Facility Spotlight: Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (Japan)

I originally visited Port of Nagoya Aquarium in February 2017, and wrote this review shortly after although did not post it.  Since then the orcas now use the huge show pool!

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Humans learn best when they are entertained, and if one speaks Japanese, Port of Nagoya Aquarium would certainly be a perfect fusion of entertainment and education, as this seemingly small aquarium felt like a living science centre. And if you don’t speak Japanese (like me), it is still worth trip as there is plenty to see and do.
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Port of Nagoya Aquarium’s North Building’s theme is “A journey spanning 3.5 billion years: Animals that have returned to the seas.” Alongside a rather large collection of bones and fossils detailing cetacean evolution are their living descendants, including orcas, belugas, bottlenose dolphins, and pacific white sided dolphins. That it is all in Japanese didn’t make it any less interesting – indeed, I spent most of my day watching the cetaceans play with toys, interact with their trainers, check out the guests, and more.

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Cetacean evolution displays, with the show pool’s underwater viewing in the background.

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While the orcas do not have their own show so to speak, the aquarium conducts scheduled public training sessions. The two I saw were vastly different from one another: one was low-energy and seemed to focus on basic behaviours and husbandry, while the other was more like what you’d expect an orca show to be (complete with background music), and featured more high-energy behaviours. Both provided an extensive commentary.

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Stella providing a voluntary urine sample

Earth, who was transferred from Kamogawa Sea World in late-2015, was interacting affectionately with his grandmother Stella and aunt Lynn. He and Lynn seemed particularly close, as she kept following him around and melon-bumping him. At Kamogawa he was often alone in the back pool.
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Lynn and Earth, BFFs

The beluga whale training session takes place in a building whimsically called “Under the Northern Lights” (although I was sad to see there were no simulated northern lights – the title evoked images of Chimelong Ocean Kingdom). The belugas seemed to have a very good relationship with their trainers, and appeared enthusiastic and responsive. There was even a trainer in what I presume was the med pool tossing a ball back and forth with the animals in there, as if it was to ensure they weren’t left out.

The dolphin show was high energy and fun, and featured both Bottlenose and Pacific White Sided Dolphins(!!!). Earlier in the day, they held a special presentation for visiting students which was heavy on narrative and laughs – the Pacific White Sided Dolphins in particular were crowd-pleasers with the children.

And the show pool itself? Spacious and deep. [Note: This is the one the orcas have started using since typing the review]

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The South Building’s theme is “A Journey to the Antarctic” and is meant to simulate a journey south from Japan. It includes marine life from Japan, equatorial regions, deep-sea regions, Australia, and of course Antarctica.

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Found them! 😉

A Sugar Glider from Australia

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Sea turtle breeding

“I woke up like this” #nofilter #nomakeup

Just don’t make the same mistake I did: make sure you enter what I believe was the “Japan’s Seas” area by way of a small, rather lackluster room that held only a few small fish tanks. I bypassed it for something more “exciting”, and inadvertently started exploring the exhibits from the wrong end, not realizing I had done so until I was about halfway through and became like a salmon swimming upstream.

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The aquarium also holds educational talks and feeding sessions throughout the day. One would need to speak Japanese to understand them, but judging by the crowd’s reactions, they were interesting.  Topics included breeding, feeding, ecology, and animal care.

A cheeky baby dolphin who was born at the aquarium flashes a researcher.

One thing that stood out at Port of Nagoya was how much time the trainers spend with the animals in their care. Outside of scheduled shows, trainers were often seen giving the animals check-ups, rub-downs, playing with them, or training them – basically, the focus on enrichment was high. At times the trainers merely stood back and observed, with the animals often seeking them out for attention of their own accord.

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“Play with me!”  Image licensing available here and here.

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Even the fish received ample enrichment! Image licensing available here and here

There also seemed to be a larger emphasis on tactile gestures as positive reinforcement than I have seen at other facilities.  The trainers were very hands-on, and the animals sure didn’t seem to be complaining.

It is notable how much closer the trainers could freely get to the animals, the images below. At SeaWorld parks in the US, for example, the trainers often put a small set of bars between them and the orcas during certain interactions (likely due to regulations).

A recommendation: If you have no reason to visit Nagoya for any reason other than to visit the aquarium, the Shinkansen from Tokyo is a time-efficient method of getting there, and it was an easy hop by subway to the aquarium itself.  Although it appears pricey, the expense worth every penny considering the hassle, cost, and lost time if one opts to check into a hotel instead.  However you choose to get there, a visit to this aquarium is definitely worth it.

But be warned: the gift shop is rather dangerous if you love Lynn, too 😉

 

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Photographing Captive Cetaceans

This article was written for Dreamstime.com — original post appears here.

I spend a lot of time at zoos and aquariums, sometimes as a volunteer and mostly as an observant visitor (I am currently studying to work in a zoo or rescue facility, as well). As a photographer, this means I have invested a lot of time learning to photograph the animal ambassadors that call these facilities home, and thought I would share some of the techniques I have learned with all of you!

KNOW THE SHOW

Whether it be where to sit or where to aim your camera, studying YouTube videos goes a long way – the animals are often trained to perform certain behaviours in specific locations, and there is usually a general format to the show itself. That said, no show is ever the same twice as the trainers change things up to keep the animals stimulated, so stay alert!

KNOW THE ANIMALS

Some animals have signature moves, and others are more likely to be teamed up together (such as Kasatka and Orkid below), so knowing who is performing might increase the likelihood of getting that “wow”-shot.

WATCH THE TRAINERS

I know, it can be difficult to take your eyes off those gorgeous cetaceans, but at some facilities, trainers indicate where to look after a behaviour has been requested. And becoming familiar with those hand signals used to communicate with the animals can take time, but pays off as you will know what to expect and (possibly) where to watch for it. A few seconds warning can go a long way in snapping the perfect shot!

THINK FAST!

These animals are FAST (Hana, below, could swim faster than the speed limit of Stanley Park where she lived), so use a lens with fast and reliable autofocus. Don’t be afraid to increase the ISO (within reason for your camera) in favour of a faster shutter speed — it pays off in the end. I personally find having the camera set to continual autofocus helps ensure the animal stays clear throughout all stages of the behaviour, but it is far from foolproof. But hey, isn’t the challenge half the fun?

Tweak your aperture to your personal tastes, being mindful of the points above. My preferred setting is around F7 or F8 (give or take) to help compensate for those moments autofocus zeroes in on splashing water rather than the animal. It helps if you end up with more than one animal in your shot, too!

LOOK BEYOND THE FLASHY STUFF

Watch for these special moments that highlight the human-animal bond. These are social, curious creatures who forge very close bonds with their trainers. They often enjoy interacting with guests as well, so be sure to check out those underwater observation windows!

Training and enrichment sessions can also be rewarding. Below is a very young beluga whale at Marineland Canada who was watching the adults participate in a training session and decided it wanted to play too, so the trainer held the target out for it. The young whale looked most pleased with itself afterwards!

SPLASH ZONE?

At your own risk! Make sure you have fast reflexes and never let your attention waver! I carry a towel and water-resistent jacket, having them ready on my lap case I need to suddenly cover my gear. Early on I sat where it was theoretically safe, but after noticing patterns, I began to take bigger risks. Although this has paid off, I was putting several thousands of dollars worth of gear at risk that I couldn’t afford to replace.

The most important thing to remember, of course, is to have fun! Humans learn best when having a good time, and zoological facilities are a great resource for being inspired to care for the natural world, whether you are a child or an adult.

 

 


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