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Issue Date: January 2014 Issue


Buried Treasure


Jason Brill
brill@clevelandmagazine.com

Need a reason to rediscover the Greater Cleveland Aquarium? Captain Neo, a 250-year-old oar boat captain and official aquarium tour guide, spouts seaworthy facts with a thick Irish-Scottish accent.

NAUTICAL NONSENSE

As landlubbers cruise through the aquarium's first gallery, Ohio Lakes and Rivers, the captain offers a warning about one of the fishes. "I tell all the guests, you have to pronounce this correctly," he says. "That's a black crappie [pronounced kra-pe]. If you say it the other way, I will kick you out of my aquarium. In here too, we have a one-eyed fish. We are the only aquarium in Cleveland with a one-eyed fish."

A fISH NAMED ...

Toby, a giant gourami in the Freshwater Asia exhibit, is the only fish in the aquarium with a first name, says Captain Neo. "He will come up and say 'Hi' to you," he says. "He has an extra organ inside his body. It's called a labyrinth organ. When he's not getting enough oxygen from the water, he'll come up and take a breath."


IMAGE CONSCIENCE

The captain has a nemesis in a tank near the Coastal gallery's touch pool. "I thought he wasn't going to be here today!" he exclaims. "This puffer fish is a fan-favorite. But I have yet to see him puff up. I think it's me, personally. He's puffed up four or five times. I saw a photographic image of it once. I don't like him that much. A lot of people think he's more adorable than I am."


SHELL MATES

During the cold winter months, the aquarium's African Spur Thigh Tortoise exhibit doubles to 14 animals, each of which can weigh as much as 200 pounds. "They come from a rescue facility in the Canton area called Noah's Lost Ark," says Captain Neo, as two tortoises come face-to-face. "Look at that. They're kissing. That's adorable."


DINNER BELL

The aquarium has public feedings six days a week for the stingrays in the touch pool. Captain Neo often joins in on the fun, chopping an inch-thick piece of herring in the kitchen beforehand, then holding it for the rays. "It feels a little bit like your cat licking you underwater," he says. "If you submersed your cat and let it lick you."



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