Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Aquarium

On Saturday, I spent the day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my Environmental Literacy class. I have not been to the aquarium in a few years, and looked forward to the trip immensely.

Picture- and introspection-heavy post ahead.


Squid - InnerPartySystem

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It's been a long, long week and I needed some alone time pretty badly. (I'm writing this post on Saturday, so that is why the time words don't seem to line up.) Right away, I split off from the main group and went to the exhibit called The Open Sea. A dark, winding space with brightly lit windows into tanks backed in blue.

First were the jellies. We arrived at the start of the day, when it was not so crowded, so I could go right up to the tanks and stare, just stare, at the jellies hanging silently in the blue.

One reason I love the ocean is, I think, that it seems timeless. Things are constantly in flux in the ocean, of course, but things change and stay the same and it is an alien enough world that I can recognize the global stability resulting from local chaos. When I am standing there in the darkness staring at a tank full of moon jellies, I can forget about time.


If I believed in souls, I would say that the ocean is lodged somewhere in my soul. It runs in my veins. It reminds me, again and again, that I am small and inconsequential and that even if I am weak and feeble and confused, that people have always had problems and mine are no worse than those that have been overcome.

That was a lie. The ocean does not remind me. It lets me forget that my problems exist. It reminds me that they do not really matter.

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Then I got to the Open Sea tank. And I stood there for a long time, staring and staring at the life going around.


I saw giant tuna. I saw schools of fish in turmoil, coordinated movement an emergent system from hundreds of minds in concert.

I saw my brethren, the shark and the ray.


Why do I identify with these animals? I could not tell you. Perhaps because they are weird and slightly disconcerting and still powerful and fast and majestic, and I wish I could say that about myself but I certainly cannot. Either way, I love them.

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Which is why this work of displayed art really hit me hard:

This is Shark Teeth, by Chris Jordan.

From the description given next to the picture:
From the photo illustration series Running the Numbers II, this piece offers a detailed view of thousands of fossilized shark teeth--the estimated number of sharks killed worldwide every day for their fins.

Every day.


I will not lie. While looking at this photo, I felt as though I wanted to weep. Thousands of sharks. Thousands. Every day. On the ground floor there was an exhibit about the depletion of tuna, turtle, and shark populations, and while I was looking at that I got the same feeling. A deep, visceral, wrenching emotion that was some mix of sadness and sickness.

One must try to empathize with other humans, but I do not understand why anyone would want to destroy such beauty.

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Downstairs there was also a special exhibit called Tentacles, which displayed incredible art.

A steampunk octopus:

Contessa with Squid, by Omar Rayyan:

Night of the Ammonites, by Ray Troll:

Looking at beautiful art made me feel rather a lot better about existing. Then I saw this cuttlefish chambered nautilus (thank you LS for the correction!), who looks rather suspicious, in both senses of the word:

I do not know what it is about cephalopods that makes them so charmingly weird. But they are delightful, no?

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After lunch, a few friends and I left the aquarium for about an hour to explore Monterey. We hit up the ocean and a used bookstore (remarkably, well-organized), which are really the most important things.


...and got back to the Aquarium in time for me to stare at the Kelp Forest tank. Luminous.

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At the beginning of high school, when I still made time for such things, I read a lot of poetry on deviantArt. I remember a line from one poem that has stuck with me even though I can no longer find the source:

"I need the ocean like I need to breathe/And I feel so landlocked beside you."

It was an anti-love poem, of course, but it was running through my head and I think the "you" could be me. A friend recently asked me to justify my motives in not doing something and I realized that I live a very circumscribed life. I don't take a lot of risks. I don't go on a lot of adventures. I don't like to rock the boat. My way of rebelling against my all-healthcare/medicine family is...going into engineering.

To be honest, I felt kind of weird about going to the aquarium. Most of the patrons were families. It seems such a juvenile thing: a class trip to the aquarium! How cute. How trite. "Shouldn't you be doing something more serious with your time?"

But I have a hard time remembering, sometimes, the wonderstruck child I used to be, and I found her again for a moment as I sat in a porthole window and watched a hammerhead swim by. I found her as I clambered over rocks to sit closer to the water, watch the waves come in and out.

She's going to leave again--me, I mean--the me who doesn't feel like she has to have a justification for being happy--the me who can forget about time--but that's okay. Don't worry now.

The waves will come back in, and you can never outgrow the ocean.

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