Virginia Marine Science Museum

2nd June 2001


Saren and I went to the Virginia Marine Science Museum after we had been to the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. We had a great time. It's a great place to visit and I'll be returning with Anne when her knee heals.

The Marine Science Museum consists of two buildings with a stretch of marsh between them. We started at the large building which has all the huge tanks with the live beasties. Out front is the seal tank, where there are 3 or 4 harbour seals swimming around. We left the seals till the very end.

First inside the entrance was a little terrarium. I don't know what else to call it. It was a little area with a pond and an island and a path with bridges through it. There was a lot of wildlife in that little area, including a sick bird huddling against the wall and an anxious young attendant who was trying to persuade the bird to eat something.

[The Terrarium]

It housed a lot of turtles. I am very fond of these little beasts and can sit and watch them for hours. It's a bit like watching a old French film - there isn't a lot of movement, but very significant things happen. [Turtles]

Saren had come to see the horseshoe crabs, and the Museum had horseshoe crabs. There was one large tank that had a shallow end that was open to the public. There was an attendant showing off the horseshoe crabs. One lucky horseshoe crab had been grabbed and was kept in a small bucket. They are a lovely chocolate colour, both top and bottom. In the underwater photo further down, they look green, but that's the trick of the water and the light. They are ugly little beasts, with a very hard carapace, a long skinny tail, and everything else stored under the carapace. They look a bit like trilobites, don't they? Saren said that they took a very old fossil of one of these crabs, and slotted a modern one in and it fitted exactly. They are very primitive beasts and the design hasn't changed in millions of years.

[The Horseshoe Crab]

Every now and then, the attendant would demonstrate the feeding habits. She would pick the crab up and turn it upside down. Underneath is also a lovely chocolate colour. The legs are arranged around the mouth. She would hold a prawn near the legs and the mouth and the crab would grab the prawn and stuff it into its mouth. Quite an amazing sight. Sadly, the photo is a little blurred. I wasn't using flash and the light was a little dim and I wasn't very steady. You have to imagine that white blur in the middle of the horseshoe crab is the prawn being stuffed into its mouth. [A Horseshoe Crab Feeding]

A little further along, the shallow pool turned into the large tank. There were clusters of the horseshoe crabs here. At the back right, a crab is trying to climb the rocks. With the legs underneath, the carapace sticking out and the tail sticking out even further, it's no wonder it never got anywhere. In the front is the horseshoe crab orgy. This daisy chain of oversexed beasts is hard at it.

News Flash [1st January 2003]: Saren has written an article about the horseshoe crabs. There's a whole web site devoted to them:

[Horseshoe Crab Group Sex]

Here they are at it again. They just sat there, clutching each other. There was no motion that I could see. I suspect that they weren't really doing it, but were just hanging on to the tail in front for comfort. See those bumps on either side of the carapace? And the bump at the front? They are the eyes. [Horseshoe Crab Group Orgy

We moved on. This building had some huge tanks. One very large tank contained some very large turtles. They swam round and round very slowly, probably bored to death. This one was alleviating its boredom by swimming down and staring at the humans. [The Large Turtle Tank]

We saw all the aquariums and the tanks. There was one based around a shipwreck with some large sharks swimming round. Sharks basically look evil, when you can see their faces right close up. We saw lots of small tanks with live jellyfish and the giant scallops and other odds and ends. There was a large shallow pool full of skates, and you could reach in and touch them as they swam past.

I can sit and watch fish for hours. It's hypnotic. They swim forward and they swim back and they repeat this till they die. I sit and watch and think weird thoughts.

Then we left the main building and went on the walk between the two buildings. It started with a quick look at the rocky shore of the river. [Rocky River Shore]

Then we proceeded through the marsh. It had rained while we were inside, so outside was clean and fresh and damp. There are walkways built over the marsh so you can walk around and see what's going on without disturbing the wildlife.

[The Walkways Through The Marsh]

This is Saren. We were on the walkways and Saren was reading the plaque and I realised I didn't have any photos of humans. [Saren In The Marshes]

It didn't appear to be a long walk between the buildings, but it took a while and we covered a fair bit of ground. The scenery changed a few times.

[More Marshland and the River]

We climbed the osprey viewing tower. It's a large metal structure, and it was dripping with water after the recent rain. [The Osprey Viewing Tower]

From the osprey viewing tower, we could look down onto an osprey platform, which contained no ospreys. That's that small wooden structure to the right of the centre. Next day we saw more of these structures with osprey nests on them.

[Viewing the Ospreys]

Then we came to the smaller building which housed many small displays and an aviary. First there was the otter tank with the river otters. I can sit for hours and watch otters at play. These otters were sleek and lithe and active and swam round and round. I didn't get any underwater shots of them because they were too fast. They would swish in front of me then swish away in the blink of an eye. I had to settle on photos when they slid up onto the platform and stopped to sniff. Just behind that central rock, to the right, you can see a round hole. There was an otter lair in there, with several entrances.

[The Otter Tank]

One otter appeared to have gone stir crazy. It might have been just having fun by spinning round and round in a circle, but it sure looked desperate to me.

[Bored Otter Spinning]

First thing after the otter tank was the aviary. This was a large netted enclosure. The mesh wasn't very small and many small birds flitted in and out, but it kept in the large birds. Inside the aviary there were special enclosures for special birds. There was a large woodpecker, and I had no idea they got so large. And owls had their own cage too. But most of the birds were free to wander. There was a large number of different ducks, and there were two wild turkeys. Turkey heads are incredibly ugly, but the plumage is spectacular. [A Turkey With Full Plumage]

And pelicans. They had small pelicans. [Small Pelicans]

Then we went back inside and looked at all the small water displays. We saw worms and snails, and were able to zoom in on displays with close-up video cameras, and walk through a kid's display of a marshland floor blown up to giant size, and do interactive computer stuff about the displays. I watched a water snake being fed minnows. And we had a great time. But we ran out of time. We had planned to walk back through the marshes and go to the bookshop, but it was near closing time and the marsh walk was shut. We had a long walk back to the car on a small path beside the road, avoiding cyclists who were hurtling along what seems to be the only cycleway in this area. When we got back to the main building, Saren went inside to the bookshop and I sat outside and took photos of the seals and watched them swimming back and forth, back and forth. They reminded me of our cats, fat and bored.

[Seal Underbelly]

[More Seal Underbelly]

[Still More Seal Underbelly]