How can you watch animals in captivity when you’re a vegan/vegetarian/animal-lover?
This is a question people like to interrogate me with, on occasion.
My response is always the same: modern zoos and aquariums have an important role in wildlife conservation and research. Australia’s Western Plains Zoo out at Dubbo is a good example of this.
But I’ve also been to zoos in Asia, and even America, where I’ve been saddened by things I’ve seen. Like a huge polar bear zipping back and forth in the water in his tiny enclosure in New York’s central park, looking like he was out of his mind with boredom and loneliness.
Aside from having the proper zoo accreditation and the requisite team of biologists, scientists, divers and aquarists to ensure the wildlife’s well-being, Ripley’s conducts various conservation projects. Their notable breeding programs for endangered species include ongoing tagging and tracking programs for sand tiger sharks in conjunction with universities and government agencies.
Satisfied that I could ethically attend the aquarium, we made plans to go with North Nomad’s Aunt and his twin 11-year-old cousins, Emily and Eric.
Built in late 2013, the aquarium has over 13,500 fresh water and salt water creatures, including more than 450 species. The aquarium has some really cool features and exhibits, including a 96 metre long moving walkway through the “Dangerous Lagoon”.
The moving walkway through the lagoon is fantastic for keeping the crowds at a reasonable level and making sure everyone can see the sharks in the tunnel. Sydney Aquarium had a moving walkway decades ago, but took it out, which has made it harder to get a good look with everyone standing stationary and using ridiculous implements like iPads and laptops to take photos of stingrays flying overhead.
Inside the tunnel, “oohs” and “aaahs” of awed school children surround us, as the rays and sharks swim beside us and over our heads. I’m particularly amused by a teacher who says, Is it real? It can’t be real. No that’s not real, about a Roughtail Stingray relaxing on the top of the plexiglass tunnel. There are little squeals of excitement from the kids when the stingray moves, proving himself to be real.
Aside from the Roughtail Stingrays, we get up close to Sand Tiger Sharks, Sandbar Sharks, Green Turtles, and Green Sawfish. The sharks are on the smaller side and my favourites – the Grey Nurses aren’t represented, but that is to be expected of a newer aquarium.
This is where native Torontonians get to see what lives beneath the surface in the Great Lakes. And what lives below is huge – Alewife, Largemouth Bass, American Lobster, Wolf Eel, Lumpfish, Giant Pacific Octopus, and China Rockfish are on display. They’re not necessarily pretty to look at like the creatures in the reef exhibits, but impressive for their monstrous size. I swim with those? I thought. If I’d known these creatures were cruising beneath Lake Ontario’s surface, I may have been less eager to swim in it over the past couple of years.
The surprising highlight of this section was the Pacific Kelp Exhibit, which holds 360,000 litres of water. The kelp towered over us and the wave maker sloshed the fish and the kelp around in a simulation of the British Columbia shoreline. It had a calming, hypnotic feel about it.
Be prepared that the coral you see here is fake. This was a bit of a shock, but on reflection, it’s a sensible approach given the issues we have with the rapidly dying coral population throughout the tropical parts of the world.
This exhibit shows off the gorgeous colours and variety in fish species in the Indo-Pacific region, including Picasso Triggerfish, Humbug Dascyllus, Emperor Angelfish, Pajama Cardinalfish, and Unicorn Surgeonfish.
Rays are spectacular creatures. When we were scuba diving with manta rays in Bora Bora, our French guide said he felt like aliens were living underwater when he swam with rays. Watching these graceful creatures glide through the water, I know what he means.
This 350,000 litre tank holds three difference species of ray: the Bonnethead shark, the Cownose Ray, and the Southern Stingray.
Discovery Centre and Touch Tanks
These exhibits are very much geared towards children, but adults who love marine life will get just as much kick out of these as the kids do.
Proving that I am truly a four-year-old, I ran straight over to a tank and squealed about all the baby nemos, then launched into a conversation about how exciting it is that the crew behind Finding Nemo really must have spent a lot of time watching how the fish move, because Dory in the show swims just like the Dorys in the tank – wiggling her fins back and forth.
One of the coolest looking exhibits is Planet Jellies. The tank holds 16,500 litres of water and numerous jellyfish, but looks as if it’s just a flat wall with pink jelly blobs wafting up and down. It’s very surreal and looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Prepare yourself for the crowds and the kids
If you do not like children, you will find this experience excruciating. The aquarium is still new, so on most days during the week it is crowded with school children, and on the weekend it’s packed to the brim with families.
I walk past the aquarium on most days and the line-ups are mind-blowing. I would suggest two things:
1) purchase your tickets online – a large portion of the queues seem to be ticket purchasing, and
2) time your visit right. If you are going with children, be there before the aquarium opens, or go after school on a weekday – the aquarium is open until 9pm most nights. If you are without children, I would suggest any weekday after about 3pm when the school trips have gone for the day.
Location: 288 Bremner Boulevard, Toronto, ON M5V 3L9, CANADA
Getting there: If you live in the GTA, take the TTC or Go Train or Bus to Union Station and walk to the CN Tower. You can’t miss it. If you want to battle the god-awful Downtown Toronto traffic, there are multiple parking lots around Bremner Boulevard, the ACC, and Maple Square.
Contact Details: Phone: (647) 351-FISH (3474), Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening Hours: Usually 9:00am to 9:00pm, but always check the website or call just in case the hours have changed for a special event.
Costs: Adults (14+) $29.98, Youth (6-13) $19.98, Kids (3-5) $9.98, Seniors (65+) $19.98.
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