Baltimore summer intern Chelsea Duff wrote this blog post after visiting the Aquarium's newest exhibit last week.
Last week, while my friends were settling in to watch Shark Week from the couch, I was gearing up to be one of the few people in Baltimore seeing the real deal. That’s right, on Monday night, I was lucky enough to attend the National Aquarium’s Grand Opening of the new Blacktip Reef Exhibit, kicked off with a Donor Appreciation Evening.
The night started with a cocktail reception, complemented by Miki’s Polynesian Music and Dance. Then, civic leaders including National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown explained why, for no shortage of reasons, the National Aquarium and the work that the aquarium does, is such an asset to the city. As it turns out, more than 1.8 million people visit the aquarium every year, and, of those making the trek from outside the city, or even outside the state, 85% cite the aquarium as the sole reason for their visit. The aquarium, it’s clear, is the anchor for both the Inner Harbor and for downtown Baltimore as a whole, employing more than 2,000 people and bringing $206 million tourist dollars into the city.
But while Baltimore is lucky to have the aquarium, we were the luckiest of all, because after that incredible welcome, we were invited to go see the exhibit itself.
With 3,000 different pieces of coral, 65 fish species, and 4 species of sharks, the new Blacktip Reef exhibit was incredible. The habitat was impressive with the fake-coral made from molds of real coral and painted by an artist to look as realistic as possible. I learned that it had taken an entire year just to make the coral (though, admittedly, this is quicker than the 100 years it would’ve taken that coral to grow in the wild). But what was even more incredible than the constructed habitat were the 20 different blacktip reef sharks swimming through it.
Blacktip reef sharks, I learned, are not like other sharks. While most sharks are solitary creatures, blacktip reef sharks are social. Not only do they tend to have social relations with each other, but they have their own social order, a hierarchy of sorts that’s constantly changing. To a trained and watchful eye, it’s not hard to pick out which blacktip reef shark is the alpha, and it’s not hard to keep an eye on him. This is due to the fact that, like humans, blacktip reef sharks have a unique identifier of sorts—only instead of it being their fingerprints, it’s their dorsal fins that help to identify them. Though the largest blacktip reef shark in the exhibit couldn’t have been bigger than two or three feet, at maturity they average out around three to five feet long, but can grow to be as long as six feet. If you follow the exhibit route of the aquarium, eventually you’ll come across a viewing window. If you thought being able to see the sharks from above was cool, wait until you get to see them at eye-level through the 28-foot long viewing window.
The Blacktip Reef Shark Exhibit is, without a doubt, an incredible site, just like the rest of the aquarium. And if sharks don’t do it for you, just hang on, because in the winter of 2014, the aquarium will introduce the Atlantic Seashores exhibit, which will bring back the widely popular touch pool that so many have missed. But, for now, whether you get the chance or have to find the time, make sure you visit the National Aquarium. You won’t regret it.