AES 2011: The Aftermath and Aquarium

Yesterday marked the last day of shark talks and the always-entertaining AES banquet.  Congrats to gentleman, scholar, and friend to the blog Andy Nosal for picking up the Gruber Award for student presentations. Reptile and fish talks continued until 5 this afternoon, but I decided to take the day to lay low and explore (apologies to the reptile and fish folks, if I missed anything good let me know).

I took advantage of the extra day in town to check out the Mall of America, Minnesota’s own massive monument to capitalism.  In particular David and I got to check out the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium in the lower level of the mall, including the backstage tour.

The aquarium is a seriously cool operation considering it’s housed in the basement of a mall (albeit the second largest mall on the planet).  The major tanks are comprised of a large tropical reef tank, a shark tank with some serious sharks, an Amazon ecosystem, and an impressive freshwater tank full of local heroes from up and down the Mississippi River.  Of course the sharks caught my attention first; this place has some of the largest sandbar sharks I’ve ever seen in captivity, and they are active.  Sand tigers, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, green sawfish, and shark-rays round out the big elasmobranchs, while an assortment of bamboo shark species call the reef tank home.  The Minnesota Aquarium is also part of a shark breeding program, and we got to see the bamboo shark and freshwater stingray nursery tanks as part of the backstage tour.

The temperate freshwater tank was also cool.  All the species in it can be found somewhere in or around the Mississippi River, from various turtles to a massive, 70-year-old alligator gar.  I’m a big fan of aquariums providing some of the local flavor, and the Sea Life did it well.

The smaller exhibits weren’t lacking.  This aquarium had possibly the largest collection of jellyfish and seahorse species I’ve ever seen on display.  Normally aquariums have one or two big jellyfish tanks with a bunch of sea nettles pulsing around, but Minnesota had a spread of four species on display, and also had a wide variety of seahorses from different ecosystems around the world.  The whole thing ended with a trip up a mountain stream, showing different freshwater species that call that environment home (including an intimidating alligator snapping turtle). The exit/entrance to the aquarium featured a smallish tank with guitarfish and cownose rays (definitely an up-and-coming species among aquariums).

The Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium is definitely a smaller facility than uber-aquariums like New England and Baltimore, but does a lot with a little space.  The backstage tour was informative and the information available at the exhibits was pretty comprehensive, even including the IUCN Red List values for the species on display.  Overall, the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium is worth a look if you’re in the enclosed city that is the Mall of America.

Minneapolis proved to be surprisingly fun, clean, and relatively easy to navigate (by foot at least).  I don’t know that I’ll ever have another reason to come back, but I also know that if I do come back I can be confident in having a good time.

And that wraps up my coverage of my second JMIH/AES conference.  Check out @WhySharksMatter, @labroides, and @ironloudly on Twitter for coverage of stuff I didn’t make it to.  This year proved yet again why I enjoy hanging out with shark people and has shown the big ol’ conference to be a consistently fun and informative time.  I’m already coming up with schemes to get to next year’s meeting in Vancouver, and I hope to see everyone there.


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