New England Aquarium: The Perfect Day Trip from Cape Cod

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Giant Pacific Octopus in aquarium tank with colorful coral and anenomesLooking to escape the winter blues, Rich and I decided to head off to the New England Aquarium for an adventure. Having both read “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist smitten with the remarkable intelligence and unique personalities of these complex mollusks, we ventured north to meet the latest addition to the octopus tank, named Sy in honor of the author.

With myriad options to travel to Boston, we opted for a watery trip via the commuter ferry, which took us from Hingham to Long Wharf, literally a 5 minute walk to the entrance of the Aquarium. The drive to Hingham took an hour, but the ferry trip onward to Boston was a brief 35 minutes.

Though the day dawned with thick fog, by the time we reached the city the sun was shining and the temperature hovered near 60. We entered the Aquarium to a cacophony of penguins clamoring to be fed. Though a presentation was soon to start, we opted to begin our exploration with the exhibits. Rich and his brother, our companion for the day, each have fresh water fish tanks and were eager to see the array of fresh and salt water species on display.

Nautilus swimming in deep blue waterNo sooner did we reach the first of many exhibits when we were approached by two New England Aquarium education specialists who invited us to take a “behind the scenes” tour of the tropical tanks. Not ones to shy away from an opportunity to get the “inside dope” we jumped at the chance, and thus began the most magical of days.

Lorna and Lia, our guides, brought us inside the machinations of the Aquarium exhibits, introducing us to the nearly 70 species that occupy the Pacific Coral Reef exhibit. Our first encounter was with a puffer fish, a spiny variety that contains toxin deadly to humans. When Lorna opened the tank, we were promptly spit at by the rambunctious puffer, though is was only harmless tank water.

Our “insiders tour” lasted about 30 minutes, after which we wandered out to the marine mammal center where we watched the naturalists feed and engage with the California sea lions. Feeling a bit peckish after our edifying morning we decided to decompress with lunch at Legal Seafood across the plaza from the Aquarium. After a brief respite over a scrumptious lunch of lobster and fried clams, we headed back to continue our exploration of sea life.

Leafy Sea Dragon in aquarium with colorful coral and anenemesAs we wandered through the remaining exhibits, the anticipation of meeting Sy increased. Briefly detoured by the leafy sea dragons and sea jellies, and an electric eel intent on capturing prey, we tentatively approached our primary destination, the Olympic Coast exhibit, home to both Sy and Anna, two giant Pacific octopuses. Anna was preoccupied protecting her egg veil, which she had given birth to recently, but Sy was up front and center and ready to engage. Watching her furl and unfurl her long tentacles, and effortlessly glide through her watery habitat was simply mesmerizing. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but this girl was magnificent. Perhaps our enthusiasm was contagious, and before we knew it we were once again invited into the depths of the Pacific Coast exhibit by our new friend and educator, Lorna. She introduced us to her colleague, Allison, who showed us colorful anemones and corals specific to the cold depths of the Pacific and offered us a better view of both Sy and Anna.

Our day complete, we said goodbye to our new friends, thanking them profusely for their hospitality and generosity in sharing their knowledge and insight with us. We sailed back to Hingham from Rowes Wharf this time, with the sun setting behind us, filled with a renewed appreciation for the wonders of the sea that surrounds us.

Please enjoy this short video of Sy in her habitat at the New England Aquarium.