Saturday, September 27, 2008

California Academy of Sciences - First Day

The first few moments after the official opening of the California Academy of Sciences saw hundreds of people step excitedly into the building.

The academy bears the distinction of the only institution in the world to house under one - living, world-class, stunning! - roof, an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and leading research and education programmes.

A louche rare white alligator stares up, one of the first greeters of visitors!

With hardly the bat of an eyelid, he is already securing his place as one of the most popular exhibits, a role he is unlikely to relinquish without a snap of his jaws and a swipe of his mighty tail!

He hails from St Augustine, Florida, and so angered was he when transported to the museum, that even with a muzzle on, he knocked over two of the men trying to get him into his new pool,
said friendly docent, Peter, who was there to help welcome people and explain about the alligators in their pool.

Eventually, a group manoueuvred the angry, recalcitrant gator in!

Peter peered over the side, looking for the dark female. He spotted her under the water.

'He - the white alligator - tends to chuck her off the they're not an item!' he said.

Around the pool, said Peter, tracing the shape of the railings with his fingers, are the original railings and tiles from about 1924.

As a child, Peter remembers standing looking over the railings at alligators, and hoping he didn't fall in!

Around the corner, children especially though not exclusively! were trying to lure scurrying Madagascan bugs into pitfall traps, first by filling the traps with tempting morsels of apple, banana and oatmeal.

All as an interactive floor exhibit and just one of several activities.

Around a corner again and in African Hall another entrancing feature is the penguin pool.

Here you can stand nose to beak with a penguin and almost stroke its tummy as it slides gracefully up a pane of glass to the surface of the water.

The effect of the design of the pool where the water rises four feet above the floor, giving eye to eye contact with the birds and a bird's eye view into the pool is mesmerising.

Mind you, these sweet-appearing penguins are not so cute or, very cute, depending on perspective!

'They're like spoilt children!' said their docent to an avid cluster of watchers. 'Some will only eat certain fish, so they are fed individually,' she said.

And if a piece of their food happens to slip from their beaks to the bottom of the pool! My word!!!

'They won't eat it if they drop it!' said the docent, who is left with the task of clearing up the unwanted food with a scooper.

'It wouldn't be that way in the wild!' she added.

Indeed it wouldn't!

But then we'll forgive these princes and princesses of their penguin pool - there as part of the Species Survival Plan breeding programme - for being so lovable.

One of the great features, too, of the Academy is the trained docents who are friendly, approachable and knowledgable. They are there to help and will be a source of information and entertainment to the multiple thousands of visitors, young and older, who will pass through the Academy and leave enriched by the experience.

pics show the alligator and Peter at the alligator pool; stamping on Madagascan bugs!; a lovable penguin.

For more pics:

For more info and a live web cam of the penguins - feeding times 10.30 am and 3.30 pm click here for the Academy's website.

This is just a taster of some of many fascinating aspects of a museum that will provide many more blogs in the months to come

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