The Diversity of Aquariums

This leafy sea dragon, a fish related to seahorses, is but one example of the amazing wildlife that exists but is hidden in the waters of this world. Aquariums give us a window to these marvels.

Collectively, the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands of this planet can make most terrestrial habitats seem almost barren. Each has its own unique properties resulting in flora and fauna often exclusive to its waters. The Amazon River is a very different river from the Congo or the Mississippi or the Snake; the Pacific Ocean is different from the Indian, Arctic or Atlantic Oceans. Coastal waters differ from open oceans, and fresh water from sea water or the brackish mix where the two intertwine. Water depth, current, water clarity and chemistry all help to form unique habitats.

The variety of animal and plant life found in these complex three dimensional habitats is astounding. The waters of our world hide most of their treasures though and we are seldom able to appreciate them.

And that is why aquariums, windows to this world, are one of my favorite places to visit. Most recently, my wife and I took in the Seattle Aquarium. Most aquariums have dazzling displays. Two story tall million gallon tanks complete with wet-suited divers feeding the sharks and walk-through glass tunnels where you are surrounded by sea-life are common attractions. Sting-rays, those long-tailed and flat-bodied fish, are also found in most aquariums. As in the Seattle Aquarium, there is often a “petting” area where children can safely touch stingrays, hold starfish and enjoy other commonly found sea life.

However, it isn’t the glitz and showmanship that attracts me to aquariums. It is the diversity on display. While I can visit a forest or desert and appreciate its plant and animal life, aquariums are about the only way to really see what is under the rolling waves of the ocean or the muddy waters of the Amazon. And that diversity is astounding.

Aquariums are as different as the species within them. I have been to aquariums in the following places: Albuquerque, New Mexico, Seattle, Washington, Omaha, Nebraska, Salt Lake City, Utah, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, The National Zoo in Washington, DC, Atlanta, Georgia and San Diego, California. What I can tell you from my experience is that the species and habitats represented in each aquarium are as different as sand and water.  

Each aquarium tends to specialize on a group of habitats, usually close to home. For instance, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, a huge two building affair arguably considered the best aquarium in America, specializes in freshwater habitats, especially rivers.  Despite a degree in fisheries, I was blown away by what I didn’t know about freshwater fish.

The Seattle Aquarium is dedicated to habitats that are found along the Washington coastline, including bays, estuaries, freshwater rivers and open ocean. It was full of intriguing vertebrate and invertebrate species I have never seen before.

Although aquariums are mainly about the flora and fauna that live in the water, they also recognize the wildlife that make their living from the waters of the world. Most aquariums also display animals such as sea lions, otters, beaver, alligators, penguins, puffins, turtles and more.

Aquariums give us a peek at a world we might otherwise never realize even exists. Even then, I suspect if I could visit every aquarium in the world, a worthy goal, I would find that the water world is so diverse that it might actually be impossible to ever become repetitive. I think I will visit a few dozen more to test my theory. I’d like to start with one in Africa or perhaps Australia.

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho