Fresh from a vacation visit to the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, I checked out our own newly expanded aquarium this weekend with high hopes that we might have copied a few things from the awe-inspiring facility to our south. Not really. The huge Window on Washington Waters in the puzzlingly oversized entrance hall is something like what Monterey does. But whereas Monterey's huge windows allow you to gawk at otherworldly fish that take your breath away--giant sea turtles and sunfish, for instance--Seattle's window offers a tame panorama of anemone, rockfish and other sea creatures we've frankly seen before. The idea was to show what it would be like to scuba dive in local waters like those at Neah Bay, which is fine if less than thrilling. But where are those most quintessential of local fish: salmon? Eaten, according to a guide I chatted with during my visit. Aquarium staff put 600 young salmon into the exhibit a few days before the facility opened last month. Within three weeks, the rockfish--taken from the wild and used to finding their own food rather than being fed by aquarium staff--had gobbled them all up. Whoops. The aquarium has more salmon to put in there, but is waiting until they're a little bigger and the rockfish have adjusted to eating what they're fed.
It's a forgivable mistake. Still, the $41 million aquarium expansion seems a let-down. Much of that sum was spent on necessary replacements of deteriorating pilings, but the aquarium also had a chunk of money to play with and spent it mostly on the big window, vacant entrance hall and a café, adding practically no new fish to their exhibits.