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News : Local Published: Jun 25, 2008 - 10:20:03 AM


Journey to Africa at Maritime Aquarium

By Maritime Aquarium


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Journey to Africa at Maritime Aquarium
Some of the very colorful Cichlid fish in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk's new "African Underwater Safari" exhibit
Starting July 1 visitors to The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk can explore the aquatic wonders of Africa and still be home for dinner, said Aquarium Exhibit Director Judith M. Bacal. When they think of an African safari, most people picture land-based animals: elephants, giraffes, hippos, and such. Now The Aquarium offers an African “safari” from a new perspective: underwater, she explained. While you will not see elephants or giraffes on your “African Underwater Safari,” Bacal said, you can see catfish that have the noses of elephants and giraffes. In nearby Norwalk, Conn., the Aquarium offers a close up look at amazing fish and reptiles from all of Africa’s primary bodies of fresh and salt water: the mighty Nile and other rivers, giant lakes of Africa’s Great Rift Valley and salty Red Sea coral reefs, plus the diverse rain forests of Madagascar, she added.

Wild habitats on the Aquarium’s new “safari” range from brown, murky, lake bottoms to bright and colorful coral reefs, Bacal continued. The exhibit touches upon a slice of the Nile River. Flowing 4,160 miles from south to north, it is the world’s longest, and a “super highway” of civilizations both ancient and modern. The Aquarium’s newest exhibit includes Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s deepest at 4,710 feet. Cichlids from Lake Malawi are shown. This lake contains more fish species than any other in the world. Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, is on your tour. Nearly the size of Texas and an ecological wonder, 100 percent of Madagascar fish varieties are found nowhere else in the world, according to Bacal.

Species highlighted throughout the new exhibit include some amazing adaptations. Atmospheric air-breathing lungfish survive drought by burrowing in a hole in the mud lined with their own mucous where they await the next rainfall. Electric catfish generate their own bioelectricity, use it like “radar” to find food in a dark and murky habitat, and then zap their prey to stun it. Knifefish swim forwards and backwards with equal ease. Other exotics include: ropefish, doctorfish and featherfin fish, elephantnose, giraffe-nosed catfish, baby whales and butterflyfish. Colorful cichlids shine in a rainbow of shimmering, metallic colors. Red Sea reef fish sport colors so deep and brilliant it is hard to believe them real, Bacal described.

More than fish are featured, she added. Bright green giant day geckos have electrostatic toes that help them cling to smooth surfaces. Other reptiles include black mud turtles and exotic boa snakes. Madagascar ground boas have special organs in their lips that sense heat, helping them find prey on the dark rainforest floor. A hippo play space greets children as they enter.

Interspersed throughout the Aquarium’s underwater safari are important messages about animal adaptation, the importance of habitat preservation and conservation. Stories show how fish from the other side of the world face challenges similar to those in Long Island Sound.

While America and Africa are 4,000 miles apart, they once were joined as one continent and share a common ocean, Bacal explained, adding that despite the Atlantic’s size, many animals travel between the two continents.

Bank of America sponsors the exhibit. “At Bank of America, we are committed to creating meaningful change in the communities we serve,” said William R. Tommins, president, Bank of America Fairfield County. “Organizations, like The Maritime Aquarium, not only raise quality of life for our residents, but also serve as economic drivers for our region. We especially believe in the value of education for the next generation of community leaders. The African exhibit shows the worldwide importance of promoting education, inspiration and environmental stewardship.”

Journey to Africa at Maritime Aquarium
One of the remarkable fish in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk's new "African Underwater Safari" exhibit
The Maritime Aquarium is vested in providing a diverse and fresh visitor experience. The only Aquarium devoted to Long Island Sound, it also looks to support conservation worldwide, Bacal said. The incredible and unique beauty of Africa’s waters offers both inspiration and a lesson for protection of the Sound. Much of Africa’s natural resources are under tremendous pressure from burgeoning human populations. Choices made in African water management and the consequences of such can tell us much about Long Island Sound and the more than 32 million people populating its watershed. Water joins all living things on our blue planet. Conserving precious fresh water is critical to all human beings, along the shores of Long Island Sound and throughout the continent of Africa, she added.

Enhance your “safari” with rollercoaster-like excitement on the 3-D simulator ride-film, “Secrets of the Lost Temple.” An obscure journal found in the depths of a local library leads to a wild ride through caverns, underwater rivers and ancient passages. It includes a pre-ride film and is located within the “African Underwater Safari” exhibit. While the “safari” is included with Aquarium admission, an additional ticket is required for the simulator ride.

Explore even more of Africa with the companion IMAX® movie, “Wild Ocean, Where Africa Meets the Sea.” What may be the world’s largest feeding frenzy is captured for the world’s largest screens in the new IMAX® documentary film. Each year massive sardine schools shoot up South Africa’s Hibiscus Coast. Thousands of predators give chase. Swarming off the beaches come thousands more human beings whose livelihood depends upon the annual bounty.

KwaZulu-Natal Province tourism board promotes it as, “The Greatest Shoal on Earth.” The film shows at 11, 1 and 3 and 4 p.m. daily. There is an additional charge for IMAX movies. Or purchase a “Value Pass” for Aquarium admission, a daytime IMAX movie and the ride film all at a discounted price.

This African sardine run is the only place left in the world where scientists and tourists can view such massive predation so close to shore, asserted Professor Vic Peddemors, a marine biologist at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Tourists and adventure divers from around the globe travel to the eastern coast of South Africa in June and July to witness the migration.

“You can see what they see in crisp, brilliant, bigger-than-life-size, IMAX images, without the cost of travel or danger of frenzied sharks,” said Jack Schneider, Aquarium curator of animals and director of education. Sardine is a common name for many different small fish. The particular variety featured in the movie is also called a pilchard, he explained.

“Only an IMAX-sized movie can do justice to this massive spectacle of nature,” Schneider added.

“Explore” Africa this summer for less than the cost of a tank of gas, Bacal concluded, “It’s right up your Nile!”




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