Monday, September 23, 2013

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and Nakijin Castle Ruins

The paperwork for transferring my semi-predecessor's car into my name was painless and, most importantly, free. Once that I had my car, I could explore the island to my hearts content. The first adventure on my list was Okinawa Ocean Expo and Churaumi Aquarium. Churaumi Aquarium is one of the world's largest indoor aquariums that houses three large whales sharks. However, it's so much more than a fish bowl. Churaumi Aquarium is located at the Okinawa Ocean Expo. The Expo sits right next to the ocean (hence the name), where visitors can see gardens, laze at the beach and visit outdoor aquariums such as a dolphin theater and manatee and sea turtle exhibits for FREE!

Churaumi Aquarium is just one part of the Ocean Expo, but it is not free. Once inside, the first exhibit had a small petting tank where you could pick up and touch various starfish. I'm pretty sure this exhibit was meant for children, but as an avid animal lover, I couldn't pass up the chance to get hands on. I've been on enough caribbean cruises to know what a starfish feels like, but these was huge! I loved feeling the bottom and sensing the starfish move to get away from my icky human hands. I only wished the kids had been slightly more gentle with them, but there were people reminding the kids to only handle them underwater.

Afterwards, I visited the multiple exhibits of sea creatures. The main exhibit was their giant acrylic tank. Within the tank there were three large whales sharks, three manta rays and three spotted dolphins. The dolphins were a newly added feature to the exhibit. There were also hundreds of other rays and fish within the tank. Some rays were almost as big as the manta rays! It was amazing to see such giant creatures up close, but I did feel a bit sad for them. These animals usually have the whole ocean to explore and a tank, although large, is extremely small compared to the ocean. However, they looked healthy and relatively happy. One manta ray was the result of the breeding of the first two, as Churaumi is one of the few aquariums that successfully breeds manta rays. I also loved watching the animals interact with the scuba divers inside. What an amazing job! The dolphins where clearly the most interactive, and they played and were pet by the scuba divers. I was very surprised by their interaction with the manta rays as well. The manta rays would postion themselves in front of the scuba divier where he/she would scrach the sides of their mouths (or that part that sticks out). The rays would also chase around the dolphins! It was too cute!

Look at their happy faces!

After buying the cutest whale shark socks on Earth, I hopped into my car and drove to Nakijin Castle Ruins. Nakijin Castle Ruins in a UNESCO World Heritage Site and house the ruler of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. It it currently in a ruined state, but the surrounding area is beautiful and definitely worth the trip. 

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