19 March 2013

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

The weekend we arrived on the island, it was an American holiday weekend, so we went to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium that Monday with our friends KayCee, Jake, and Kaylee.  They hadn't been there yet, so it was a great exploration for all of us.  We thought since it was still a work day for Japan, it wouldn't be busy, but I felt like every person on the island was there!  Even so, we were still able to see a ton of things and take some great pictures, and I know we all want to go back!
The aquarium is one of the largest in the world, one of the few that have multiple whale sharks in captivity, and the first aquarium to successfully reproduce manta rays.  It's definitely one of the main attractions on the island, and after being here once, we know why.  We ended up buying season passes, which pays for itself in 2 visits, and it's a good thing we did.  I don't think we were able to see even half of the exhibits on this day, and it's just over an hour away, so we'll be able to come a lot.
There is more than just an aquarium here, it's a whole park/village.  You park above everything which overlooks the ocean, and as you walk down 23909 (or so) flights of stairs, there are beautiful gardens and flower displays everywhere!  Literally walls and walls of flowers and plants.
Ocean themed plant displays!
 These guys were my favorite!
But it wasn't just flower and plant displays.  They have a dolphin theater (we caught the end of a show, you'll see below), Sea Turtle pools, Manatee pools, Arboretums, Oceanic Culture Museum, restaurants, and more.
Walls and walls of orchids everywhere!
I can't even imagine the amount of time, work, and money that goes into these displays.  They were endless, everywhere you turned, more flowers!!!
Once you actually make it to the Aquarium, which takes quite a while going down all the levels, looking at all the flowers, and taking pictures, there are even more photo ops and activities you can participate in before actually paying.
After we got our photos taken for our annual passes, we headed straight in and pet some starfish and other safe-to-handle creatures.  I think Aaron really liked this part.  I took his picture and walked away, and when I turned around, he was still petting things.
For a while, it was a pretty standard aquarium, different displays for different fish, a bunch of larger tanks with varieties of fish, etc.  It was really nice that everything was both in Japanese and English, so we were actually able to read and learn about the local sea life.  That's were I focused my time on, reading about and watching the local creatures.
Of course, I forgot exactly what everything was called... so I'll just call these water snakes 'creepers', because let's face it...that's exactly what they are.
My favorite though are the squid of course.  They were quite popular with everyone else also, so I didn't stay too long watching these guys float around.
But just long enough to get a few shots in.
The main exhibit was next, and it was pretty freaking cool.  I wish I was able to take better pictures, but either my little p&s camera doesn't like dark places or I don't know how to adjust the setting properly or a combo of both, but KayCee got some amazing shots with her DSRL, so maybe I could borrow some from her to show you (*hint *hint KayCee if you're reading this!).
So...if you don't know why it's so awesome that we saw a whale shark here it's because they are fucking enormous.  They are the largest known fish, and only around 15 or so are in captivity in the world.  They average 30 feet in length and weigh about 9 tons.  There isn't a whole lot known about them yet, no one has every seen a whale shark mate or give birth (they can carry 300 pups at once!), so having them in captivity is a pretty big deal.

In the same tank (which is so large you can barely call it a tank), they have giant manta rays, which are beautiful.  The 'wing span' on these are around 20 feet wide, and it was amazing to see them swim along the glass.
Speaking of the glass, they had a little display about this tank that held a handful of mantas and the whale sharks.  After all, it is curious how they build something to sustain all of that.  This one large tank (Kuroshio Sea) holds nearly 2 million gallons of water, and has a glass panel 27'x74' long!  The glass is an incredible 2 feet thick! Another cool thing about the aquarium is that all of the water is pumped in from the ocean, 300m offshore.  They pump in the new water, filter it into the tanks, filter it out of the tanks and back into the ocean.  The aquarium also generates 4 times more of its own power than it uses commercially.  Totally worth the 3,600 Yen ($39.15).
We finished off our day at the aquarium with the last few minutes of the dolphin show.  It was pretty impressive with a variety of dolphins and the ocean right behind.  It'll be nice to go again to watch the whole show.

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  1. Wow, I don't really have anything much to say other than beautiful!! This place looks amazing. I love reading your posts and all the details you include. Makes me feel like I'm there (almost...). Eddie got me a DSLR a few months ago for the baby and I haven't managed to get past the auto mode. If most of these pictures were done with your point and shoot I'd love to see what you could do with a DSLR since these shoots look so nice.
    Hope you all are doing well!

  2. Thanks Aretha! We'll have to go here WHEN you come and visit!!!

  3. We saw whale sharks at the aquarium in Atalanta, GA, also some rays, but I don't think they were quite as big as 20ft wingspan. Holy heck do I want to come visit even more, now!

    Also: I saw ads for Okinawa in the Paris Metro - but was never able to get a pic cos I'm lame. Basically it had a picture of the ocean, and some plant life and it was like "Japan is tropical? Wtf?"

  4. Loving your photos! Also, giant manta rays in an aquarium = freaking cool. Giant manta rays near the shoreline = freaking scary. One swam up close to us at the beach once. It haunts my dreams.