Our newest adventure in the Dominican Republic has been to brave the Aquarium! This outdoor aquarium held many beautiful animals and had cheap, good, food (many people seem to recommend the empanadas de pollo). We first stopped at a tank holding a few Hawksbill Sea Turtles. We continued on to various exhibits, including tanks with massive green morays and a pair of octopi. One of these cheerful cephalopods was happy to prance briefly around (if an octopus can prance) before sitting on a rock in the tanks, unlike the shy octopus at the Shedd. This octopus also changed color for us briefly, creating a black stripe across its body. We also had the opportunity to see some pencil urchins, huge lobster, and banded coral shrimp, three invertebrates on the reef surveys. Some favorites were large hermit crabs that collected sea anemones on their shells. We enjoyed a habitat full of iguanas at lunch before we continued to one of the highlights of the visit. This was a tunnel that ran through a massive fish tank. In the tank, we found bull sharks, a southern ray, and some lovely triggerfish. We all practiced our fish identification skills on the numerous parrotfish, butterflyfish, groupers, Nassau groupers (in fact, the majority of the groupers were of the species), grunts, snapper, and even a large moray in the tank. After spending much time here, we hit the best part of the tour: A behind the scenes visit to the manatees! We were quite disappointed to find that the Aquarium supposedly had no live manatees, other than the manatee skeleton displayed among the skeletons of a pygmy orca, dolphin, and whale. Thinking we had misunderstood, Laura asked a few people about it and, after a moment, they said that the mantee exhibit was being changed and the manatees were not on display for the public. However, they pointed us to a guide, thinking that perhaps he could get us in. When we went to the guide, he said no at first. We quickly explained that we were researching and gave him a business card (thanks Richard!), and he finally went to talk to the scientists. Soon we were standing next to a pair of pools. One contained a trio of hawksbill turtles who couldn't fit in the tank with the others because it was too small, and all of the males could not be together anyway. The other tank was larger, and contained one of the reasons we had come: a pair of manatees! The marine mammals were fairly large, though they were only nine months old. They were each injured, the female with eight knife wounds and the mail with a cut from a motor on his abdomen. One had been found in Bayahibe, the other in some nearby location. They were each transported to the aquarium in trucks, lying on sponges to keep the skin wet. We were allowed to touch the gentle female, who felt leathery and was very affectionate. The male, though we weren't supposed to touch him, sometimes came up and nuzzled our hands when we wasn't guarding the female. The scientists said that they were not sure whether the manatees would be able to be released into the wild, as they were very used to human care. This was proved by the female flipping onto her belly at times, wanting to be fed. The manatees were fed a large bottle of milk and a salad every three hours, night and day. Lucky for us, we got there at feeding time! Even better, the scientists let us each bottle-feed the manatees, holding the bottle for them while they sucked happily and one of the scientists held the manatee in the proper position, holding the fins up while the manatee was on its back in the water. After that was all done, we watched the manatees snarf up some of their salad, attempting to chase after slices of fruit in the water until they could trap it in a corner and eat it. After a while, we had to go, but we had had an amazing experience with the manatees. The aquarium was a must-see trip indeed.
Author: Ben H.