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A Fish Hugger Visits the Tampa Aquariam

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It probably would have gone better for them if I’d called first. Then, I’d have had a date with the education coordinator and the two desk people and the nice guy who feeds the fish wouldn’t have been put on the spot like that. But since I hadn’t called, it was more of a spot check. And the Florida Aquarium failed.

For the record, I did enjoy the aquarium rather a lot. The tanks were pretty, the fish looked healthy and happy and active, and the earnest young people tending the exhibits were able to answer all my pesky questions. “Why can’t I poke that?” and “What is that fish doing?” being two of my favorites.

I also loved the local exhibits that replicated the mangroves. I liked the squat ruddy duck and the spoonbill and watching the alligators hang in the water with just their snouts sticking out. I loved the tiny watchful owl, round eyed and so adorable I wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home. The sea dragons are still miraculous, the jellies elegant and formal, and the tropical fish, oh, I’ll admit it, they always make me a little weepy, I love them so much.

But after I was done admiring the tanks, I headed down to the desk to ask about the seafood conservation programs at the aquarium. “What huh?” said the nice gal behind the desk. She passed me off to her boss, I think, who replicated some of the “What huh?” and called the guy from fish husbandry. When she heard us talking, she finally knew what I wanted. “OH! You mean fish that PEOPLE eat!” she said, while the guy who makes the food for the fish was on the walkie-talkie trying to find me someone from education to talk to. They wanted to help. It wasn’t their service that was bad, it was their knowledge. Ouch.

The very nice gal who came out knew exactly what I was talking about. Maryssa was her name and she’s just moved to Tampa from where she used to work, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, home of Seafood Watch. “I asked about that as soon as I started working here,” she said. And they are a partner, but she couldn’t hand me a Seafood Watch wallet card for this part of the country. She couldn’t point me to educational materials about seafood conservation and she didn’t know if the aquarium has worked with area restaurants in the past.

It’s an unfortunate state of affairs when the staff at an aquarium can’t answer questions about conservation programs. I don’t know what kind of training the staffers have, but if conservation and the human impact of eating fish on the marine environment isn’t even acknowledged by the facility, well, I don’t know what they’re offering beyond being an underwater zoo. I genuinely believed Maryssa’s concern—her enthusiasm for the Seafood Watch program was sincere and we traded stories about hassling the wait staff at restaurants over the seafood, but it’s not enough. I have more Seafood Watch cards in my house than there were in this aquarium.

Florida Aquarium, It probably matters to you not one bit, but this fish hugger is watching you. Get with the program, okay?

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