Zgriff swims with the fishes | SummitDaily.com

Zgriff swims with the fishes

The main glass tunnel at Downtown Aquarium at Denver, home to 500 fish species and 1 million total gallons of saltwater.
ZGriff / Special to the Daily |

Feeling withdrawals now that the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is over? Even though it wrapped up a few weeks ago, if you’re like me, this annual TV phenomenon is the closest thing you get to the ocean.

That is, until I decided to visit Downtown Aquarium in Denver earlier this summer. Located off of Interstate 25 and 23rd Avenue, situated right on the South Platte River (and within walking distance of the REI flagship store), the Aquarium is home to some 500 different species of fish and other animals. It holds a combined 1 million gallons of water, including a 150,000-gallon tank in the restaurant and bar area. So, if you are like me and want to get a fix of saltwater in this landlocked state, the Downtown Aquarium is the place to be.

We enter the Aquarium via an escalator and start on the walking tour, which will take us from freshwater environs to the ocean exhibits. There is a series of large tanks on either side that have freshwater fish, turtles and a pack of river otters. Those guys are particularly fun to watch: They chase each other in and out of the water, into their underwater lair and, then, back to the surface. The turtle is less animated and seems content to sun himself on a tree limb.

We continue around a bend into an area that represents a desert ecosystem. A crack of thunder fills the room, bringing a surge of water that comes rushing down to simulate a flash flood. The exhibits features desert animals like snakes and frogs, which thrive in floodwaters.

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Leaving this area, we walk into a glass tunnel, with water on both sides and overhead. On the other side of the tunnel is an area dedicated to creatures from warmer climates. A large display with a beach is replete with tropical fish, stingrays and small, flightless birds.

Continuing onward, we pass under a massive tree limb and into the largest section of the Aquarium, one made to resemble a jungle. This zone is home to a few inhabitants I was not expecting: three big cats. Sadly, none of the tiger trio decided to show themselves on this day, instead resting just out of view of the cameras in their multi-tiered habitat. Hastily, we move on, because, after all… We came to see teeth of a somewhat different variety.

Exiting the big cats’ lair, we see brightly colored tropical fish, living coral, and a tank filled with fish of all shapes and size. This corridor then weaves its way to an amazing viewing section found right in front of the big tank.

An arcing section of glass overhead means you stand in awe as fish, big and small, go swimming directly over your head. Looking into the tank, I can see a giant Pacific green sea turtle ambling by. It heads off toward the blue-painted walls at the corner of the tank. I follow it around for a second and, then, from out of the darkest corner of the tank, like a slow-moving stealth missile, the shark appears.

This shark must have a sense for the dramatic. It slowly moves at us, then swims directly over our heads. I can’t help but feel my heart rate rise as I consider this scenario without the glass. How often do you get to see a shark swim overhead and live to tell about it?

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