Vancouver’s water world

  • Story and photos by Christina Harper / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, January 22, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Spending a day at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre in Vancouver, B.C., means going to the bottom of the ocean to look for fabulous sea creatures and popping up for a dolphin or whale show without even getting wet.

Well, kinda – it depends where you sit when the beluga whales are cavorting in the water.

One of the beluga whales, the biggest attraction at the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, B.C., does a nose stand.

The aquarium is fewer than 10 minutes west of downtown Vancouver in Stanley Park.

Just through the main entrance you’ll find yourself in the “Upper Pacific Canada” exhibit, a series of open tanks with many fish and starfish native to the area.

Next, head to the “Treasures of the B.C. Coast” room and look for the giant Pacific octopus. Count his tentacles and look to see if he changes color before you search out other beautiful creatures of the deep.

If you prefer sharks, try the shark habitat, where many of the swift, beady-eyed fish slither through the waters, watching for prey. There are many viewing tanks in the habitat dotted with shark facts, and benches for resting while taking in the scene.

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.; 604-659-3474.

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through June 25, 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 26 through Sept. 5.

Admission is $13.50 for adults, $10.25 for seniors, students and youth ages 13 to 18, $7.75 for children ages 4 to 12, free for children 3 and under.

These prices are approximate in U.S. dollars.

Kids and adults will enjoy all the amphibians, frogs and toads in “Ribbitting Experience,” where more than 150 varieties of frogs can be found. Renovations on that exhibit will begin later this month.

Children can hunker down and crawl under a tank-like structure to pop their heads up into a glass dome to be surrounded by the sights and sounds a tadpole would experience.

Small visitors can measure their height, see how high they can jump, then measure their abilities against a frog’s leap.

This exhibit is filled with slippery creatures and fun facts such as:

* Did you know that frogs have teeth?

* When some frogs swallow a meal, their eyes close and sink into their heads, applying pressure and pushing the food down their throats.

When you’re ready to relax, just for a moment, take a look through the blue jellyfish window and watch the Moon Jellies float by, wafting in slow motion in their translucent brilliance.

Also inside and on the lower level of the aquarium is the Arctic Canada Gallery where arguably the prize of the aquarium, the beluga whales, can be seen.

The newest addition to the beluga family is Tuvaq, which is an Inuktitut word that means “sea ice.”

Tuvaq was born to Aurora on July 20, 2002. Although he is only 21/2, he’s almost the size of the other whales. He’ll reach full maturity in three to five years and will probably weigh more than 3,000 pounds.

Check the schedule to see if a beluga show is coming up. They take place several times a day outdoors on the upper level at the beluga viewing deck.

Watch the trainers feed and call Tuvaq and the other belugas, charming the crowd as they frolic in their big blubbery way. Be wary of the first two or three rows of benches, though. A big splash from these massive mammals will shower those sitting close to the action.

When you’re ready for a break, find the Upstream Cafe between the beluga whales and the sea otters.

Just on the right past the seals is another great attraction, Tag the Stellar sea lion. Tag is 11 years old and weighs more than 825 pounds. If you are there during his feeding time, you’ll hear him bark when he eats his herring and squid.

The aquarium offers Wild Coast Trainer Tours during which visitors get to feed and train the sea otters, seals and sea lions, and Animal Encounters, including one with the beluga whales in which you get to touch the whales and feed them a snack. You’ll leave with a photograph of you and the whale, and a CD of beluga vocalizations.

These tours are best booked in advance, but try even on the day of your arrival.

No matter what you do at the Vancouver Aquarium, plan on spending the day. You’ll leave with memories that will last much longer.

Reporter Christina Harper: 425-339-3491 or harper@heraldnet.com.

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