April 21, 2010

California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco

Yesterday on the rainy day, we headed into San Francisco to visit the Cal Academy of Sciences. This "super" museum bills itself as four in one. It contains an aquarium, a "rainforest", a natural history museum, and a planetarium.

The place is very popular and was filled with (and I am not exaggerating) thousands of school kids on field trips. These crowds of out of control kids did take away from the experience and made it a bit tough to soak it all in. We'd love to return one day on a quieter day.

Nonetheless, Hilina had a great time as usual. There were exhibits on evolution and the work the academy does in the Galapagos and Madagascar on adaptation and endemism. There was a special African exhibit showing the various ecosystems of the continent.

There was a special "extreme mammals" exhibit showing the amazing variation in size and shape of mammals throughout time. The aquarium had sections on the California coast, the Philippine corals reefs, southeastern freshwater swamps (with alligators and snapping turtles), and rare or usual fish (including lungfish).

The rainforest is sealed in a large plexiglass ball with lots of butterflies. One of them found Hilina's finger.

The living roof was interesting. It apparently traps 98% of all rainfall. Since it absorbs sunlight in the leaves, it keeps the museum cooler in summer (saving on air conditioning costs). It also provides insulation in winter. Surrounding it were solar cells to supply energy to the building. It is made up of all California native plants and has become a haven for a variety of birds and insects including an endangered butterfly who's habitat in the Bay Area has disappeared due to development.

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