Monday, November 18, 2013

Monterey Bay Aquarium!

Where are the whales? Traveling through time...
The weekend before Halloween we traveled up the coast to see Tom Waits play at a benefit festival for Neil Young's beloved Bridge School. I can't believe it was the first time we'd ever attended, especially since this was the 27th time they've done it. Oh well, I guess it took Tom Waits to get us there. But seeing Neil Young play again (not to mention Elvis Costello) was pretty great too. And we got to visit the Monterey Aquarium as well (also known as the Cetacean Institute, home to George and Gracie, in Star Trek IV), something I hadn't done since the last time they had a great white living there several years ago. This time they had a major display of jellyfish instead (many of which were apparently bred at the aquarium) so get ready for lots of ethereal photos...

Sun fish are among the oddest and most interesting critters around. It's amazing to see them here in such a huge space. Absolutely awe inspiring, in fact.

Yeah, I know. Every aquarium has moray eels. But that doesn't mean that they aren't interesting and a little bit scary. Just look at those cold blue eyes!

Supposedly the Monterey Aquarium will have a cephalopod exhibit to rival the jellies next spring. I might have to schedule a field trip that doesn't involve a comic book convention then...

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Night of the Living Zoo

It might be November, but that doesn't mean there's a ban on talking about October, does it? I sure hope not since we were able to get tickets to the LA Zoo's big Halloween bash this year and I've been dying (heh) to post about it.

Snacking on a humanely pre-killed chick
I'm so proud of what our zoo has accomplished since I worked there years ago. They've really come a long way, but the new reptile house in particular is a thing of beauty. The exhibits are huge, gorgeous, and clearly built with the comfort of their inhabitants in mind. As someone who once thought seriously of pursuing a herpetology degree the fact that they're doing conservation work and getting some rare critters to breed thrills me no end.

Watching some of the rarest guys get fed during the Halloween festivities was exciting too, even for a veggie girl like me. Even better was having the keeper describe their high hopes for getting the Gray's monitors to breed, something that's pretty much unheard of in captivity. Don't worry though, these Gray's weren't taken from the wild (not by the zoo, at least), they were rescued from the horror of illegal smuggling. When you consider the fact that these beautiful lizards were once thought to be extinct, you can't help but smile to seem them alive and well in such a lovely enclosure.

Big and smart, but dragon in name only
Then there's the Komodo dragons. These guys are AMAZING. When you see a full-grown individual you instantly see why they weren't called Komodo lizards. Of course they are monitor lizards too and like the Gray's they are distantly related to the giant sea-going Mosasaurs of the late Cretaceous. They may also have played into the idea that dragons breath fire since their tongues are yellow and constantly flick in and out, sampling the air. We saw them eat too, and I won't lie. It was a bit disturbing, especially since we share our home with a very personable bunny. Still, Komodos gotta eat, and in the wild they often dine on animals far bigger than rabbits. LAZ has had a lot of success breeding these guys, although the sex ratio of the hatchlings is often terribly skewed. Happily that may be changing soon though, as keepers here are pioneering incubation methods that will hopefully result in a more even distribution of males and females and a brighter future for the species.
I love tapirs. But you knew that.

After all that excitement we checked out the carousel full of endangered and rare animals. It was installed years ago but this was the first time I'd ever had the chance to ride it. Of course I chose the only tapir... Which just happened to be my favorite species (mountain) if I don't miss my bet.

We finished out the night by catching the Sideshow Sirens who do exactly what you'd think. I had never actually seen anyone preform the "human blockhead" act before, and I'd say it was tough to watch if I hadn't just seen a giant lizard eat a fuzzy bunny. I had also never had anything made with candy corn-infused vodka before, which was surprisingly not as awful as you might imagine. If you're curious, this is apparently how you make it. Basically it's three parts vodka, one part candy. Now that's spooky!

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