WHO: Globe arts reporter Geoff Edgers and his son, Cal, 2
WHAT: The New England Aquarium during renovation of its Giant Ocean Tank
The tank. That, to me, has always been the centerpiece at the New England Aquarium, four stories of sharks, turtles, stingrays, and just about any fish you can imagine.
I remember the tank when I was a little kid. You would cram yourself into different window sections and wait for the shark to roll around. You would head to the top and watch the giant turtle surfacing. You would stare at a wet-suited staffer in the drink and half admire and half fear her existence.
Which is why I was intrigued to head over to see what exactly it would be like visiting the Aquarium with the Giant Ocean Tank on hiatus. It’s being renovated and won’t open again until this summer.
Closing the tank has meant closing down perhaps the second most noticeable space, as well. The penguins that usually swim, jump, and play in the giant pool inside the front door have been taken off-site. (The fish from the big tank are now in penguin space.)
As a conciliatory gesture, the Aquarium has dropped admission prices by $5 — to $17.95 for adults, $12.95 for kids — though I’d argue that discount is chum compared with the $35 outlay required at the nearby parking garage.
But this wasn’t about money. It was about getting my boy, Cal, out of the house and into close contact with aquatic life.
The first thing I noticed, as we drove up to the garage, were the long lines. The construction project hadn’t killed admissions. Before we left the car, I clicked through my iPhone to buy a ticket online and skip the wait. Inside, we headed right to the stingray exhibit, where Cal tried, repeatedly, to touch the rays swimming by. (You’re supposed to.) His 2-year-old arms were too short, though, or perhaps it was his patience. We had more success with the crabs. My wife, Carlene, has already introduced Cal to hermit crabs down on the Cape. So he was only too eager to check them out in this hands-on exhibit.
We moved upstairs to the smaller tanks featuring a variety of sea, river, and pond creatures. As is usual on a weekend, it’s a crowded space, with parents and kids jockeying for tank time. I let Cal squirrel his way through so he could stare at what he wanted.
When you’re that young and looking at fish, the bigger, the better. Cal locked eyes with a salmon, seemed mildly fascinated by the pulsating jellyfish, and asked me to lift him, repeatedly, to check out the above and below surface areas of a re-created river stream. After about 45 minutes, he did get tired of the inside tanks and said, “I’m done.” Not so fast, buddy. We zipped up his coat and headed out a side door and around to the back of the Aquarium.
There was a short wait to check out the few penguins still on-site. “They go there and they walk up there,” Cal said, pointing to the ramp the penguins use.
And then we found his favorite spot. That’s the huge pool with the California sea lions. Cal was particularly sucked in by the endless, playful wrestling between two lions. They would bump noses, push each other off the deck and then swim to a rock for safety. And then the other lion would jump up, knock his buddy off, and they’d go through it again.
Watching Cal’s nose pressed up against the glass, I realized we could have stayed for hours, giant tank or no giant tank.