Thursday, July 30, 2009

Seattle: I Covered the Waterfront

In spite of temperatures climbing close to triple digits, or perhaps because of the heat, I spent the first part of Tuesday on the Seattle Waterfront. I like how in summer there is a cool breeze coming off the water and out on a boat I can feel chilly even on a hot day. I started at the Seattle Aquarium, a small but interesting aquarium relatively speaking. There are no trained dolphins here as the emphasis is on education and research. That sounds dull, but the aquarium isn't. I still can't say I've seen a live octopus, but I saw one of the arms of the aquarium's Giant Pacific Octopus called Buster. I hung around the octopus tank for the Octopus Talk and learned a few things: the octopus changes color from snowy white to a bright coral, and it uses its tentacled arms to pull food into its beaked mouth which is actually on its underside. The speaker showed us the mouth on a puppet since Buster the Seattle Giant Pacific Octopus was not coming out of his den no matter how many creepy crustaceans they tempted him with. We could see him change color, though, and that was something.

Near the octopus tank is the arch of jellyfish called Moon Jellies, a plexiglass arch filled with water. Jellyfish swim through this and are lighted with different colors. It is an imaginative way to display jellyfish, not my favorite sea creatures. The Sixgill Shark Research Station is in this section, too. The sixgill is the kind of shark found in these waters, evidently a docile member of that family.

A scenic overlook leads to the Harbor Seals and Sea Otters along with other mammals. The Sea Otters were particularly playful. At the beginning and end of the walk through the aquarium is the Window on Washington Waters, a cool display of local fish.

I took this shot from the cafe balcony. I ate lunch there with a gull, a little fancier than the New Jersey gulls I know.

And then my ship finally came in.

It's called the Harbor Cruise, but technically it takes visitors around Elliott Bay. This company, Argosy, is celebrating their sixtieth anniversary this year. A knowledgable guide named Raymond told us all about the skyline, the waterfront, the industry surrounding the waterfront (grain is big along with fish), and the early history of the area. The original pioneers from Chicago thought they'd make a new, western Manhattan on the peninsula of (now-called) West Seattle, across the bay from what is now Seattle. The winters here were brutal, so they gave up and moved to what is now the Pioneer Square section of Seattle (tomorrow's blogpost). Now West Seattle is a bedroom community for the city, and its citizens get to work by ferry. Bridges wouldn't be feasible because the bay is quite deep. We saw quite a few US Coast Guard ships (making me feel at home--all those guys trained at Cape May, you know), enormous gantry cranes shipped here whole on special ships from China, and a floating drydock. I liked the Harbor/Bay Cruise: it's amazing what you can learn in just an hour. In fact, did you know that it takes one day less to get to Asia from Seattle than from Los Angeles? It's called the Seattle Shortcut.

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