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Arland O. Fiske: A visit to the Bergen aquarium

We humans come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and think ourselves as pretty special in God’s eyes. But we are alike to the point of being boring in comparison to the almost endless variety of life forms that live in water. I learned a lot about this from a visit to the aquarium in Bergen, Norway.

After 10 years of planning and building, the Bergen Aquarium was opened in 1960. Its located at Nordness Point, formerly a strong fortification, and about a 15 minute walk from the “Bryggen,” that used to be the headquarters of the Hanseatic League in western Norway.

Nearby, amid old military installations, is the Institute of Marine Research. It’s a 10-story building, containing about 100 offices and laboratories. You can also see a place called “Witches Hill,” where Anne Pedersdotter and others were burned at the stake.

Bergen has one of the few aquariums in the world that has unlimited supplies of clean, natural seawater. About 800,000 gallons a day are pumped from about 500 feet deep in the nearby ocean. It’s not necessary to filter it as the undercurrent off Nordness Point constantly keeps it renewed. About five miles of pipelines, built of neutral plastic materials, bring both fresh and salt water to the aquarium.

Nine large tanks on the upper floor and 42 smaller displays on the lower floor give an idea of the many kinds offish that surround Norway’s long coastline. The outdoor pool contains seals, porpoises and walruses.

Light, air and water are essential to all life and these are adequately available in this aquarium. When walking through it, you get the feeling of being beneath the surface of the water because the glass in the side walls at a 135-degree angle. This hides the glass from the viewer.

We first visited the cod family. Mixed in were varieties of catfish. Diagrams were displayed to show where these fish could be caught alone Norway’s coastline and how to catch them.

I’m amazed how magnificently these creatures are designed. Our modern submarines and aircraft have nothing on the sophisticated equipment built into a codfish.

Its pelvic fins are used to finding food on the ocean floor. It can detect prey under a flat stone and turn it over.

The lateral line on the fish is used to detect noises. It serves as an “early warning system” to tell whether the vibration comes from an oar, the surf or an engine. Sound travels five times as fast under water as in the air. Let the fishermen take note!

Other tanks display fish that live beneath a wharf, on the sandy bottom or in the deep sea.

I never cease to wonder at the anemones, sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers. I took special interest in the salmon family and flatfish. One aquarium consists of sharks and rays. There are eight species of sharks in Norwegian waters, some of which are too large for an aquarium.

One of the nuisances of the ocean is the Conger Eel because it becomes tangled in fishing nets. Sometimes it’s mistaken for a sea serpent. The crustaceans (lobster, crabs, crayfish and prawns) have so many thousands of species that no museum can include all of them. The prawns begin life as males and become females when fully grown.

How long can a fish live?  The halibut can live 60 or more years. Herring may get to 25 and cod as old as 30 years.

 Others may be only two or three years. The age of a fish can be read from its scales, its ear stone or vertebrae. Before fish are put into the aquarium, the air in swim bladders is removed. They are then re-pressurized in the aquarium.

Fish are as different as people are. Some are trusting of the feeders while others take months to become friendly. There is a lot to learn at the aquarium.

The sea, however, is not as safe as it used to be. Humans have dumped so much petroleum, chemicals, radioactive waste and garbage into it that large areas are no longer safe for life. Maybe the fish in the aquariums are the lucky ones.

Next week: Alfred Nobel and the “Prizes.”

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.