Thursday, October 18, 2012

National Aquarium in Baltimore

The last zoological institution I visited lately was the National Aquarium in Baltimore (so called to distinguish from the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., which until 2003 was a separate institution entirely, but both are now operated as one entity). (This will not be the last of my trip reports, however, as I have made several subsequent trips to the National Zoo like I alluded to earlier.) In spite of its name, the National Aquarium is not funded by the federal government, and so is not free of charge like the National Zoo is.

Most of the exhibits are concentrated in one multi-story building. Upon entering, visitors can look down into a large pool with turtles, tarpon, hogfish, and various sharks (however, I think they're renovating this area right now, so this may no longer be the case when they're done). This is a zebra shark.

The next floor features a series of exhibits housing native Maryland aquatic wildlife, from freshwater regions to the sea. In hindsight I should've taken at least one picture of each habitat display, but all I've got is this wood turtle.

The third floor exhibits various aquatic organisms with interesting adaptations. Here is a group of gar with a turtle swimming along on the bottom right.

A scorpionfish. Those white spots aren't its eyes, by the way; the actual eyes are positioned slightly above them and point sideways.

Some cardinalfish sticking close to the spines of a sea urchin for protection.

A cowfish. Boxfish are fun.

The fourth floor had several exhibits showcasing aquatic environments around the world. There happened to be an interpreter on this floor when I visited, and he went from tank to tank, delivering bits of information at each one in an entertaining manner, though he did make the strange statement that wolf eels "are not eels, but fish". Which is technically true, but it doesn't tell you what wolf eels actually are because eels are also fish. (They are wolffish, for the record.) For all those who are tired of clownfish being called "Nemos" by aquarium visitors, the interpreter made a quick jab at that, saying that he didn't know what people were referring to as "Nemos" and "Dorys" at the coral reef exhibit.

Here are a few attempts of mine to shoot photos of some puffins and guillemots, but success was difficult due to their movement and the moist glass. Auks are a great joy to watch regardless. No offense to penguins, which are interesting theropods in their own right, but I'd spend time at an auk exhibit over a penguin exhibit any day.

There was a very large Amazon tank with giant river turtles and stingrays.

As well as several caimans.

Nearby were smaller exhibits for smaller-bodied Amazonian animals, such as this giant leaf frog.

Down below Suriname toads floated around in the same display.

Surprisingly, this emerald tree boa was also present. Though they mostly feed on small mammals, boas do eat frogs on occasion, so I'm curious about how safe the anurans are coexisting with one.

Up on the top floor there was a walkthrough Amazon exhibit. Having been to at least two similar exhibits at other institutions, the one at the Baltimore Aquarium may be the largest and most speciose I've seen (though I'm not counting all the butterflies at the Vancouver Aquarium in that very rough estimate), housing trogons, sunbitterns, ibises, sloths, tamarins, iguanas, pihas, motmots, and many species of parrots, tanagers, and turtles, a good mix of easily-seen species and those you have to wait and look for to see. There were also supposedly frogs and tarantulas, but like with the frogs at Amazonia in the National Zoo, I do wonder whether it's even possible to see those with any regularity. I especially appreciated the presence of a raised platform that allows you to observe the treetop-dwelling animals much more easily.

Here's a red-footed tortoise.

Many species of parrots and tanagers were present.

A blue-gray tanager.

A turtle of some sort.

After a few small reptile and amphibian exhibits just outside the Amazon walkthrough (why does it appear that all such exhibits are designed this way?), visitors end up on a long, spiraling walkway back down to the bottom floors, surrounded by several multi-story tanks. The first tank you pass by on your way down features marine life of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are a number of tangs feeding on a bit of lettuce at the bottom of that tank.

The next tank showcases many shark species, such as this sawfish (which is more specifically a type of ray).

Finally, at the very bottom is an underwater view of the pool that visitors saw from above upon entering the exhibition area (though again, this might change once they finish doing renovations).

In a different (but interconnected) building, dolphins are the main attraction. I got to see their Dolphin Discovery show, where a trainer gave a talk about the feeding methods of dolphins, while the trained bottlenose dolphins in the pool behind her demonstrated the methods she described. It was a decent talk, but there was a glaring lack of mention of echolocation. There were several moments where I literally thought to myself, Okay, now she's going to talk about echolocation, but she never did.

There was a temporary exhibition in the same building about jellyfish, with focus on the sudden bloom in jellyfish populations in recent years. This is a northern sea nettle.

Large group of upside-down jellyfish.

Some moon jellyfish.

A Pacific sea nettle.

Some lion's mane jellyfish.

Situated at the top of a third building (which is actually the one visitors enter the aquarium from) is Planet Australia: Wild Extremes, which as one can guess is devoted to Australian animals. This is a death adder.

I was surprised once again when I saw that it was housed alongside several other lizard species. Probably most of them are too large to be eaten by the death adder, but one wonders if accidents can potentially happen. I think this is a species of skink.

Another denizen was this bearded dragon.

I spent a lot of time trying to photograph some shield shrimp but failed, so I had to be content with a picture of the sign.

The main portion of the exhibition area is another walkthrough with free-roaming birds, bats, and lizards. Turtles and fish were kept in open-air tanks built into cliff walls present in the display. I have been to many Amazon walkthroughs, but this was the first time I'd seen an Australian one. It was terrific, quite possibly the highlight of the entire aquarium. I think it could benefit from having a raised viewing platform like the one in the Amazon walkthrough though, as many of the animals probably conceal themselves on the cliffs.

A galah.

Some flying foxes.

A green-winged pigeon.

There were so many turtle species I could barely remember them all. If there's any animal group I consider the specialty of this aquarium, it's turtles. This one is a Jardine River turtle, a species I'd never seen before.

Unexpectedly, one of the open-air tanks contained freshwater crocodiles.

Some masked lapwings, also known as spur-winged plovers. These birds have large spurs close to their wrists that they use in defense, fiercely swooping at perceived threats to their nests.

A pair of rainbow lorikeets.

A finch perched on a log with a masked lapwing in the background and archerfish in the water below.

There were a few exhibits within the room that were sealed off entirely from the free-roaming animals. One had this Mertens's water monitor.


  1. In the walkthrough Amazon exhibit, did you see any green iguanas? I ask b/c, while I knew they were there, I didn't see any the 1 time I visited Baltimore's aquarium (which was disappointing as they were my then-favorite living animals).


    1. I didn't see them either. I was disappointed too, but I didn't really expect to find them.