on November 16, 2010
Vancouver Aquarium is rightly considered to be the west-coast city's prime tourist attraction. Situated in the splendid Stanley Park, with a fountain adorned with a beautiful bronze by the most celebrated Native Canadian artist Bill Reid, a visit to the aquarium impresses from the very beginning.Inside there are several areas devoted to various ecosystems, both inside and outside. The native displays include Pacific Canada (one vast tank with fish and other creatures from the Straits of Georgia), Arctic Canada (live and non-live displays including belugas), The Wild Coast (outdoors area that includes dolphins, sea otters, porpoise, seals and similar), Treasures of the BC Coast (indoor displays with octopus, rockfish, starfish and more). The non-native displays are divided into Tropic Zone and Amazon Rainforest, with Frogs Forever. There is also what's called Canaccord Exploration Gallery. The aquarium is housed in a purpose built facility and is considered to be one of the best in North America (does it mean in the world?), with what seems to be a very good balance achieved between education and entertainment, conservation and research and commercial/fund-raising activities. The highlights will vary depending on visitors' interests, but undoubtedly will include some of the marine mammals living in the Vancouver Aquarium. There are several shows and talks every day, of which the dolphin show brings in true crowds with a lively display of Pacific dolphins' acrobatics. Sea otters are also fascinating, and the talk about them is very informative and brings together not only information about those graceful animals but also ecology in general, and the interdependence of various species in one ecosystems.The stars of Vancouver Aquarium are, undoubtedly, beluga whales, which can be observed outside (from above the surface) and inside (under water). There are also talks and shows, but even just watching those magnificent creatures swim and play can take hours! Your reviewer was particularly entranced for having seen them in the wild previously and feeling that the encounter in the Aquarium made them both more and less real. One starts to wonder whether animals like that – no dumb fish, but clearly intelligent, most likely sentient beings at least to some degree - shouldn't really be in the wild, swimming up St Lawrence in search of krill rather than bouncing off the walls of a tank hardly bigger than three beluga body lengths? This is a difficult question in general, as most (if not all) animals live much longer in zoos than in the wild. Freedom is a human concept and we shouldn't anthropomorphise animals. Vancouver belugas seemed content enough (and they breed happily too) so perhaps their lot is not a bad one after all. And yet, one wonders.Aside from the mammals, Vancouver Aquarium's tropical and Amazon tanks have pretty impressive collections, including reef sharks and a green sea turtle. Canaccord Exploration Gallery has some very informative stations and tanks including utterly mesmerising jellyfish. There are catering concessions in a few locations in the Aquarium (the typical overpriced fare of such places) and a decent gift shop. Entry to this marine wonderland doesn't come cheap. Adult tickets cost 21 CAD at the time of writing (2010), children over 3 years old pay 13 CAD and concessions 16 CAD. However, the quality of what's on offer means that it's almost certainly worth it, especially if you like marine mammals. In fact, the beluga themselves are probably worth it! Annual membership offers a good value (assuming you come at least three times), and for a family it's even better deal at 138 CAD.
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