One cold November day, in the wee hours of the morning, the aquarium staff and a few lucky onlookers, including Mayor Nickels, stood>"/>
One cold November day, in the wee hours of the morning, the aquarium staff and a few lucky onlookers, including Mayor Nickels, stood under the Alaskan Way Viaduct (shut down for this purpose) and watched a giant crane remove the temporary roof off the new part of the aquarium, and lower down a 55,000 lb, 12.5” thick, window sliding into the new Window on Washington Waters exhibit due to open tomorrow.
Today, behind that 40’x 20’ window is 120,000 gallons of bonafide Puget Sound water, and approximately 407 fish (they can’t get an accurate count because they keep eating each other, damn you Mother Nature!). According to Public Relations Director Laura Austin “the tank is supposed to be a slice of Neah Bay…we wanted something that was unique, that was one big window, one big view, that makes you say ‘wow.’”
The exhibit certainly has that ‘wow’ factor, especially when faced with so much water, fish, and glass looming over you, but wait, there’s more. Imagine taking in this artificially simulated natural oasis with your own two eyes, and suddenly a scuba diver floats by, and a booming voice fills the entire lobby, coming from inside the tank! Three times a day, one of five divers will be on hand for a ten-minute or so “show” and Q & A session that will be conducted through this 12.5” of plexi-glass. There will be another diver on the outside interpreting and convincing the young children in the crowd that this isn’t a space alien, or Darth Vader, and that despite the fact that you can’t see her mouth moving, she is the one speaking.
Andrea DosSantos, the lead diver of her all-female quintet of SCUBA-ers has a B.S. in Biology, but says, “most [divers] probably don’t.” She is visibly excited about the tank as she shows me her specially made mask, complete with microphone and headphones, “It’s a dream come true! I get to dive and talk about fish at the same time!” Andrea and her team were the first people granted access to the tank, even before the fish, and have been in there for the past month, several times a day working on their presentation on marine conservation, although she wishes they had more time. “The AV system only got up and running a week or two ago, there has definitely not been enough practice time, but we’re all getting more comfortable [in the tank].”
The upcoming summer vacation time means probably no class field trips to the aquarium for the big opening, but DosSantos says it’s not just for kids, “we tried to gear the presentation towards people of all ages, there is some adult humor in there that the kids won’t get.” Not only will the professionally written script (they hired a theater producer) include props, and jokes, but I also got word of dancing, somersaulting, and even got a first-hand preview of DosSantos' one-side conversation with a group of rock fish. While she says they will try to hold each performance off to about ten minutes, the divers are actually breathing surface air and could potentially stay down there forever, “except for bathroom and freezing,” DosSantos adds, “those are our two problems.” Though she says the 51 degree water is manageable due to their full dry suits, and their active routine.
The obvious enthusiasm and “hands-on” approach to learning about marine life that has become synonymous with the Seattle Aquarium for years, is obviously only expanding with their, um, expansion.