Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography

A great aquarium right in our backyard

Event Report 20131212

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The Experience

A visit to the aquarium had been on our list of things to do for some time.  Kathleen managed to score "two for one" coupons so we packed the cameras and headed out.  The photos below are from my new Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  The E-M1 is the successor to my E-M5 that has done yeoman duty on a number of trips including Europe.  This model has some ergonomic improvements as well as no low-pass  filter.

The photos in the aquarium were technically challenging:  low light, wide apertures, high ISO, moving subjects, inability to use a flash unit and glass windows covered with greasy hand prints.  And to make things more difficult, the glass and plexiglass used for the tank windows had an index of refraction that was different from both the sea water and air.  The result was reflections from both sides of the window depending on the inside and outside lighting, each slightly different.  Based on these constraints, the E-M5 did a great job.

The photos below are what we saw.

This mini-sub was used as part of Scripps Institute of Oceanography research efforts.   I am sure that a dive was an angst-producing exercise.

"Here's looking at you, kid".  Interestingly, the bigger fishes were attracted to our presence at the window to their tank.

Most of the tank dwellers were curious of our arrival.  Since the aquarium was essentially deserted, I am sure it was our motion that attracted them.

This tank had brightly colored anemones.

The adjacent tank had this ugly brute, some kind of eel with a face like a retired boxer.

Next to the eel was a nice anemone that had thick tentacles.

This nice lime-green anemone looked good enough to eat.  And speaking of eating, the spiny structure in the left rear of the photo is a sea urchin which is the source of the Japanese delicacy Uni, one of my favorites.

Another tank had jelly fish.  These creatures, though fragile, have stinging tentacles that frequently make life unpleasant for swimmers.  The venom from their tentacles stun their prey, usually small fish, so it is quite powerful.

This jelly had nice colors.  The particles above the jelly are food debris.

One of the larger tanks was a simulation of a kelp bed.  There were plenty of fish in the exhibit, but most were "just fish".  At the bottom of the tank were these leopard sharks.  The fellow in the foreground had significant damage to his dorsal fint; they look as if they have been bitten or torn.  The plexiglass window of this tank was at least 6" thick resulting in significant distortion of the image.

In a smaller tank with thinner windows we were able to get a nice closeup of these fish with intricate marking patterns.

The tropical tank had the most colorful fish.  Look closely at the largest fish at the top center of the photo; he appears to be blind.  He had some kind of fungus covering his cornea.

I caught this fellow in the act of expelling a mouth full of sand as part of a nest-building exercise.  The big pile of sand in the foreground of the photo above was moved by him.

These reef-dwelling fish were using the anemones as their hunting grounds.

Note the dark colored stripe on this guy passes over his eye; the eye is colored as well.

The tentacles were in constant motion as they searched for food debris.

Outside at the tide pool display, we got a nice view of the La Jolla coast and the Scripps Institute pier.

This fish uses the corals for both cover and as a feeding ground.

A separate tank had several kinds of sea horses and brightly colored corals.

The sea horses have a prehensile tail but their mouths are fused into a tube that allows strong suction to capture their prey.  They propel themselves with the small fin on the back that flutters at a high rate.

There were more sea horses in yet another tank.  Note Kathleen's reflection in the glass; this was unintentional.

These sea dragons got my vote as the most bizarre creatures at the aquarium.  They are suction feeders and have tiny fluttering fins for locomotion like the sea horses, but they move in packs and have brightly colored markings.

Not all whales in this photo are statues.  Can you find the 4th whale?

The Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute is a great place.  The location on the hill provides a dramatic view of the La Jolla coastline.  The exhibits are both visually attractive and informative.  It is worth a visit if you are in the area.

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Copyright Bill Caid 2013.  All rights reserved.