Our Visit to the Aquarium by Catherine Van Arnam

This is a guest post written by frequent Aquarium visitor Catherine Van Arnam. She offered to share her family's memories and images on the Exhibit Galleries Blog. 

Every couple of months I sit the kids down and say, "It's time. It's been too long since we visited the New England Aquarium." They don't remain sitting long and, usually on a quiet weekend morning, we pop into Boston and soon are nose to nose with the liquid-eyed harbor seals that glide peacefully in their habitat on the plaza by the Aquarium's front door.

I've learned to resist my urge to hustle us inside and proceed with our rounds inside the building. This is now where I pause and smile, and where the kids kneel and put both their hands on the glass. "He looked at me!" they yell. "They're so bendy!" Our eight-year-old daughter Anya recently said this is her favorite sight, "because their eyes are really cute! If I were a seal I would just like to go up to people and look at them with my cute seal eyes." When pleading for an extra cookie or bedtime story, she now barks, "SEAL EYES," to her brother, Erik, seven. Their prompt imitation of cute seal eyes has compelled quite a few cookies in their direction.

Anya and Erik get front row seats for a Northern fur seal training session at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.

We're hardly ever a few steps inside the Aquarium before something fascinating is witnessed in the penguin exhibit. Our most recent trip had us flabbergasted with the care and work involved in feeding each penguin by hand the correct amount and in good time, before getting the rock-scrubbing underway. We like to pick a penguin to watch for a few minutes, and already feel we've an excellent grasp of penguin psychology. They don't seem so different from us.

Up next is Daddy's favorite, those charming curmudgeons, the groupers. Peacefully dour, they enjoy the company of lobsters, just like Dad. Then Erik pulls us along to find one of the very-bright-green moray eels in the Giant Ocean Tank. Shyly concealed along the bottom, they emerge when ready and rivet us with their beady, penetrating gaze and bounty of small, knifelike teeth. “Were I an eel I would like to eat little fish, and I would not like to look at the sharks,” notes Erik.

Anya looks into the Giant Ocean Tank.

Now it's my turn to lead the way and we soon arrive at my very favorite, the giant Pacific octopus tank. It is a hard truth that there's been a succession of these beautiful creatures here through the years, as they only live for about two years. Of late I've savored my nose-against-the-glass time with Octavia. She is not mysterious to herself, and just goes about her day as I stare, captivated.

Anya (in blue) and Erik reach into The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank.

There may be thousands sea creatures at New England Aquarium, but we can't seem to exit the place without running into many of the human species that keep the place going. Besides the many organized demonstrations available, we usually buttonhole several cheery staffers during our visit and the kids share observations and questions. The friendliness of the staffers extends to those at The Café--with my favorite view of Boston Harbor--and the speedy cashiers selling admission tickets to people from all over the world.

As we drive home the whole family is tired but so satisfied, and we all dream of the gurgling wonders of the deep until we can see them again.

Anya drew these pictures after our adventure. Clockwise from top: Octavia the octopus, a shark feeding, Myrtle the green sea turtle, a unicornfish, a moon jelly.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Aquarium Catherine! Visitors who would like to share their Aquarium memories can use our Tumblr submit form.


  1. What a wonderful story of adventure and the joys of paying attention. This fam is sure enjoying the best if the Aq.

  2. What a charming description and pictures!

  3. I wonder if your favorite fishes reflect your different personalities? Sounds like a wonderful day, anytime!