Out of Home Range: New England Aquarium

Myrtle in her element. Photo Credit: W. Chappell

On Sunday, for the first time in a year or so, one of the Owlets and I went to the New England Aquarium in Boston. Mr. Owl and the other teenage Owlet opted for freezing outdoor soccer and sleeping, respectively. By 9:10 am (Aquarium opens at 9), we were watching the penguins swim about as they waited for their rocks to be scrubbed.

Deco the African penguin who turned 40 in 2021. Image Credit: New England Aquarium

We’ve been members of the Aquarium since we moved here in 2014. There is no museum/zoo/place in Boston this Owlet and I like better. It’s a small aquarium as aquariums go, and somehow that makes it all the more enjoyable. We see our favorites every time (the electric eel, the silver school of fish circling, the octopuses of which there have been at least three in 7 years–they don’t live long. Tatoosh, the most recent, died in fall of 2021).

The Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium, with the hanging skeleton of a North Atlantic right whale and model of a sea jelly (Photo: S. Cheng)

We always walk up the long ramp around the sides (after visiting the sea lions), then the stairs to the tippy top where we lean on (when the Owlets were small) or lean over the glass wall to marvel at Myrtle the sea turtle. She’s given up brussels sprouts, by the way–her current obsession is romaine lettuce.

We see the garden eels and dwarf seahorses then wend our way down the spiral, stopping many times to stare giant fish in the eyeball or compete to find the green moray first. Within an hour we’ve done it all (except the touch tank of sharks and rays since tthe Owlet says “he’s too old for that now”). We maneuver around the influx of strollers and toddlers at 10:15 am, and we’re out into the cold air walking to our car (pitstop Dunkin because no one is made of steel).

In the worst of the pandemic, the aquarium closed for quite some time–maybe six months. Then it opened with limited hours and entry, with prior booking for everyone including members. In November 2020, they had late-open Friday nights which was the best thing ever–small crowd, one-way ramps, zen music piped in, mellow fish (except the moray which was crazy busy). Wish they would do that again.

Before the pandemic, we had met Sy Montgomery (she wrote the Soul of an Octopus–a life-changer for me) and Scott Dowd, the aquarist for the Amazon part of the aquarium. Scott in particular was extremely helpful as we planned a trip to the Amazon in August 2017–even invited an Owlet for a backstage tour of the Amazon exhibit, where the Owlet climbed out over one tank to watch the fish from above, and learned that the electric eel only stays at the front of the tank (she prefers darkness) because Scott had hung a little feeder out of sight that would drop worms from time to time into the tank. It was rigged up with those little plastic hanging monkeys and a yogurt cup. We talk about it at every visit.

In terms of Covid safety, the Aquarium requires masks and proof of vaccination. If you are not a member (and if you go more than once a year, it makes financial sense as well as supporting their sea turtle missions, etc), you can buy your tickets in advance — they are limiting capacity. Members can walk in any time. Early morning was pretty empty–mostly exhausted parents of electric young toddlers, and you get to watch the workers in wetsuits feed the penguins with little fish, one by one as they dip the fish in water and pop them into the penguin mouths, noting down on a clipboard how many each eats.

We parked easily on the street two blocks away–the close-by parking garages are insanely, New York-ly expensive. No need. Don’t forget the IMAX theatre if the weather is bad or a walk along the harbor if it’s nice.

The New England Aquarium is at 1 Central Wharf, and open 9 am-5 pm on weekdays 9 am to 6 pm on weekends. Their inside cafe is currently open as is their gift store. https://www.neaq.org/

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