Watching Girls Watching Whales

We got lucky at Zoo Atlanta on Sunday. We watched the elephant munching his lunch, the tiger slinking as only tigers can and the gorillas lumbering about, vying for status. The bald eagle perched as if posing for us just a few arms’ lengths away, the naked mole rats moved bits of straw about and the baby pandas sat facing us in their black and white perfection. I love to see their sleek bodies, fluffy fur, insane talons, unique markings, hilarious expressions and fascinating form. I want to see their bulk and their grace, the way their heads are shaped and how their eyes connect (or don’t) with mine or how the wind makes them cock their heads to catch a whiff of something. But in the middle of a hot and humid summer day, I was also not surprised to see a lounging lion, snoozing sun bears and tired turtles.

An aquarium is a whole nother thing. Everything is moving at an aquarium. Optimal water temperatures can be maintained. If you go to almost any of the tanks – jellyfish, otters, sea horses – you see bubbles in the water, fantastically shaped and colored marine life and almost continual movement. For these animals, moving sleekly and majestically through the water is part of staying alive. For the people watching them, that movement is mesmerizing.

Case in point, my darling granddaughters, not only mesmerized on Saturday at the Georgia Aquarium,

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but also genuinely thrilled! There it goes, one of the beluga whales making another round, flipping over, spinning, gliding, accelerating, diving, playing, smiling, peeking at us, showing off!

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The belugas are extraordinarily graceful, obviously powerful, delightfully cheerful. These gigantic, all-white creatures from the Arctic Ocean are not small. I’m not sure of the stats on these individuals, but belugas can get to be 18 ft (5.5 m) long and up to 3,530 lb (1,600 kg). They can swim backwards, sideways and upside down. I loved watching them, but I was drawn even more to the five-year-old and four-year-old in my charge for whom nothing else in the world existed at that moment. The girls alternately oohed, aahed, squealed with delight, pointed and exclaimed, “Whoa! Look! Look!”

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Other marvelous creatures inspired our awe as well. The sea urchins that you touch with two fingers together, the sea dragons that look like they could breathe fire if only they weren’t under water, the massive whale sharks that move hauntingly among the groupers, sea turtles, manta rays and hundreds of others, the dolphins that eject like rockets out of the water and touch a ball suspended 30 feet above them – these animals are absolute wonders of our world. I’m grateful to all those many people who worry about them, care for them, advocate for them – very grateful – but I am most grateful that what they do makes it possible for me to bring two sweet, wonderful little girls to see them, marvel at them, delight in them.

When is the last time you were awed by a majestic animal showing its stuff? For an even more awesome experience, take a child or two along. Watch them stare in amazement, watch them touch the sea urchins with two fingers carefully pressed together, listen as they recount the day and tell you from their experience that “You can’t touch the belugas!”

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