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SOCIAL CLIMES

A whale of a gala

June 29, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

In a new twist on the social swim, guests at the Aquarium of the Pacific's annual gala were invited to pretend as if they were under water as they dined beneath a replica of an 88-foot blue whale and her calf in the facility's Great Hall. "Imagine you've been immersed in an environment with these magnificent beasts," aquarium President Jerry R. Schubel told the crowd as wave-shaped blue banners swayed at the ceiling and splashing sounds filled the air. "Imagine that, every hour, the Great Hall goes dark for a few minutes and there are images on the walls of migrating whales.... Imagine you're sharing this space with the largest animals to have inhabited the Earth."

Meant to introduce guests to an attraction that is in development at the aquarium, the dramatic presentation was one of many surprises for guests at the Ocean Conservation Awards Gala. From the chance to view coconut crabs ("Yes, they can open a hard coconut with those claws," observed one aquarium volunteer) to the opportunity to pet sharks ("Use only two fingers, please," a staff member cautioned), the June 21 event honoring Harvard biological theorist Edward O. Wilson and the Boeing Co. was a night of learning experiences. "The key role of an aquarium is to get people here for entertainment and have them stay for education," said Wilson, known as the "the father of biodiversity," during the cocktail reception.

Wilson was honored for conducting extensive environmental research that has led to major global conservation initiatives. As "one of the most influential scientists of all time," Schubel said, he has promoted "a wiser and more careful stewardship of our vanishing world. He gives us hope and urges us to take the opportunity to save the living things in the wild places that sustain us as human beings."

Boeing was recognized for its collective donation of more than $500,000 to the aquarium's education initiatives and continued support of its Learning Center.

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