Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pop-up bubble in a lobster tank at the Aquamarine Fukishima in Japan.

How cool is a lobster? Very cool from close-up.
Look at the photo below. Click on it for a larger version. 

Here is another shot.

At the lobster tank at the aquarium, Aquamarine Fukushima in Japan, you can see these animals from very close, and from just a few inches away their colors and details are spectacular.
Here is a photo that I took from the inside of a pop-up bubble. You can see every little detail on the antennae.  
Again, click on the photo for a larger version.
And another shot.

The lobster tank can be viewed from all sides. Underneath the tank is a crawl through tunnel with a pop-up bubble (acrylic hemisphere).
The photo below shows an overview.

(1) visitors standing in front of the tank.
(2) exit, or entrance, of crawl-through tunnel
Notice the steps in front of the crawl-through tunnel. They lift the eye level of the adult visitors (1) high above the rock cave that surrounds the pop-up bubble, and that is where all the lobsters hang out. Adults, standing on the raised area, need to bend down down if they want to view the lobsters from close up.

The benefit of the raised platform is that kids can view the lobsters from close up without needing to be lifted up, as you can see in the next photo.

Natural rocks (versus artificial ones) are placed around the pop-up bubble, leaving a space of about 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) for the lobster to tuck themselves between the acrylic hemisphere and the rocks.
The rock arrangement opens up towards the main viewing (from where the boy looks and from where I took the photo). If you look from any other side of the tank, you'll see mainly rocks, but here and there lobsters are peeking or hanging out through the gaps - if they're not wandering around anyways.
Below is a photo showing the back of the side of the rock cave. From here you can't see the acrylic dome which is hidden under what appears to be a heap of rocks.

I was wondering how difficult it must be to clean the dome with all the rocks and animals around. However, as with almost all aquariums that I visited in Japan, and the Aquamarine Fukushima in particular, all acrylic screens were spanking clean.

The crawl through tunnel was too low for adults of my size. I couldn't bend or crawl on my knees, but had to slither my way in. The carpet made it somewhat soft and the walls and ceiling were cushioned.
So what if some adults can't or won't make it through the tunnel? All the more fun for the kids!

Below is a view into the tunnel. If you enlarge it you can pick out the round shape of the pop-up in the back. Then the tunnel takes a turn to the right for the exit.

A few more shots from inside the pop up:

There was quite some counter light for the camera. But don't let the photos fool you. The animals were in excellent view, and you could see their tops or underside with all their fascinating spots and markings from very close. Making it even more interesting was the fact that these animals were active, and constantly pushing and shoving around. A fun tank for the visitor.

On the photo below is a woman and a little boy in the acrylic hemisphere. How they both fit in there was a mystery to me. I had no room to spare.

I'm not sure what lobster species they had on display. Because of their long, spiny antennae and the lack of claws I assume that it was from the family of the spiny lobsters Palinuridae, also known as langouste.

They were mixed with Blackbar soldierfish Myripristis jacobus (another assumption). Soldierfish are active at night and like to hang out under dark shelves or in caves. So I am not sure that the exhibit was to their liking, but they seemed fine and they certainly made a pretty sight.

In the video below I'm standing at the back side of the tank and at the end of of this short video I hold the camera down into the crawl through tunnel. "Back side " might be a misleading term: in fact this side is the first view into the tank for the visitors that follow the general circulation flow. All they see is a large tank and a heap of rocks in the center, nicely concealing the acrylic hemisphere. Kids can dive down and disappear in the tunnel where they will be in for a fun surprise (or shock), when they get to the dome and find themselves surrounded by a nest of colorful lobster bodies with their long antennae and legs. And once parents make it along to the other side they have great view of the lobsters and their kids in the midst of them.

Bottom line 
Judging the tank from a visitor's perspective, it is a fantastic display. It offers many excellent viewing opportunities, and the clean and lean decor keeps the focus on the animals. A few more rocks creating more climbing opportunities and overhanging shelves for the animals might have been nice.
The clever layout allows surprise discoveries, and provides activities for the children and bonding opportunities between the generations when they wave at each other from pop-up to main viewing window and vice-versa , or when they both squeeze into the acrylic dome. All in all, I was impressed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Manatee - Mixed species exhibit at The Dallas World Aquarium

During my visit to The Dallas World Aquarium in Texas I saw manatees mixed with large arapaimas in the Orinoco Rainforest tank. It was impressive to see these large but otherwise very different animals so close together.
 Click on the photo for larger version.

 Here is a video clip

The aquarium guide listed the manatee as "Antillean manatee" a term that was new to me since I had heard it only referred to as the West Indian Manatee Trichechus manatus.

They also had three catfish species in the tank
South American Red Tailed Catfish Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
Reticulated Shovelnose catfish  Pseudoplatystoma reticlatum
The aquarium guide listed the third as "Fork-snouted" catfish. I couldn't find any further information about it and made the assumption they are referring to the  Ripsaw catfish Oxydoras niger
as shown in the photo below.

Another species in the tank is the "Brown stingray" - at least that's what it said in the aquarium guide. But after looking closer at the photo in their guide book and then at the photo below I decided it is an Ocellate river stingray Potamotrygon motoro. Though I must add that this not my field of expertise.

The stingray is partially covered by the visitor's head
While I tried to find an answer to my stingray question I stumbled over an interesting aquarium website:   http://www.aquarticles.com/
with an introduction on how to keep freshwater stingrays

I also saw a few black-banded leporinus Leporinus fasciatus 
This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

And finally, the Arrau turtle Podocnemis expansa is sharing the pool with the manatees.

 From above the manatee pool looked like this:

In both photos above you can see a manatee to the left of the island.
The island is home to Saki monkeys and Emperor tamarins.

Many birds are "flying freely from the island in the River exhibit to the top of the seven-story structure" - to quote the guide.
I just want to list a few here:

Southern yellow grosbeak

Green oropendola

Crested orpendola

Andean cocks-of-the-rock Rupicola peruvianus

Pompadour cotinga

Capuchin bird

and various toucan species.

I also saw  several species of waterfowl  in the pool. The guide lists:
Ringed teal, Rosy-billed pochard  and White-faced whistling duck
Black-necked swan
Orinoco goose

Here a shot from the underwater window with two ducks bobbing in the water

The photo below shows a huge waterfall. I was once told by a marine mammal curator that his manatees were stressed when introduced to a new exhibit due to a life support return pipe that was placed one meter above the pool surface (3 feet) and emptied with a lot of noise.
At The Dallas World Aquarium the animals not only have the water of a return pipe gushing into the pool, as you can see in one of the above water photos, but also a tall waterfall. Neither of the two animals seems to be particularly stressed and they were calmly swimming circles through the pool. But again, I'm a designer and this is not my field of expertise.

notice the tall aerial roots hanging behind and alongside the waterfall
And lastly, another video from the underwater viewing area

For all photos and videos above copyright 2010 wild-design unless otherwise noted

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bigger is better: Penguin exhibit at the Sea Life Park Tokyo

Within the last year I have visited sixteen penguin exhibits - mainly because of a penguin project I have been working on. I made the following observation: the larger the water body the more birds I saw in the water. Water motion, like waterfalls, jets, waves etc. also seem to be a major factor.

Sure, sixteen random visits are not a study, and it might have been all coincidental. But during my recent visit to Japan I came across four penguin exhibits, quite by chance and at different times, and these four exhibits mirrored my observation perfectly.
Of these four exhibits, three were rather small and all penguins were just standing on land, except for one where a few birds of the flock enjoyed water jets in a shallow pool.

The fourth exhibit however had a huge pool - probably the largest penguin pool I have seen in my life - and a wave machine. There all birds were in the water. This exhibit is located at the Sea Life Park Aquarium, Tokyo, and I will show it here.

Below is video that I shot at the underwater window. Seeing all these animals moving in a flock was  impressive.

©2010 wild-design.com
Although the pool was huge the penguins loved swimming near the window and these curious animals seemed to be as interested in the visitor as they were in the birds.

On display were Humboldt penguins  mixed with Rockhoppers, and in an area seperated by a fence they had a flock of Fairy penguins.
I didn't noticed the Rockhoppers when I was visiting but when I looked closer at the photo below I noticed that this is not a Humboldt penguin.


While this exhibit impressed me for its size, I was underwhelmed by what it had to offer the visitors. There was only one underwater viewing window and none for the Fairy penguins. The window had a high ledge, too high for smaller kids unless they were lifted right on it. And the upper window edge was rather low. Look at the guy on the left of the photo below and see how his eye level, water level and the upper window edge are on the same height. The underwater viewing was only accessible by staircases.

What was good was the length of the slightly concave window: ideal to observe the animals on their underwater flight.

The above water viewing was so high above the water table that it made it less interesting to observe the animals. The boy in the photo leaning over the railing is at least 2.5 meters (8') above the birds. There was no visitor viewing near the nest boxes which were all tucked away at the end and to the back of the exhibit.
However, despite these short comings I enjoyed my stay at this exhibit and I liked it a lot for what it had to offer the birds. I was particularly impressed by the shear number of birds doing their synchronized swimming pattern: simply amazing! Here is a video clip that shows it from above:

The Fairy penguins are separated by a fence from the Humboldts and Rockhoppers.
In the background of the photo below you can see the next boxes. (You might need to click on it and look at the enlarged version)

On the video below you can see the wave action at the beach. The wave  is somewhat lost at the underwater viewing window, despite the fact that the top of the window is right at water level and I thought you could easily see the waves zooming by. But maybe the pool is too big, or the waves are too small?

Below I added notes to a satellite photo from Google Maps to give you an overview. From the photo I figured the pool measures about 35 meters (115') in length, and has a width of about 7 meters (23'). The land part of the exhibits is at least another 10 meters (33') passed the pool.

I couldn't tell whether this was a salt or fresh water exhibit.

I was there in April when it was still too cold for mosquitoes. However I heard that mosquitoes can become quite a nuisance even in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. I didn't see any traps or fans or other physical devices to deal with them. I assume that the birds are either treated with medicine or the avian malaria doesn't exist in Japan.

Bumblefoot or Pododermatitis
I once read that all diseases can ultimately traced back to the lack of oxygen in the tissue or organ. The source of this information might be somewhat flaky - a note pinned up in a yoga studio or a caption in some health magazine, I don't remember. But if this statement is true, than nothing would be better to prevent the bumble foot disease - a problem not uncommon with penguins in captivity - than exercise that gets the blood circulating and with it the oxygen. But if the penguins are spending hours on end standing on land because the water is not enticing enough for them to take a swim, the disease might be predetermined.

How does this effect the design of a penguin pool? For me it means: make the water as interesting as possible with jets, waves, obstacles, arches, varying water depth, large size pool for speeding longer stretches and easy turning radius, and having the right temperature, or maybe give them something interesting to look at underwater like a peek in the food prep room or a predator tank, or simply windows where they can observe the visitors.

Another benefit: Active animals are more fun to watch.

For all photos and videos above: @2010 wild-design.com

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doctor fish tank - Big hit with visitors

I remember that a few years ago a small fish called Doctor fish (Garra rufa) hit the news and many blogs. The fish eat dead skin cells of spa visitors leaving the healthy skin to grow. An article from China Radio International has more on this.
Photo: photo.eastday.com

Now the fish has made it into public aquariums, or at least one aquarium, where visitors can submerge their hands into the water and see and feel (!) the fish nibbling on their hands.

Here is a short video clip:

Touch tanks are usually popular with kids, but adults are often reluctant to the get their hands messy, or even think it unhygienic and unhealthy. But apparently not so with this Doctor fish tank. Maybe because of its name or its uses in spas and for skin treatments, but I saw just as many adults - if not more - as kids trying to get their skin "cleaned".

Below: Happy adults getting their hands wet and cleaned

Here at the Shinagawa aquarium, Tokyo, they had two smaller cylinders tanks. A step in the front of the display allowed children to reach in.
I was very excited about this exhibit and couldn't wait to tell clients and the world at large about it. Since some, if not most touch tanks, are controversial, I thought this would be the perfect win-win situation: Visitors of all ages love to interact with these fish and the fish, I assume, love to eat.
But then I came across the following Wikipedia article:
Garra rufa can be kept in an aquarium at home; while not strictly a "beginner's fish", it is quite hardy. For treatment of skin diseases, aquarium specimens are not well suited as the skin-feeding behavior fully manifests only under conditions where the food supply is somewhat scarce and unpredictable.
End of quote

Does that mean the fish only nibbles on skin when it is starving? And, is it true? If so, it wouldn't be ethical to display them unless they are also fed otherwise.

No instructions - say it with a photo

I don't like reading instructions - anywhere, anytime. Saying it with a photo is so much faster and easier to absorb. I have now seen it used a couple times in science museums, which have some of the worst offenders when it comes to having to read long winding instructions before you know what you need to do.
The doctor fish exhibit had a big sign with many words of which I understood none because they were in Japanese. But looking at the photo I knew immediately what to do, even if I'd been the only visitor.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

360 degree viewing tunnel at the Shinagawa Aquarium - 2nd posting

This is the second post about the Spotted seal exhibit. (Click here if you want to read the first one.)

The 360degree viewing tunnel is what got me most excited about this exhibit. But while I am posting about it, I might as well do a complete job and show the entire seal exhibit.

The aquarium guide calls this new, two story building addition
Observatory for Spotted seal behavior.

Below a bird's eye view. I circled the Spotted Seal building. The main aquarium is to the right of the circle.
 from Bing maps

Below two photos that show the Observatory from the outside. You can see, if you click and enlarge the photo, the main aquarium on the right (white tiled building and probably over 20 years old) and the new Observatory addition in fair-faced reinforced concrete (probably less than 2 years old).

Notice the roof covering the visitor area on the 2nd level and the hole in the middle of the roof, allowing the animals to get a dose of rain or sunshine.
I like it that the animals have access to the outside air with it's ever changing smells. Being open to the elements is something every caretaker or designer should strive to provide for all animals (even fish - if possible. And, agreed, there are climate and disease restrictions for some species, but I would guess for 99% of animals in captivity these restrictions don't apply - or not at all times).

Below a video clip of the above water area - 2nd level deck:

Photos of upper level:

 click photos to enlarge

Allowing the visitors above water and below water within such a small area creates the challenge for any designer. At the Shinawaga Aquarium they solved it with a staircase and an elevator. Neither are ideal in a zoo setting, but sometimes unavoidable.

Photo: visitor staircase to underwater viewing area.

And below a video clip where I take the elevator to the underwater viewing hall.

By making the back wall of the elevator out of glass, the designers turned the ride into part of the exhibit experience; But I'm wondering how much it had cost (glass and extra acrylic, not to mention the maintenance of window cleaning) and I wonder whether this is paying off in terms of overall visitor experience. If you watch the movie clip you'll notice how fast that thing gets me down, which is nice, but doesn't do much for animal observation.

Riding the elevator down I was able to spot a window in the outside facade which allows the seal to look out. Seals are curious critters and there is not much they can see on the upper deck - I loved it for the seal: an exhibit with a view!

Talking about view: There is a hole in the concrete slab allowing the seal to poke their head through.
From below it looks like this:
 From above it looks like this:
Why, I was asking myself, would the seals want to use this hole if they have a much larger open water surface a few feet away? Oddly enough they did. In the roughly fifteen minutes that I spent there, it happened about three times that a seal, suspended upright in the water, kept looking up through the hole. But never long enough for me to take a photo, although I sprinted the staircase two times when I spotted an animal in the hole from below, just to have it dive away when I got there.

The look down glass floor in the tunnel
Glass was used for the floor in the otherwise all acrylic 360 degree viewing tunnel. The glass was "pocked marked" to prevent visitors from slipping. The anti slip worked perfectly: no slip and only minimal impact on the view through the glass.
I was curious what they did to the glass to roughen it up in places.
Here a video of me scratching the glass:

Below a photo of the glass floor: Very transparent despite anti-slip treatment

and a close up of the anti-slip - click image to enlarge

Below a shot through the acrylic hemisphere, and therefore distorted, but notice how light and transparent the floor appears, it almost vanishes.

And two final photos showing the floor

Below: I did a quick, rough sketch of the layout of the underwater exhibit area.

I conclude the posting for the Spotted Seal exhibit with two videos:

for all videos, sketches and photos above ©2010 wild–design.com
unless noted otherwise.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chicago Millenimum Park (2 of 2) - water fountain and reflecting pool

Water is always fun. For all ages. The Crown fountain has it all: a waterfall, fun displays, reflection pool, feet-on interactive, benches for parents to watch. It was designed by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. Kids loved it. Bystanders loved. I loved it. It was fun to watch the changing display on the waterfall towers and to see kids and adults walk through the pool.

Here a video clip with kids running through the pool

Here the sculpture "spits" water into the pool

and one showing a different display

The photo below is taken against the bright sky and lets you see some of the  support construction

And a couple more photos

And an artsy shot

And a last photo showing the pool edge in detail - click on photo if you want to see it up closer.

For all photos and videos above: @2010 wild-design.com

I wasn't there at night but thought it might look cool in the dark.
And indeed check out the photos in this blog:
the results of Google image research "Crown fountain at night"

Here some background info from Chicago traveler
Crown Fountain
At the southwest corner of the park (Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street) are twin 50-foot fountain towers. In addition to the cascading water, the towers display video images of various Chicagoans and lights. On warm summer days, children (as well as youthful- spirited adults) frolic in the shallow water between the two towers and delight in the spray from the fountains. The surrounding green area is a relaxing place to spread out on a blanket and read a book.

or go to Wikipedia's site for more details on this water-sculpture.