Saturday, November 14, 2009

Awesome Day at the Newport Aquarium

Today was a fantastic day!

Jill and I arrived at the Newport Aquarium where we are Volunteer Divers for the WAVE Foundation at the Aquarium. This morning was our Diver Rescue Training where we learn the protocols for handling diver emergencies in the tanks at the Aquarium. Neither of us knew what to expect and the day turned out way better than we could have ever expected.

We started by suiting up and getting into the acclimation pool of the Shark Tank. This was my first saltwater experience since before summer and it felt great to be back in the "ocean." The subject matter was serious however and we learned the steps necessary to get an injured diver out of the shark tank and into safety. The alarm system for divers is top notch. The divers have a panic button located about a foot over the water and when we push it, 911 is immediately called and the alarm rings in every back stage area to get help coming. There is one on each of the main tanks of the aquarium and it is like a safety net for diver. We learned how to lift a diver using a chain hoist and litter to get them out of the shark tank and after we had done it a couple of times each, we headed to the Amazon Tank to learn the protocols there. Before we went there we had an opportunity to see one of the barbs shed by one of the southern stingrays. This was to help us understand the seriousness of the injury one of these creatures could inflict. The barb was about the thickness of a pencil, razor sharp and so serrated in one direction it would do a ton of damage coming out. It was so wicked that I was thinking that Hollywood could have scarcely done better in a tool for one of its wicked characters. We were told that the barbs could grow to be the size and length of a #2 pencil and they could certainly punch through our flimsy wetsuits.

In the Amazon tank there are at least 6 stingrays but we were strictly staying at the surface to do our emergency drills. This drill was similar to ones taught in our Rescue Diver course and the difference is that we have Arowanas, Oscars, Pacus, Freshwater stingrays and other creatures of the Amazon looking on. I was bummed when we were told that we didn't need masks but after our Dive Safety Officer realized that we had never been in the tank before, she let us "snorkel" for an hour there after the drills.

The final drill was an "Envenomation Drill." This protocol was specific to the stingrays and what to do if we accidentally got skewered. The emergency kit was very complete and the drill was one of those that you hoped you never had to use what you learned. Those little flat pancakes are super cute but I would hate to be on the receiving end of what they can deliver.

After the drills we had time to spend in the tank. It was a fantastic opportunity for Jill and I since we were pretty excited about being able to swim along side creatures that we have kept in our home aquariums for years. Oscars, Plecostomus', Red tailed catfish, Severums, Pacus, and the freshwater stingrays were amazing. This was so awesome I could not imagine the day getting any better.... or so I thought.

When we got out of the Amazon Tank, our DSO came up and told us that she had a surprise for us. If we wanted to, we could get back into the Acclimation pool and spend some time getting to know Denver, the resident Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Jill and I jumped at the chance. Denver was HUGE! He weighed in at his last weighing at 200lbs and his head was the size of a volleyball. He was super gentle but we were told that we had to be careful not to get near his mouth, anything he bit he broke... off. But there seemed to be no end to his curiosity. I had just got my camera mask to take pictures of the Aquarium creatures and it seems that Denver liked the blinking light on the mask a lot... needless to say it was an amazing experience. I was really happy with how the pictures from the mask turned out. Once I get over the learning curve I think it will be something that I use on every dive in the aquarium.

Afterwards Jill and I took the rest of the afternoon to run through the aquarium on the public side. It was super crowded but we had lots of fun and took lots of pictures. We were both having fun telling people what they were looking at and spending a lot of time at each tank looking to get "perfect" shots. Not easy to do through glass and lexan.

On the way home Jill made a comment to the effect that walking through the aquarium on the public side brought us a little back to reality. She said that while we were walking through the aquarium she realized how many people there are who have no idea what they are looking at. As we both talked we discussed how much more we know about the worlds oceans because we are scuba divers. Things like;
  • Remoras are not baby sharks
  • What an anemone is and that it is not a plant
  • In the shark touch tank... "No it's not dead, just sleeping"
  • Lionfish are beautiful but they are an invasive species
  • A shark wasn't a mindless eating machine and the safety divers in the tank were there to keep the turtle from biting divers, not the sharks.
  • That the turtles in the tank with the alligators were indeed real (Jill had a hard time convincing one guy)
  • Not all jellyfish were stinging and you didn't instantly die from getting stung
  • Its a "blue tang" not a "Dory Fish" and no it doesn't speak "whale,"
  • My personal favorite, "yes I am sure it is a scorpion fish, not a rock"
I am super happy that Jill talked me into this experience from the beginning and I am looking forward to the next time we get to go to the aquarium... we are now ready to dive!