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Dating in Brooklyn is too often a neurotic dodge ball game of personal ads, bar hopping, e-mail and phone tag whose inscrutable, often fruitless rules seem a universe apart from the natural instincts and pragmatic sense of our fellow beings.

Sensing the need for a new dating ritual, the New York Aquarium, already home to thousands of specimens of marine life, is turning its attention to human coupling with a first-ever Valentine’s weekend singles event, "Sex in the Sea," set to take place Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7 pm.

The aquarium, at West Eighth Street and Surf Avenue in Coney Island, will host an evening of wine, cheese and mingling for singles over 21. Aquarium educational staff will be on hand to explain the courtship and mating rituals of various species in a series of informal guided tours through the exhibits.

Somewhere between the wine and the walrus habitat -macho male walruses keep harems proportional to the volumes of their bass bellows - education curator Merryl Kafka, who came up with the idea for the event, hopes guests will spark a relationship of their own.

Although she’s hoping participants will have a night of enlightenment mixed with sexual chemistry, Kafka doesn’t expect them to take a page from the Nassau grouper, a Caribbean fish that swings both ways to guarantee the survival of the species.

"Because these fish are hermaphrodites, if two males meet, no problem. One becomes a female," said Kafka, noting that the reaction works the other way when two females hook up. "In the ocean world everything is really very different. There are a tremendous variety of strategies for courtship and mating and having a baby."

Kafka cited the sea horse as another example. A female sea horse, said Kafka, "puts eggs in the male’s pouch. The male literally almost becomes pregnant and [he] will carry the eggs" through to labor.

"We call them Mr. Mom," she said.

Very enlightened, these sea horses, but it is not likely humans will claim the same feat anytime soon. The most humanistic courtship model probably comes from the penguins, which - divorce statistics be damned - "usually mate for life," according to the aquarium’s senior teacher, Bob Cummings. Like feisty Brooklynites, Cummings said, a pair of penguins in a committed relationship "will actually fight for nesting space," going so far as to "poke each other," to make sure they get their choice.

But Kafka is quick to emphasize that meeting, not mating is the goal of "Sex in the Sea."

"There’s enough people in the world," she said. "I don’t want to exceed the breeding capacity of humans, but what I would like to do is increase the meeting capacity, that’s the thing."

"Sex in the Sea," said Kafka, is the first aquarium event targeted specifically toward single adults. This was just the next element in developing social, educational events that will make use of the facility at night, she said.

Fran Hackett, associate manager of communications at the New York Aquarium, hopes for a turnout of about 50 guests at "Sex in the Sea."

"We hope that it’s successful," said Hackett, who is single. "I may even go," she said, adding, "Even if I wasn’t [single], I’d just go to watch."

Proceeds from "Sex in the Sea" ticket sales go to school programs organized by the aquarium’s education department.

At last count, just one man had signed up. Unless one of the women knows the secrets of the Nassau grouper, he may be one very lucky lad.

"Sex in the Sea" will take place at the New York Aquarium, West Eighth Street at Surf Avenue in Coney Island, on Feb. 15, 7-9 pm. Admission is $23 for members, $25 for non-members. For reservations, call (718) 265-3448.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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