Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mazatlán Part 4: The Aquarium

Bony the Sea Lion enjoys a quiet swim at Acuario Mazatlán.  One of our most entertaining and memorable experiences at Mazatlán was our visit to the Acuario (Aquarium). Carole and I thought that viewing tanks of exotic fish might be interesting enough, but we found that the Acuario contains much more than that. In addition to the live fish, there is a considerable oceanic museum, a live crocodile pen, a tank full of performing sea lions, an aviary, and an entertaining flock of well-trained and vividly colored parrots. Bony the Sea Lion was the star performer among a whole group of these very intelligent animals. Above, he has just finished one of his regular performances and, with his tummy full of fishy rewards, he is cruising quietly around his tank. The Acuario is located in the middle of Playa Norte about 1 block east of the malecon, about 1/2 way between Playa Olas Altas and the Zona Dorado. To locate the Acuario Mazatlán, click on this map.

This giant statue of Neptune led us to believe we might be close to the Acuario. Neptune stands in the middle of the aquarium parking lot, seeming to silently hawk his finny displays. The Acuario address is Avenida de los Deportes #111. The facility is open seven days a week, from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM. The fee for adults is $30 pesos ($2.50 USD). For a map of the Acuario displays, click here.

One of our first encounters was this huge skeleton of a grey whale. Many other beautifully stuffed fish, such as the spear-snouted blue marlin, were displayed on the walls. This was the only part of the Acuario not containing living creatures. Grey whales can reach a length of 16 meters (52 ft.) and a weight of 36 tons. The grey whale is descended from creatures that developed 30 million years ago and is the only living species in its genus and family. They were feared by whalers as one of the whale species that would fight back fiercely if hunted. The grey whale was hunted to extinction in the Atlantic Ocean by the early 18th Century, and became endangered in the Pacific until whaling was restricted in the late 20th Century. The biggest remaining population of grey whales migrates along the Pacific Coast between Alaska and Baja California. In May of 2010, a grey whale was sighted off the coast of Israel, leading scientists to believe they may be repopulating areas of the Mediterranean that have not seen these creatures for many centuries.

Cirujano Gris swims placidly in its tank. Also known as Acanthorus xanthopterus, the Cirujano Gris is found in a huge area from the coast of Africa, across the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Coast of the Americas between Baja and the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.  Scores of tanks were filled with similarly colorful fish from around the world.

A California spiny lobster clambers slowly up a rock in its tank. This creature, officially named Panulirus interruptus, looks like a huge underwater insect. Its appearance beautifully matches the color and texture of the rocks in its tank. The lobster was so well camouflaged that it was a moment before I even saw it. The spiny lobster lacks the large claws of its Atlantic cousin, and is found along the Pacific Coast from Monterey California to the Gulf of Tehuantepec in Mexico. The female can carry up to 680,000 eggs. It lives on sea urchins, mussels, clams, and worms and is in turn hunted by a variety of predators including humans.

A mother Moray eel and her baby peep out of their hiding place. Some among the 200 species of this creature can reach a length of 4 meters (13 ft.). Moray's don't see very well with their tiny eyes, and rely on a highly developed sense of smell. They like to hide in rocky crevices and holes waiting for prey to wander by. Morays have large jaws with sharp teeth developed for tearing flesh. They are unusual in having a second set of jaws inside their throats which launch out and grab prey and drag it into the throat. This is probably because, with their narrow necks, they can't swallow prey like other fish. Morays are the only animal that does this. Morays can and do inflict serious injuries on humans. Watch your fingers!

Perruno cruises his world, possibly wondering at the strange creatures on the other side of the glass. The formal name of this fish is Perrunichthys perruno, and its range is Venezuela and Brazil. It is sometimes known as the leopard catfish, and originates in the Lake Maracaibo, a brackish bay in northern Venezuela connected to the ocean by a narrow channel. It is the largest lake in South America.

Pez Tigre, also known as Cirrhitus rivulatus. This creature, which gets its common name from its tiger-stripe markings, is found from the Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands. It is also known as the Giant Hawkfish, and is found around reefs under fairly shallow water. The Pez Tigre is a favorite of divers because of it's sociability as it interacts with them.

Catsharks swim with a variety of other species in a large central tank. Catsharks, of the family Scyloirhinidae, are sometimes also known as dogfish. They live in temperate and tropical seas and can be found in depths from shallow intertidal waters to 2000 meters (6600 ft.). The ones shown above range in size up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft.).

As John Lennon wrote "All you need is love..." To our surprise, the sharks were soon joined in their tank by a young Mexican diver. These potentially dangerous animals seemed accustomed to this intrusion, and allowed themselves to be held and caressed. One of them even towed the diver around while he hung on to its dorsal fin. For a substantial fee, you too can swim with these sharks. Having (fortunately) left my swimming suit at the hotel, I declined.

Looking like contestants on a TV game show, sea lions wait for their trainer's command. The delighted shrieks of children led us up a ramp to the sea lion tank. The Acuario is home to 6 well-trained sea lions. They are Bony, seen in the first picture, Cyli (left above), Toby (right above) and Ely, Lili, and Tito, whom we did not see that day. These enormously appealing creatures are intelligent, active, and mischievous, as well as naturally beautiful. Their expressive faces are vaguely dog-like and they share with their canine compatriots a desire to please and play.

Toby earns his treat the hard way. Standing on a rock platform, the trainer hung onto a bit of rope while he leaned out over the pool with a fish in his mouth. Toby swam several circles around the pool to gain momentum, then surged up to snatch the fish.

Bony, the star. Balancing his bulk on his flippers, Bony holds a ball on the tip of his snout. The trainer pretended to ignore the sea lion as he walked around the edge of the pool. Bony followed him everywhere, still holding the ball on his nose, while he tried to get the trainer's attention. What he really wanted, of course, was his fish treat. As soon as he gulped it down, he flipped the ball so that it bounced off the trainer's head and dove back into the water. The crowd went wild.

Bony, the Don Juan of sea lions. To the delight of the large crowd of school kids, the trainer invited one of their teachers to come forward. When she extended her cheek, Bony gave her a wet, fishy kiss. The kids were beside themselves.

Looking for volunteers. The trainer next asked the kids if anyone wanted to see one of Bony's special tricks, one for which they would have to come close to observe. There were many takers. Suspecting what was up, I readied my camera but moved to a safe distance.

Bony, the acrobat. The big sea lion circled the tank rapidly to prepare for his trick. Suddenly he surged out of the water into an airborne flip. The kids cheered deliriously.

Next, the deluge! When Bony's huge bulk hit the water, a tidal wave surged over the mass of kids at the end of the tank. Far from unhappy, the soaked and dripping kids howled with laughter and called for more.

Bony takes a bow. After his prank on the children, Bony mounted his podium and clapped his flippers, applauding his own performance. He was joined in this by everyone in the crowd. Bony was amazingly agile both in and out of the water for a 300 kg (660 lb.) animal. According to my research, the sea lions at the Acuario were orphaned or injured at an early age and could not be released back into the wild. They are well cared for by staff veterinarians. They seem to enjoy their own performances as much as the audience does.

Outside the fish tank area, crocs snooze in the morning sun. It was a chilly morning and the cold-blooded reptiles were sluggish and seemed only interested in finding a warm ray of sunshine. American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) inhabit the Pacific coastal lagoons and mangrove swamps of Mexico. Periodically, they injure or kill unwary or careless humans. 

Say ahhh! As he slept, this croc held his mouth open. Since they do not have sweat glands, crocodiles release body heat through their open mouths. Crocodiles as a species are at least 200 million years old. They were contemporaries of the dinosaurs, which went extinct 65 million years ago. Crocs survived the great extinction event and share the world with us today. This croc's posture, and proximity to the fence, helped me get a closeup shot of the fearsome teeth that grip and tear the flesh of his prey. I was tempted to see if I could wake him up by reaching in and tickling the roof of his mouth, but sanity prevailed.

Acuario Mazatlán also contains an extensive aviary and botanical garden. Above, a Brown Pelican suns itself inside the aviary. We walked the pathways around the inside of the large aviary cages and approached astonishingly close to the birds. The Brown Pelicans like this are quite large, with a weight of up to 5.5 kg (12 lbs.) and a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft.). Even so, they are the smallest of the eight species of pelicans. Brown Pelicans are coastal birds, and dive dramatically for their fish prey.

Closeup shot of Great White Egret. Residents of areas around Lake Chapala, where I live, will recognize this creature, formally called Ardea alba. It inhabits much of the tropical and temperate regions of the world. In the Americas, it is found from the US Sunbelt states to the rain forests of South America. The Great White Heron feeds on snakes and small fish at the edge of bodies of water.

Parrots are another extremely varied and ancient bird. Parrots belong to 372 species in 86 genera of the order Psittaciformes. Some studies show that they may have originated 65 million years ago, about the same time as the dinosaur extinction. Parrots are some of the most intelligent of all birds, and some can imitate human voices. These capacities have caused them to be exploited more than any other bird species. This has also led to conservation efforts as their habitat has been progressively reduced. The parrot above quietly posed as I set up my shot.

A pair of white parrots dances from foot to foot in time to music. Some of the Acuario's trainers had worked with a group of parrots and put on a little show to demonstrate their intelligence and trainability.

As with the seals, trainers won the birds cooperation through treats. Above, the trainer prepares to reward a colorful red parrot as the two white ones anxiously wait their turn. The use of such rewards is part of something called "operant conditioning."

Pulling his weight. The trainer set the tiny cart on a table and seated the white parrot as a passenger. The green parrot proceeded to pick up the tongue of the cart with his beak and pull it down the table, to the cheers of the crowd.

Playing seesaw. Although a bit difficult to see against the foliage, a green parrot sits on the upper end of the curved ladder, and another sits on the bottom end. In the middle, a larger bird sits on a bar that connects the two ends. The large bird began rocking back and forth, giving his two smaller pals quite a ride. All the birds seemed well treated by the trainers, who handled them gently and with affection.

This completes Part 4 of my Mazatlán series. In my next installment, I will take you to Mazatlán's Archeological Museum to see some of the artifacts from the ancient cultures which once thrived here. As always, I welcome feed back. If you'd like to leave a comment, please either use the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Hola, Jim
    I haven't left any comments lately--busy at work--but I've enjoyed your posts as always. This one was particularly fun to read.

  2. From Your Former Neighbor to Carole and Jim: Have to tell you after all this time....your blogs are AMAZING. The photographs, the narratives, and the organization of your materials are beautiful and inspiring. I am glad your "retirement" life has been so full and fulfilling. Jan


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim