While visiting the beautiful city of Vancouver I found myself captivated by the Pacific Ocean. The way the rays of sunshine jumped from wave to wave entrances me the same way looking into the center of a campfire does – fully and completely sucking me into what feels like a meditative state. I find it easy to focus my eyes and attention on what we most-often see of the ocean, the white-capped waves, the turquoise inlets and the way the tide laps onto the shore bringing with it empty sea-shells and seaweed. I could honestly sit listening to the waves lap onto the shore all day long. But what about what we don’t see? What about all the beautiful things that elude us below the surface? Why don’t we think more about what lies within the ocean not just where the water meets air?
I think there is something fascinating about the jellyfish, sea urchins and other mysterious creatures that live in the ocean. The shimmering neon on an ocean tetra, the whimsical sway of pink coral, the eerie stare of an octopus and discovering that the little blob of algae or stalk of seaweed is actually a camouflaged crab and seahorse. There is so much beauty under the waves.
When talking with someone about visiting Vancouver, Stanley Park is 99.99% likely to come up as somewhere you definitely should see. Stanley Park is a 1001 acre park just a stones-throw from downtown and is, essentially, an island surrounded by a stone Sea Wall that barely separates visitors from the sea. Within Stanley Park you’ll also find the Vancouver Aquarium which is home to thousands of species of interesting (and not-so-interesting) ocean creatures. Considering my fascination with sea-life, this was a must see during my trip.
The last time I was at an aquarium was in 2006 when I visited Sydney, Australia. It was right around the time Finding Nemo hit the Disney scene so you can imagine how many “Nemos” and “Doreys” there were to see (I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the future, millennials renamed clown-fish, Nemo Fish). Almost 10 years later, on the other side of the world, things haven’t changed. The first “wing” I visited in the Vancouver Aquarium was The Tropics and there were Nemos and Doreys galore. There was even a clown-fish cove play area for little ones (which parents seemed to love because they could take a seat and let their little ones run around in a fully-enclosed, self-directed play area). One thing I noticed quite early is that the Vancouver Aquarium is incredibly kid friendly with lots of step-up areas for kids to get a better view of the fish and ocean-life. They even have glass domes built into some of the tanks allowing kids to go underneath the tank and pop their head up into the dome as if they were inside with the sea creatures (I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to squeeze myself underneath).
One of the most interesting little creatures I saw in “The Tropics” were these little fluorescent specked fish that looked like tetras – I don’t remember what they are called. They were kept in a dark tank with a black light and every now and again you could see the shimmer of this little fish (about the size of half my pinkie finger) as it scurried around the tank. With so many of these little guys flitting around the tank it made me think that this is what stars in the night sky would look like if they really did twinkle.
Close by in the Amazon exhibit, two stingrays caught my attention. They were black with white spots and about the size of a circular place-mat (except with a tail) and I absolutely loved the black and white design. Watching them glide over the “ocean floor” and then sit for a few moments to soak up the sun reminded me of wearing black on cool days when the sun is bright and my black clothes soak up the sun until I feel like I’ll be warm forever. That must be what it feels like to live in the Amazon.
A little further into the aquarium I came across two little fish called “Four-eyes”.
Having grown up wearing thick-rimmed, 80’s style, eye-glasses I immediately felt attached to these weird-looking, surface sliding, bulbous-eyed fellas.
They get their name because their big eyes allow them to see both under and above the water at the same time. I think they were also a little bit camera shy because it was not easy to get a picture of them – I guess, like me when I was small, they don’t like attention or photos.
Thankfully, the aquarium residents that I find most mesmerizing aren’t camera shy and I could stand and take picture upon picture of the jellyfish all day if I wanted to and they wouldn’t bat-an-eyelash (yes, yes, I know jellyfish don’t have eyes but it’s a figure of speech and seemed like an appropriate description). There’s something about the serene and fluid movement of a jellyfish that settles my mind and awakens my spirit. Whether the mini ones that look like skinned grapes with little vermicelli tails, the medium sized moon jelly-fish with their ethereal glow or the huge ones that look like shooting stars that have fallen from the sky – I’m enchanted by their gracefulness.
Like most other aquariums, the Vancouver Aquarium has feature attractions that change throughout the season and wasn’t it my luck that while I was visiting the aquarium was featuring Seamonsters. It really is unbelievable the size of some of the creatures that live in the ocean! Walking through the Seamonsters exhibit reminded me of when I saw “Body Worlds” in Niagara Falls a few summers ago. Many of the sea monsters were stripped of their skin revealing their bone structure, muscles and other fish bits within. There were sharks and ocean sunfish, narwhal horns and skeletons of sea-monsters I’ve never heard of and hope never to come into contact with while swimming! The exhibit also featured a 4D movie that lasted about 15 minutes; the audience wears 3D glasses and sit in a theatre that rumbles, blows cold air, and sprays water among a couple other surprises that I will not spoil. The show invites you back in time to when some of these sea monsters lived in our oceans (many are extinct and we know them only from the fossils we’ve found).
Outside the main building there is an Arctic exhibit where you can get up close and personal with polar bears, belugas, dolphins, seals and otters. I noticed something very playful about the animals outside, one beluga in particular seemed to purposely swim upside-down every time he crossed the underwater viewing area – like he knew he had an audience and he wasn’t about to let down paying customers. The otters, naturally playful animals, were also hamming it up to their adoring audience – one Italian Nonna in particular kept cooing praises into the water to which the otters would reply with playful frolicking. It was actually a pleasure to watch even if just for a few moments.
You will also find some animals inside the aquarium – the fruit bats are a little spooky, the marmosets (those little monkey things) are adorable, the array of colourful birds in the amazon made me feel like I was on a safari, the frogs had me torn between cute and colourful vs. gross and slimy and the snakes (especially the anaconda) made me want to run back to the cute, cuddly little monkeys.
I spent a few hours in the aquarium on a sunny Tuesday afternoon and likely could have spent a few more – I’m sure a 2nd loop would have revealed a whole new set of sights unseen the first time around. If I return I will surely make a full day out of being in Stanley Park, go early in the morning, walk some of the trails, stop at a few lookout points, eat a picnic lunch, spend the early afternoon at the Aquarium and then top the day off by finding a warm spot on the beach and take a swim in the Pacific. While in the ocean I’m sure my mind would be on all the sea-life and creatures I’d learned about and met earlier in the day. I very much appreciate that aquariums allow us to see a beautiful side of the ocean that would otherwise remain in the dark – instead we can swim alongside these creatures in our minds eye.