aquariums: Florida Aquarium Gets Technical

The St Petersburg Times reports that The Florida Aquarium is "getting techy with sea life" and the "Ocean of Commotion" will feature plasma screens and a variety of state-of-the-art innovations all designed to enhance the visitor’s erm, visit by making it an all together much more immersive and involved experience . (Love that phrase, "Ocean of Commotion", did the aquarium come up with that or the reporter? Either way, as my little girl would say, it rocks and indeed I do think McFly, the popular UK singing combo had an allbum of a similar name…)

Thom Stork, the 12 year old aquarium’s CEO says that the exhibit will be "sort of like a discotheque, " meaning that should I visit I’ll expect to be home early. On my own. With a kebab.

I do wonder whether this constant drive to engage and enthuse the visitor with technology can sometimes overstep the mark. I spent many many hours in my youth at Manchester Museum’s mini-zoo/aquarium; they had crocodiles and snapping turtles and iguanas and archer fish, lung fish and catfish and a great, fat, white throated monitor. Point is I’m not even sure there were even labels, I was "enthused" and "immersed" by the animals alone. I think they key must be to watch that the technology doesn’t become overpowering and become an attraction in itself.

A similar thought on the "muzak" to which we are generally treated whilst wandering round most aquaria and many of today’s visitor atractions. The piped ethereal/new-age background to an aquarium visit puzzles me. Do we need to be told that what we are witnessing is fascinating, incredible, stupefying? Does our awe need to be inspired with the help of an Enya-style soundtrack?

I was at Valencia’s outstanding and architecturally stunning L’Oceanagraphic last week, an aquarium with wondeful landscaping, beauitul design and (what it’s all about) a fantastic variety of ocean life. However, the piped music was all pervasive and slightly incongruous. No Concierto de Aranjuez while I watched the magnificent Belugas, just some genuine, good ol’ Irish fiddle de dee.