A Sea Lover’s Guide to the Vancouver Aquarium
As part of my vow to be a traveler in my own city before setting off to a new destination, I paid a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium. I’ve wanted to go there for the past two years but have never gotten around to it. Although I live right next to Stanley Park, the entry fee is quite high and the park is over-crowded with tourists in the summer months and I’m not a fan of screaming kids or big groups. So, last week when my mom came to visit, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to go and see this place once and for all.
It was a Tuesday after a long-weekend, the weather had dropped into chilly fall temperatures and it had rained overnight and all morning. This meant only the youngest of children not yet old enough to be in school were there, accompanied by their parents, which coincidentally meant lots of space to explore this magical place and plenty of opportunity to ask the staff questions. Rory, my mom and I bundled up and headed over, excited for our excursion.
I’d like to mention that I’m not normally a fan of supporting caged wild animals but the Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit organization that focuses on conserving, researching, educating and taking action to support aquatic life. Many of the underwater life you see here has come to them injured or abandoned and the friendly workers have nursed and cared for them while studying and teaching the public about their natural environments. Many of them can’t be let back out into the ocean as they just wouldn’t hack it in the wild after relying on humans for so long and thus live a happy and long life in our famed aquarium. They are a self-sustained organization, and the money you pay for your entry fee helps feed, clean and support these beautiful creatures.
When you first enter the building you’re immediately hit with cylindrical tanks placed in the middle of the room and a colourful, luminescent view of many different jellyfish. I was in awe because you don’t normally get to see jellyfish like this, I could watch them floating around aimlessly for hours. There’s something about their calm, drifting movement that is very poetic, it reminds me of silk chiffon flowing in the wind. Add their glowing colours on top of that and you have yourself a pretty cool fish. It’s too bad they sting.
I was very intrigued to enter the Tropical Zone because to me the word ‘tropical’ means colour and I just love me a bit of colour. There are many tanks down there filled with plenty of coral and fish from places such as Africa, Madagascar, Central America and more. They have reef sharks, giant turtles, sting rays, and lots of facts and information about where they’re from and their natural habitat. Many of them have been confiscated from fishermen illegally trying to import them into Canada.
I didn’t know they had an entire re-creation of the Amazonian rainforest here so I was pleasantly surprised and welcomed the warm, humid climate. When I came to the Aquarium I wasn’t expecting to get to see birds, butterflies, two-toed sloths and monkeys, but they’ve got it and it’s really quite cool! The sloths were lazing around up high in the trees so I couldn’t get a good look, as usual when seeing sloths, but Rory claims that one looked down at him. They also have giant snakes and a girl carrying around the skin of one for people to touch but my ophidiophobia had me looking at the family of marmosets instead.
It was hard to get a good look at the Goeldi’s marmosets as they were swinging around and moving pretty quickly. They are small black monkeys, usually about 20 to 23 cm long and have super long tails.
Stepping out of the Amazon, you’re met with this scary looking creature. At first glance the caiman looks fake because it doesn’t move whatsoever, not even a flinch. I tried to have a staring competition but subsequently lost. The caiman is an Amazonian predator that moves very, very quickly when hunting its prey. Otherwise, it sits still while digesting its last meal and resting. I’d love to see one of these in action… perhaps not in a wild, hungry encounter though.
After seeing some frogs and many, many more fish, we stepped outside for a spotlight on the sea otters. Oh man, they are my new favourite animal, they are so cute and playful and funny! There is one older sea otter in his own area, he is 12 years old and was sleeping away, holding onto his ball. When sea otters are in the wild they hold onto kelp or each other so they don’t drift away and, since this guy isn’t in the wild, he clings to his ball instead. He gnaws and cuddles with it while taking his afternoon snooze.
We went to see the other two sea otters who were awake and much more active. They were being fed their fancy diet consisting of mainly shellfish and pausing occasionally to race back and forth to the glass, saying hello and making us chuckle.
Inside they have a pelt of sea otter fur you can touch. It’s the thickest fur of any animal and is quite hard for them to maintain. Some encounter problems if there is oil in the water, making it very difficult for them to clean. Luckily, their fur is only attached at their wrists and back of the neck so they can grab at it and swing it around for easier access. How cool is it that they basically wear sweaters?
Around the corner is a pack of South African penguins. They were standing around as if they were waiting for us to do something cool instead. From my experience when I saw yellow-eyed penguins in the wild in New Zealand they’re actually very fun and fascinating birds and were a little bit over-shadowed by the playful sea otters and dolphins. Sorry penguins, you lose this one, but I still love you.
We continued to roam around outside, visiting the sea lions, harbour seals, porpoises and beluga whales as we waited for the dolphin show happening at 1pm.
The beluga whale is very fascinating in that it has a giant forehead, named its ‘melon’, that it can actually change shape at will. The melon is used for producing sounds and for echolocation. They can change the size, shape, direction and frequency of their melon, allowing them to control their echolocation beam.
Finally, the show we had all been waiting for . . . the dolphins! I was particularly excited to see these dolphins after watching the video of the giant superpod of over 1,000 dolphins spotted on one of Vancouver’s ferries in Howe Sound just the week before. It turns out they were the same type of beauties as these at the aquarium, the Pacific White-sided dolphin.
Helen and Hannah are the stars of the show, two dolphins rescued while tangled in a fishing net off Japan’s coast. One of them had to get her fins clipped from the damage of the net and now has visibly smaller fins. This didn’t stop them from zipping around their tank at the speed of lightning and jumping up high in to the air, sometimes landing on their backs to make big, dramatic splashes as the crowd cheered in delight.
The show lasted only about 10- 15 mins. so don’t expect a huge spectacle, but what it lacked in length, it made up for in pure dolphin talent. I’m always amazed to see how well they can be trained by humans to perform on command, but I guess that’s why they’re famed as one of the smarted animals on the planet. Their seemingly instinctive connection with humans is a mystery researchers are still trying to solve.
Our child-like enthusiasm dropped after the dolphin show so we decided to take one last look at the sea otters (the old one was still sleeping) and sat staring at the belugas swimming for a while until we headed back home for a late lunch. We were there for a good 3 hours at least and there was still more we could have seen (such as the oh-so-enticing 4D Sponge Bob movie) but we were more than satisfied with our visit and hope to visit again sometime in the future.
The folks at the Vancouver Aquarium are doing a fantastical job and I’m ashamed to say I waited two whole years before visiting! I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in Vancouver as you may discover you’re new favourite sea creature while supporting an oh-so-important conservation effort.
Cost: Regular- $25, Summer (June 22 – September 2nd)- $30, Youth/Student are $18.
Where: It’s located in Stanley Park at 845 Avison Way, Vancouver, BC V6G 3E2, view map. It is a 10-15 minute walk from Denman St.
When: Open Everyday 10am-5pm, and 9:30am- 6pm seasonally/statutory holiday weekends.
- They have a canteen selling the usual snacks and sandwiches. I suggest packing yourself a few snacks as a sandwich will set you back about $10.
- I’d avoid going when it’s raining as much of the larger tanks are outside.
- Visit the show schedule if you’re tight on time so you can plan your visit accordingly.
- You’ll want to set aside half a day to see the Aquarium. It’s not a huge place but there is a lot to see. Don’t expect to be able to do the Aquarium and all of Stanley park in the same day, it spans 1,001 acres (4.05 km²) and there’s far too much to do.
Have you been to the Vancouver Aquarium? Which picture is your favourite?