Today I went to the Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky with my wife, London. Aquariums are one of our favorite activities together, and Newport is close by. We've been members for years now, and have had the good fortune of many VIP experiences there!
Some people might disagree when I say that fish have a lot of personality. The fact that they lack expressive facial features has given rise to certain misconceptions, such as that fish don't feel pain (as vertebrates, they do indeed) or that they have three-second memories (it's been proven that fish do recognize and remember their caretakers). Fish are actually smarter and more personable than we often give them credit for! They are pleasant, social creatures with a surprisingly complex and nuanced way of life.
For many years, my wife and I have taken great pleasure in visiting our fishy friends. London has often said that animals are so in tune with emotion that they can sense the affection from animal lovers. It's not uncommon for the Pacu fish in the Amazon exhibit to stop right next to us and offer a friendly smile and a wave. Sometimes they'll even pose for photos and follow us as we walk through the tunnel!
One experience I'll never forget is when Newport Aquarium had a special guest, a Galapagos Tortoise named Bravo. We had the privilege of meeting him up close and personal in his habitat--twice at Newport and then a third time after he went back to his regular home (Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina). Just touching one of these magnificent, endangered creatures in the wild can earn you a $10,000 fine, but we were allowed to pet Bravo and have many pictures taken with him.
We've had other behind-the-scenes tours and close encounters at Newport: petting a baby alligator named Willard; meeting a room full of African black-footed penguins; taking part in an early-morning VIP breakfast with sharks looking on; and being among the first people to cross the exciting rope bridge spanning the shark tank.
On our many visits, I've learned to look for my favorite animals in their customary places. A special friend of mine is the Giant grouper named Brutus. He wears such a thoughtful expression while studying his own reflection in the glass of a certain window (which the aquarium staff call "Brutus's window") that it's hard not to think of him as a philosopher, mulling over the secrets of his fishy existence.
I'm pleased to have sponsored Brutus via the WAVE Foundation's "Adopt a Fishy Friend" program! (London and I have many other sponsored animals: Black Pacu, a French Angelfish, and Chinstrap penguins.) Adopting an animal through the aquarium gets you a certificate and a custom photo and information packet on your new buddy--or even a plushy, tote, or other gifts with larger donations. Sponsoring an animal is an excellent gift, too! Find out more here: https://wavefoundation.org/support/adopt-fishy-friend/
Newport Aquarium is always looking forward to the next thing. They've done some extensive renovations in recent years, and frequently put together special temporary exhibits. This year, I'm crazy about the "Ring of Fire", which features Japanese giant spider crabs and a Giant Pacific octopus! (By the way, a quick English tip: the plural of octopus is octopuses, not octopi... this is a writer's blog, after all ;-D )
I hate to end this post on a sad note, but the main reason for our visit today was to bid farewell to Mighty Mike, a spectacular 14-foot American alligator. After living at Newport for many years, he's returning to his home state of Florida very soon. This is an animal that you have to see to believe: I once saw him take a whole chicken in one gulp (uh, not a live one; it was a grocery-store chicken)! Alligators can hold their breath for up to two hours, and Mighty Mike likes to remain perfectly still at the bottom of his tank, up front near the glass--which makes him a great photo subject. I have some pretty good #gatorselfies. We're going to miss you, Mike!
Check out Newport Aquarium's website: https://www.newportaquarium.com/ or visit your own local aquarium. You'll enjoy the vivid sights of the underwater world, and maybe make a new friend or two!