xml:space="preserve">

It is times like these

, times when I am sandwiched between a low ceiling and a 6800 gallon tank of salt water on a metal railing less than a foot wide with no clear way to escape, that I wonder how my life got so awesome. Then I remember: I'm a Lobster Expert™, and this is my job.

Advertisement

I'm at the National Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor with Aquarist Beth Schneble, and, 10-foot pole in hand like Poseidon in a polo shirt, she is showing me how she feeds Toby the Blue Lobster. The Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibitions include a continental shelf modeled on the environment 60 feet below the surface of the Atlantic just off Delaware's Fenwick Island, and we are suspended on a catwalk above it, invisible to the public save for a giant spear with fish heads impaled on the business end.

Despite his vivid cerulean outfit, however, Toby the Lobster is almost completely invisible. How can I tell? Well, I don't know if you know this about me, but, as I mentioned earlier, I am a Lobster Expert™. I have read up to and including at least two books about lobsters, looked at some paintings containing images of lobsters, and furiously Googled away many a weeknight.

Ha! I am exaggerating for the purposes of self-deprecation, a common personality trait in female Lobster Experts™. We downplay our extensive lobster knowledge in order to appear non-threatening.

Back to the topic at hand: How can I tell that Toby the Blue Lobster, pride of the Baltimore National Aquarium, is imperceptible to the naked eye? Easy: I can't see him, and neither can anyone else.

The catwalk is 12 inches above a tank of salt water and normally accommodates only one person as a time. A pair of flounder gape from the floor of the exhibit, curling their face-bodies up toward Beth with what I interpret as real interest. If flounders had necks (unless they are in fact all neck-I'm no Flounder Expert™), these two would be craning them madly. Despite the fact that immediately prior to this impromptu feeding session Social Media Strategist Nabila Chami joined me and Beth for a discussion about the pitfalls of anthropomorphizing aquarium denizens, I cannot help but compare the flounder duo to Statler and Waldorf of The Muppet Show, their balcony the camouflage of a sandy bed, their laughter the bulge of two eyes popping out of the same side of the body.

Toby spends most of his day hanging out in an impeccably sculpted underwater crevice, and, unfortunately for most aquarium goers, the best way to catch a glimpse of him is to crawl onto a suspended catwalk with a pole-wielding professional aquarist. Toby's chosen bachelor pad is difficult to make out from public's perspective, and even from our rarified position, the most I can see of the elusive crustacean is some bright blue antennae, about the width of a guitar's A string, twitching gently in anticipation.

Since I am a Lobster Expert™, I know that his antennules, a smaller pair of antennae able to read the chemical content of the water, can smell the fishy treat by now, and he is flicking his longer antennae to stir the water in front of him the way one would wave a hand over a bubbling pot of hot soup to sample fragrant aromas amidst the steam. Things are tense. Some of the larger residents of the Continental Shelf part of the exhibition have taken an interest in Toby's snack. My forehead beads with perspiration, and not simply because of the numbness of my legs from kneeling or my terror of tumbling facefirst into a gigantic fish tank.

Beth's pole nears its target. She deftly slides the morsels into Toby's nook, and we are rewarded with a view of a pair of large, indigo-mottled claws as he investigates the surprise deposit. I can make out a portion of his glowing cobalt carapace, but the fissure through which I am able to see Toby is small and soon enough the show is over.

When you visit the aquarium for, in the words of Social Media Strategist Nabila Chami, some of the "intriguing narratives" available via charismatic fauna such as Toby, don't feel disappointed that you might not be able to pick him out amongst the striped bass and comical puppet-like flounder. I'm a Lobster Expert™ trained in noticing lobsters and I could barely make him out from my vantage point. Perhaps the azure 5-pounder Beth affectionately referred to as "an ambassador of the species" will become more gregarious and venture out of his cave during Aquarium hours. Until such time, drown your sorrows at the reef tank watching a 500-pound three-legged sea turtle named Calypso make her rounds, and rest assured that she, like Toby, is nobody's dinner.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement