By Ernest Barteldes
It had been quite a while since I had been to the New York Aquarium, which is located on Coney Island not far from the rides on Luna Park and the various eateries that have popped up close to Nathan’s Famous (in recent years, a Wahlburger joint and an Applebee’s have opened in the area – quite a change from my first visit over a decade ago when there were very few options). My last time had been in 2013 not long after Superstorm Sandy, and it was a shock to see it back then: the shark tank was gone and at least half of the grounds were closed to the public.
On this visit (like most of the previous times, it was part of a field trip with my students at ASA College), things were not that different – construction is in progress for the new facilities, but they have a temporary shark tank with about 10 specimens swimming around.
My group arrived just before 11:00 AM after a long ride on the F train from Midtown Manhattan and went straight to the Sea Lion show in the Aqua Theater. It was a very hot and sticky day, but thanks to the the ocean breeze it was quite bearable. The show has pretty much kept the same format over the years – first they bring a younger animal and they do a few tricks while giving facts about them (there are some humorous moments, such as when a sea lion “steals” from his trainer’s pouch) and then they bring an older one. The surprise this time was when they brought out a two-year-old that was very small but already in the process of being trained. The presenters also spoke about environmental issues and how much trash is left in the ocean – at that moment, one sea lion “recovered” a plastic bottle from the pool and gave it to his trainer, who put it into a recycling bin.
The entire presentation lasted about 20 minutes or so, and then we explored the grounds, starting from Glovers Reef (a large tank with various kinds of fish), Conservation Hall (where they include some endangered species) and the outdoor “Sea Cliffs” where walruses, sea otters and South African penguins.
There were several programs for kids going on, including a “petting zoo” of sea creatures and a play about the importance of conservation and how trash can affects wild animals in parks and forest around the country.
There was not too much to see there, so after exploring a bit we headed to the gift shop and then left – walking on the boardwalk until we got to Nathan’s for a quick meal before heading home.
I really can’t wait to see the Aquarium’s renovation completed (one staffer told me that everything should be ready in about two years) and the place is returned to its previous glory. But even with the limited amount of things to see, it is a fun way to spend a few hours – even on a such a hot day.