a traditional zoo in its focus on getting visitors close to the exhibited animals and frequently encouraging interaction between them. Naturally, this raises ethical concerns.

The sight of several owls chained to a log did not inspire confidence. Even though they were not open to visitor interaction, they were still kept in remarkably close proximity to guests and to one another (despite some of the owls being large enough to prey on the others). This is one of the smaller owls present, a tropical screech owl.

On the larger end of the spectrum, a Verreaux's eagle owl.

Most of the other animals, however, were kept in much better conditions. The main portion of the attraction is a large greenhouse divided into multiple large rooms where the animals are housed. There was ample space for the inhabitants and, as far as I could tell, most if not all of the birds were flight-capable. The entire facility is kept very clean and the animals generally looked healthy. At least some of the rooms had off-hours that gave them respite from visitor attention. One of the largest rooms contained a big pool with numerous waterbirds, including this African crowned crane.

The birds appeared to breed freely, as fenced-off areas next to the footpaths where nests had been built were not uncommon. Here's one such area containing juvenile black-winged stilts.

At the center of the pool was an island where ring-tailed lemurs and sitatunga were kept, though they were free to move around the rest of the room, as shown by this sitatunga taking a dip. (The lemurs, on the other hand, were able to leap to the sides of the pool via branches.)

Another room had a variety of tropical arboreal birds, such as these violet turacos.

A green turaco.

Toco toucans and a red-billed toucan sitting near the exhibit signs.

Kobe Animal Kingdom does have a few animals that are kept behind barriers, entirely out of reach of visitors. This is a juvenile tamandua. It was not clear to me why it was separated from its mother, but there were adult tamanaduas in an adjacent enclosure that are presumably its parents. Yes, that is a plush anteater it is lying on top of.

Coincidentally, it shares my birthday (May 10th).

Some two-toed sloths. Despite being out in the open, they were off-limits to visitors. They also had an alternate, enclosed exhibit next to the tamanduas.

The main interactive animals in the next room were maras and capybaras.

Fenced off to the side were American beavers.

There was also a South American fur seal.

An African wetland display housed this blacksmith plover.

The stars of the show, however, were the shoebills.

Their nesting platform.

Some small African mammals were kept behind glass, including this rock hyrax. Note the prominent incisors, betraying its affinities with elephants and dugongs.

A fennec fox.

In the back of the facility were a number of exhibits for raptors and small carnivorans. I suspect the chained owls I saw early on usually live here. Out of all the enclosures here these were probably the most lackluster, both in terms of aesthetic design and animal welfare, most of them looking very cramped and bare. Here are a group of ring-tailed coatis.

A rufous-legged owl.

A great horned owl.

There's an outdoor section of Kobe Animal Kingdom as well. Domestic animals such as horses and sheep are kept there, but there is also a flock of African penguins.

The red kangaroo paddock provided many opportunities for close observation of their anatomy. Note fused digits II and III and greatly enlarged digit IV on the foot of this kangaroo.

As always with Japan, the merchandise is worth mentioning. Among the items for sale were these bookmarks featuring an incredibly large diversity of animals, some of them very obscure.

Alas, most of their prehistoric animals were not scientifically up to par. They have the colors of Sinosauropteryx correct, at least.

Plush shoebills!

A large plush wombat (and a smaller companion).

Models of several dinosaur skeletons (an unnamed dromaeosaurid, Fukuisaurus, and Fukuiraptor).

There were even shoebill crackers.