OUTDOORS: Fish watching at the Oregon State Aquarium

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Pacific sea nettles put on a show at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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A handler draws a sweet pose from a sea lion at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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A great white egret wades in a pond near the Oregon State Aquarium.

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An American alligator poses on a log at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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Spot prawns rest for long periods at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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Tiny poison dart frogs show bright colors at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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A Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman rests at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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A common iguana watrches a visitor at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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A grunt sculpin blends with its surroundings at the Oregon State Aquarium..jpg

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A rock fish eyes passers by at the Oregon State Aquarium.

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Japanese spider crabs may have a leg span up to 13 feet.

Editor's Note: Part two of a three-part report from the Oregon Coast appeared here last Wednesday.

NEWPORT, Ore. - Weekdays in early October apparently don't draw crowds at the Oregon State Aquarium like they do in the spring.

Two years ago, in April, yellow buses crowded the aquarium parking areas. Some bore names of schools in Minnesota.

Inside, I knocked elbows with loud, thin-voiced school children at nearly every exhibit.

On a recent October Wednesday, however, acres of empty asphalt, with nary a yellow bus in sight, spread before us.

Inside, Darlene and I spent more than three hours wandering among the exhibits and rarely bumping shoulders with another somber, gray visitor.

The exception came during feeding time at the sea lion pool. We rubber necked along with three dozen other gawkers behind thick, slightly cloudy acrylic walls as two young women put the massive sea mammals through their dining routines.

The mammals appeared happy as they posed, rolled their eyes, clapped their flippers, barked and performed jaw-dropping water acrobatics.

Once, two lions flew high above the water and turned somersaults, with the larger one turning two, before they splashed in unison.

Elbows aside, we enjoyed the heck out of the show.

Alas, I felt a smidgen of disappointment at the aviary, a favorite exhibit, at the octopus exhibit and at the Passages of the Deep exhibit.

In October, you see, the molting tufted puffins lay pale-eyed, colorless and lethargic on the rocks.

In the spring, they wear vibrant, black-and-white mating-season plumage. They swim briskly and glean their feathers with wide, red beaks below intense blue, red-rimmed eyes.

So, we moved on to visit the giant octopus only to find the shy creature barely visible among the crevices of its habitat.

The Passages of the Deep exhibit remains impressive, as usual, with its underwater walkways that allow visitors to stroll through the canyons of three undersea ecosystems.

Yet, I didn't see the usual giant rays, just several small ones.

Anyway, after pausing to watch turkey vultures lurk on limbs, we moved sequentially through "Swampland," "Sandy Shores," "Rocky Shores," and "Coastal Waters."

Darlene and I stood transfixed before most of the generally clear acrylic cages, but a few rare creatures sharply hooked our attention.

The humorous looking two-to-three-inch-long Grunt Sculpin, for example, had whirring blades on its back end that propelled it like the props on a motor boat.

After I leaned several minutes with my forehead pressed to the cool acrylic wall, the blades turned out to be filigree fins.

These common sculpins, largely unheard of, live in tide pools from Alaska to California. When lifted from the water, they grunt and hiss.

Next, we watched the tiny (.59 inches to 2.4 inches, depending on species), incredibly bright-colored Poison Dart Frogs.

They have poison skins, possibly fatal to predators. Their name derives from some use (minimal) of their skins to poison the tips of blow-gun darts.

And the Japanese Spider Crab, although not native to the Oregon Coast, may be unique with its 13-foot leg span, 41-pound weight and 100-year life span.

Darlene especially enjoyed the "beautiful" (I heard "tasty") Spot Prawn, the largest of the commercial shrimp (the female may grow to nine inches long), although it barely moved while we watched.

We paused many minutes before the small, motionless Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman that can grow to 5.2-feet long, the lazy-looking American Alligator, the 16-foot Anaconda, the Common Iguana, and especially the Pacific Sea Nettle.

This jelly fish may be the most popular exhibit in the aquarium, other than the sea lions and seals.

Or including them.

We perched in chairs nearby while a steady stream of people stood for long periods as if hypnotized before the bright creatures with their rhythmic, bell-shaped pulsations and gracefully dancing, lacey tentacles.

The tentacles, by the way, function as nets to catch fish and other edible prey.

Finally, speaking of "edible prey" and with lunchtime well past, we scurried back to Old Town Newport's Local Ocean Seafoods restaurant.

Darlene ordered the Grilled Fish and Chips Panko Crusted Catch of the Day, Fennel Slaw, Fries.

More cosmopolitan, of course, I chose (by pointing) Nicoise Salad Albacore Tuna Grilled MR, Tomato, Green Beans, Red Potatoes, Olives, Egg, Greens, Dijon Vinagrette.

Rather than MR, I requested WD (well done).

And, of course, I sipped merlot, a mellow red wine.

That capped another pleasant October day on the coast.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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