Italian translation at vergari.com
from Germany’s Datz Magazine, May 2001 ;English translation
published in the Apisto-Gram Volume 19 No.4 Issue# 77 December 2002
AMAZONIAN JUNGLE IN THE NATIONAL AQUARIUM
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland (NAIB) has an Amazon
tropical rain forest exhibit under its futuristic glass roof for
over 20 years now, including it’s habitants. What was missing
before was an exhibit showcasing the fascinating underwater world
of the Amazon and its tributaries.
By Max Gallade
English language content edited by Lois Gallade
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD opened in March 2000 the
first new permanent exhibit in nine years: Amazon River Forest.
The new exhibit gives visitors a fantastic view of this critically
endangered habitat of South America. The exhibit consists of three
different parts. The first part, the main exhibit shows a 57 foot
stretch of a typical Amazon tributary at the beginning of the rainy
season. The two smaller exhibits illustrate the difference in rain
forest living between the rainy and dry seasons in the same forest
Here you will find two identical decorated tanks. The only differences
between them are the inhabitants. The first tank houses various
Symphosodon discus, Paracheirodon axelrodi, Dicrossus
filamentosus and Carnegiellas trigata as the main
habitants of the flooded forest floor.
Poison dart frogs of the Dendrobates castaneoticus and
D. Galactontus species among other snake and spider species
are the main habitants of the dry season forest floor.
Dendrobates castaneoticus was bred successfully in this
environment. Look closely and you will find the tiny tadpoles in
little puddles in water filled tree holes.
The big attraction is of course the 57 foot Main Exhibit. Here
are just a few numbers for you to digest:
Capacity 20.000 g filtered through a closed water filtration system.
The whole exhibits size is over 1200 square feet, the water part
alone is over 300 square feet in size.
To build such an exhibit was not an easy task.:
“First the old exhibit had to be removed and steel reinforcement
rods and a layer of concrete were added to strengthen the floor
so it would support the weight of 20,000 gallons of water. Then
the concrete tank wall was poured and waterproofed with successive
layers of epoxy and fiberglass matting. Large acrylic panels for
the viewing window were ordered from Japan,” says Director
of Exhibits Allan Sutherland.
Meanwhile, the Aquarium Life Support Department was busy installing
the exhibits plumbing. “There is a spaghetti bowl of pipes
under the mudbank” adds Sunderland. They are connected to
pumps and biofilters in an adjacent back up space.
At the same time in Seattle, a landscaping construction team was
building a full-scale model of the exhibit in their shop to begin
work on habitat elements such as trees, vines and land forms. The
rough fiberglass forms were then shipped to the National Aquarium
where habitat artists textured them in epoxy to recreate natural
surfaces. The exhibit is designed not only to give the look and
feel of the habitat but to provide the animals with their preferred
living conditions. The finishing touches include live plants, a
background, mural dramatic lighting, and ambient sounds of the Rain
Forest. “It is a complex exhibit because we are recreating
a very dynamic ecosystem and because we have to make it habitable
for a wide variety of animals”, Allan Sunderland comments.
Although the main exhibit will appear to visitors as a continuous
stretch of flooded forest, it is actually partitioned into three
sections, with trees and acrylic panels separating predators from
The main exhibit is absolutely breathtaking! You will find reptiles
and over 50 fish species in the water from the giant Tambaqui (Colossoma
macropomum) to a gigantic school of Cardinal tetras swimming
among Pseudoras niger, Peckoltia sp. , Corydoras sp.,
Satanaperca sp., Osteoglossum bicarrhosum, Pygocentrus natteri,
Potamotryon henlei, and of course for the reader of the Apisto-Gram,
most important, the exhibit also includes the wild forms of Apistogramma
cacatuoides, A. bitaeniata and Dicrossus filamentosus.
We saw quite a lot of Apistogrammas, fighting and showing breeding
activities around a large tree stump in the middle of the water.
Surprising for me to see a pair of medium sized cichlids protecting
a large school of tiny fry against the huge Peacock Bass in the
exhibit. There were also countless huge Sailfin and Plecostomus
species roaming around the entire exhibit.
CAIMANS AND TURTLES
The decoration of the underwater exhibit will make every hobbyist
envious. Roots and tree branches reach deep into the water and offer
the fish many hiding spots. You will find live and artificial Palm
trees and thick bushes around many of the mudbank areas. A closer
look will reveal the abundance of beautiful birds and reptiles.
The visitor really finds themselves transferred into an Amazonian
rain forest, with a tiny difference: You will not find screaming
children in the Amazon scared of the 200 pound Anaconda (Eunectus
murinuss) hiding in the mudbank.
My wife Lois, a passionate bird watcher brought her binoculars
to our visit. This was a good idea. We got a really close look of
a pair of tiny fist-size pygmy marmosets (the smallest species of
monkey in the world) that were enjoying themselves in one of the
many live trees in the exhibit.
FISH FROM THE RIO NEGRO
All the fish in the exhibit were caught in October 1999 during an
excursion to the Rio Negro by a NAIB team. The team caught over
1000 fish from 20 different species in the main river and its tributaries
in one weeks time. Some of the species were scientifically undescribed
and will be evaluated by the NAIB biologists. Later they will become
a part of the exhibit.
ANOTHER AMAZON EXHIBIT...
You should not miss the 3000 gallon planted South American tank
at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore adjacent to the NAIB while in
This tank is maintained by the National Aquarium and according
to the NAIB’s press release, is the largest planted tank in
the United States. It also houses over 1000 South American fish.
The tank is located on the 2nd floor at the top of the escalator.
The bookstore alone is worth the visit. The city of Baltimore brought
back an old power plant to accomodate several new businesses such
as ESPN Zone, Hard Rock Cafe and Barnes & Noble Bookstore.
Translated by Max Gallade
All photographs by the author.
National Aquarium “Amazon River Forest” Press Release
Watermarks: Member Magazine of The National Aquarium Spring 2000
Aquarium in Baltimore Website
Fish Identification was made with the help of: Aquarium Fish of
the World by Atusushi Sakurai, Yohei Sakamato and Fumitoshi Mori
RAY EXHIBIT: WINGS IN THE WATER
They are not really choreographed to music, but the dozens of stingrays
in this exhibit gliding and turning look as if they are. The rays
share the 265,000 gallon pool with several species of small sharks.
Some of the sharks are collected from the ocean, and after a year
in the exhibit are tagged and released as part of the Cooperative
Shark Tagging Program of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
MARYLAND: MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA
This gallery traces the water cycle from a freshwater pond in the
mountains of western Maryland through the Tidal Marsh, into the
Coastal Beach and out into the deeper, darker waters of the Atlantic
In the open Allegheny Pond exhibit (where it just might be raining!),
visitors with sharp eyes can spot bullfrogs, painted and softshell
turtles, and an assortment of small fish. The fresh water flows
from ponds and streams to tidal marshes on the coast, where it mixes
with salt water from the sea. In the tidal marsh are blue crabs,
diamondback terrapin and a variety of fish and invertebrates. (No
rods and reels allowed!).
In the Coastal Beach display are tropical fish that are commonly
carried along the mid-Atlantic coast by ocean currents. Needlefish,
Lookdowns and Spadefish are among these species.
Under shallow seas off the coasts are extensions of the continental
land mass - the continental shelf. The Atlantic Shelf portrays this
area where run-off enriches the waters with nutrients which encourage
the growth of tiny plants - phytoplankton - on which the food chain
is based. Consequently, fish are abundant here.
SURVIVING THROUGH ADAPTATION
Everyone has a favorite place to linger in this gallery! It might
be with the electric eel, an Amazon animal with shocking tendencies.
A light system shows the voltage the ell is generating, and an amplifier
enables visitors to hear it too. Another favorite is the giant Pacific
Octopus, a nocturnal hunter with thousands of suction cups on its
eight arms. Lucky visitors might see an octopus eating its favorite
snack - blue crabs.
Patient people in this gallery are rewarded by a sight of tiny
Jawfish which live in small burrows that they dig. They may dart
out to grasp passing food items - or to steal stones from the burrow
of another Jawfish. Still others are captivated by sturgeons, paddlefish
and gars - primitive fishes which have not changed or evolved in
more than 70 million years. Sea Urchins which scrape algae, tubeworms
which filter food from the water with feathery tentacles, enemones
which sting their prey, Lionfish with venomous spines, and Clownfish
witch live among the tentacles of anemones without getting stung
are just a few of the surprising and diverse species found in this
Puffins, Razorbills and Black Guillemots - all North Atlantic birds
frolic and swim in this frosty recreation of a seacliffs habitat.
AMAZON RIVER FOREST
The Aquarium’s newest permanent exhibit recreates a section
of a blackwater Amazon River tributary and the forest floor that
it seasonally floods. Along a 57 foot long acrylic wall, visitors
can see schools of dazzling tropical fish as well as giant river
turtles, dwarf caiman lizards, pygmy marmosets (the smallest species
of monkey in the world) and a giant anaconda. Interactive computer
stations explain the ecology of this unique rainforest and how human
activities can protect or damage it.
TROPICAL RAIN FOREST
Keen-eyed observers may spot colorful birds, golden lion tamarins
(monkeys), two-toed sloths, red-bellied piranhas, iguanas and other
lizards, and even poison dart frogs, as they wander on pathways
through the dense tropical foliage.
ATLANTIC CORAL REEF
Visitors are surrounded by a rainbow - hundreds of vividly colored
tropical fish, schooling and swimming on the most accurate coral
reef ever fabricated. Wafer thin lookdowns, spiny porcupinefish,
striped sergeant majors, silvery bonefish and many other species
are at home in this 335,000 gallon tank. Divers hand feed the fish
several times a day.
SHARKS: THE OPEN OCEAN
You can come nose-to-nose with large sharks - if you dare! Sand
tiger, lemon, sandbar, and nurse sharks encircle visitors in this
darkened 225,000 gallon exhibit.
First, you may notice Ike and Lady. These grey seals are hard to
miss, because together, they tip the scales at more than half a
ton. Seven harbor seals also live in this free outdoor exhibit.
Most of these seals have been rehabilitated but cannot be returned
to the wild because of the nature or extent of their injuries. Mammal
trainers feed and train the seals several times a day.
Aquarium in Baltimore Website
National Aquarium in Baltimore’s phone is 410.576.3800