Pardon me, I have a date with a whale shark

Today marks our last full day with Eliot.  After an abbreviated morning walk and breakfast, we set off for the University of the Ryukyus to pick up Eliot, with the number to the Dive Locker in my pocketbook (to make a phone call at 10 when they opened).  When I Skyped him, there was no answer, so I bet Wayne that Eliot was still asleep at 8:45.

He wouldn’t take the bet.

We knocked on Eliot’s door to see a very tired, rumpled Eliot greeting us.  Turns out there was a party in the dorm that spontaneously started at the same time he came back from the gym last night.  ;)  Once he got ready and joined us downstairs, we went up to the Churaumi Aquarium by way of the toll expressway, stopping for breakfast.

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is located within the Ocean Expo Park in Okinawa, Japan. It welcomed its 20 millionth visitor on 30 March 2010  and is a member of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA). It was the largest aquarium in the world until it was surpassed by the Georgia Aquarium in 2005. The aquarium was designed by Yukifusa Kokuba and was opened on 1 November 2002.  It is made up of four floors, with tanks containing deep sea creatures, sharks, coral and tropical fish. The aquarium is set on 19,000 m² of land, with a total of 77 tanks containing 10,000 m³ of water. Water for the saltwater exhibits is pumped into the aquarium from a source 350m offshore, 24 hours a day.  Just before you reach the sculpture below, there is a cooling fountain which all of the children mill about cooling off.  So do their parents.  And so did we!

The main tank, called the Kuroshio Sea, is 115 ft long, 89 ft wide and 33 ft deep. It holds 1,981,000 gallons of water and features an acrylic glass panel measuring 27 x 74 ft with a thickness of 24 in.  Whale sharks and manta rays are kept alongside many other fish species in the main tank. The first manta ray birth at the aquarium was in 2007. As of July 2010, there have been a total of four manta rays born in the aquarium.  The aquarium holds 80 species of coral. It is one of only a few aquariums that keeps whale sharks in captivity, and is currently trying to breed them.  As you can imagine, I spent quite a bit of time looking at the tank below.

There is also a manatee tank, and a dolphin show outside in the Ocean Expo Park.  We spent our visit inside the aquarium, as we arrived in the heat of the midday sun.  After spending a few hours captivated inside the aquarium, we went up to the 4th floor to eat lunch, and were treated to a window seat where we were able to see the dolphin show.  And the dolphins were huge, so I’m wondering what species they were.  I would have gone over to the tank to see, but it was blazing hot, and my sunscreen was melting off with every second out in the sunlight.

There’s also a beach there, a native Okinawan village that has houses from various eras, the Oceanic Culture Museum, and the Tropical Dream Center, which has a huge variety of plants, to include 2000 orchids.  You can definitely spend several days here exploring, but I’d recommend doing it when it isn’t as hot as it was today!

We headed back towards Naha, first stopping off at Torii Station, looking to book ourselves on the whale shark dive via the Torii Dive Locker.  The Saturday boat was booked solid, and there was only 1 slot for Friday, but the store manager put us on the waiting list and said that if they couldn’t find another divemaster (must have a 1:4 diver:divemaster ratio), he would let one of the shop divemasters go as long as it wasn’t a busy day.

Then we went to Kadena again in search of a Twins baseball cap for Eliot, but no such luck.  He got a Tar Heels cap instead, an acknowledgment of his birth state.  We also filled up on gas.  Of course, that was after the difficulty getting on base.  Yesterday, all we needed to do was show our IDs, along with Eliot’s (unlike Torii, we didn’t have to sign him in and get a temporary badge).  This time we had to get him a temporary pass, and register the rental car.  We registered it through Sunday, but I don’t know that we will come back here again.

Dinner was at the same Meeri Indian Restaurant where we had lunch the other day.  All three of us enjoyed our meals immensely - we wound up bringing Eliot down with us because he had not brought home his toothbrush, and Wayne forgot to pack it this morning!  That, and it is good to feed him.  Eliot has lost a lot of weight this year, and although he said he really wasn’t hungry at lunch or dinner, he ate with gusto.

Tonight is the last night in Naha on this trip.  We have really enjoyed our time here in town, but we are looking forward to a change of pace at the AJ Onno resort in Onno Village.  A smoke free room and a smoke free lobby are what I am praying to find.  Only time will tell.  

Time for camera PMCS and bed.  Fingers crossed for a whale shark dive tomorrow.  I. Am. So. Tired.