Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory ... A Bit Of Time Travel

 Before the Interstate Highway System was put in, Florida contained hundreds of small attractions scattered along it's major arteries. Tiny mom and pop motels, citrus stands, mystery houses, and souvenir shops full of Floridebris. There was  even a "DOG WORLD" which boasted of having one of each breed.

The new interstate highways cut through these attractions like a freshly sharpened machete through sugar cane. With the vast majority of traffic funneled onto 3 roads, I-10, I-75, and I-95 ... 4 roads if you count the Turnpike, attractions along the older, now empty highways withered and died.


So walking through Gulf Marine Specimen Company was a treat on several levels.
Level One: It had the feel of those older Floridaesque attractions that existed pre-Interstate.
Level Two: I have wanted to visit it since reading, "The Wilderness Coast" by Jack Rudloe, the founder of Gulf Marine Specimen Company many years ago.

The lab is located in a quiet, shady neighborhood near the water in Panacea, Florida.
Here are a few of the local residents.
 A black sea bass who is obviously used to being fed by humans. He followed me like a hungry Labrador.
 A Florida Horse Conch considering his most recent escape plan.
 An octopus in a specially constructed secure aquarium who is probably doing geometry or composing poetry to pass the time.
 A torpedo ray.
This ray can't sting you, but he can shock you. Like electric eels, the torpedo ray can generate an electric charge. From personal experience, I can vouch for the shocknicity of these pretty rays. I have stepped on them more than once while surf fishing.
It wasn't dangerous, just unexpected and therefore it had a high jump about and flail quotient.
 The large open tanks allow views of critters not usually seen. These remoras would normally be stuck to the belly of a shark, shell of a sea turtle, or back of a big ray. The "sucker" is actually the remora's first dorsal fin.
Gulf Specimen Marine Lab is not just an attraction. It really does supply specimens to research departments around the world and they are involved in all kinds of public education and conservation programs.

As an attraction, it offers a relaxing opportunity to walk through rooms with very accessible tanks and pools full of marine life, with no water slides, roller coasters, or jumping orcacrobatics.

All substance, no glitzy fluff.
That's a rare thing in Florida these days.


Anonymous said...

I remember a Christmas (children all a lot smaller)when a certain someone had gotten a new wetsuit and just had to get in the "cold" water to snorkle and he came up with a "horse conch". Now I've seen two of them!
Thanks for both times FC-

threecollie said...

How totally and incredibly cool. I only visited your state once in the early seventies. It was for spring break, but we spent it snorkeling and visiting some of those attractions, such as the Key West Aquarium, which I see is still there, and many places selling conch shells and oranges and other cool stuff. I'll bet we wouldn't recognize much now.

myamuhnative said...

Wow! Many mango seasons ago ,I rehabbed a young Kemp's Ridley that was sent to us by Jack Rudlow.When it was healthy again I got to take it back to Jack and release it off his "Living Dock", an experience I'll always cherish.
I think you have convinced me that I need to take a trip back up that way real soon!

lisa said...

That was awesome, thanks for sharing! I have only been to Florida once. I almost like coming to your blog better than going in person, because I have my own personal tour guide and you are very good at it!

Prem Subrahmanyam said...

when I was a kid in Tallahassee, we would often make a weekend of going to the beach off of St. Teresa and seeing the specimens at the laboratory. I remember one time our 4-H marine biology club went out on a boat with them and got to pull in a net to see what we would catch.

Fun times!

Sayre said...

That was one of my son's favorite places to go when he was little.

I went to an art show to benefit the Gulf recover for animals and ran into Jack there. He was in process of building the Ark for marine specimens in case the oil spill did more damage than the press was reporting. I haven't heard much of it lately - is it still going?

SophieMae said...

Shoot! It's been so long since I wandered that direction, I'm now doing a V-8 head-slap... I should've suggested, on the off chance you hadn't already scheduled, a visit to FSU Coastal & Marine Laboratory. The evil SJ grubbers tried to get them to give back the property a few years ago. So glad they didn't! Anyhow, I was invited to visit, but have yet to do so. Sounds like your kinda place. And dang if their open house isn't coming up on the 16th!

Anonymous said...

So glad you made it there! Since 1977 I go every year in my birthday month--and sometimes more. I'm still a kid at heart there. -lesle

Dani said...

I could happily spend an afternoon in a place like this.

Floridacracker said...

You are welcome!

Yes, it would have changed a lot, but tons of wonderfulness left!

Wow! That must have been a neat experience.

And you saved all that gas and motel money!

Neat! We have a program like that with our Ag Department.They take groups out to do seining and trawling.

I don't know, now that the oil spill is in recovery and not clean up stage.

I have been there and even spent several nights there years ago with a student group. Wonderful place.

It is such a comfortable, Please DO touch kinda place.

I know you would!

robin andrea said...

That looks like a very cool place, fc. Interesting way to spend a day. Makes me wonder what they feed remoras if they normally spend their time stuck to the belly of something else. Life un-stuck must be quite a change of pace.

Deb said...

My kids would love that place. Well, so would I. We just visited the aquarium at Mall of America last Friday. Aside from being at the mall, and being noisy and crowded, it was pretty cool.

LaDivaCucina said...

FC, thanks for taking me back to the "old" Florida that I caught only a glimpse of years back. Now all you see are endless Walgreens and Carabbas and crap. I love the shallow viewing pools so you can really get a good look at the specimens, I hope the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab continues for a long time. Thanks for posting.

debbie said...

Over the years my kids had several school field trips to the Marine Lab. And the Rudloe's do a great job with the kids with lots of interesting activities. Now we like to take family and friends that are visiting from out of state. It's one of my favorite places to go.