Photo credit: Jason Gallant | Flickr
With a worldwide reputation as a leading marine science centre, the Vancouver Aquarium was the country’s first public aquarium when it opened in 1956, and is Canada’s largest. It is home to more than 70,000 animals, more than 60,000 children take advantage of its school programs each year, and each year it welcomes more than 1 million visitors from around the world. The numbers are impressive, but it’s the actual wildlife — the whales, otters, snakes, dolphins and more — that amaze the hundreds of thousands who pass through the door of the aquarium each year, which is situated in the middle of Stanley Park just on the outskirts of downtown Vancouver.
The permanent marine animal displays are as diverse as the ocean itself. In the Amazon gallery, creatures slither, swim and splash around. Another features 22 species of frogs, toads and salamanders in the Frogs Forever? exhibit, which talks about the extinction facing many of the amphibian species. There are also exhibits focusing on butterflies, Artic creatures, tropical waters, dolphins, otters, seals, the British Columbia coast and more. The aquarium focuses heavily on species native to the Pacific Northwest. Yup, if it swims or lives in an ocean, lake, river or stream, there’s a good chance the Vancouver Aquarium has an informative display around it.
Train with the Animals
The aquarium is more than a place to just see marine wildlife. Through its Animal Encounters program, visitors can touch, train, feed and even play with dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions and sea otters. The daily programs (reservations recommended) last an hour or longer and are led by professional trainers. Packages can include action photography of your group and tons of educational and conservational information.
Marine Life in 4-D
Visiting an IMAX theatre is one thing, but the Vancouver Aquarium’s 4D Experience takes it a step further — the fourth dimension being the addition of sensory effects such as mist, scents, lighting and wind. These are coupled with a state-of-the-art theatre system that displays some of the best nature documentaries and films in the world, including the Planet Earth series.
Shows and Events
Throughout the year, the marine life housed in the Aquarium comes to life in the form of entertaining and educational shows that include the popular dolphin demonstrations, feedings, reef shark performances, and talks that focus on habitats, conservation and more. The various shows are generally scheduled every 45 minutes, and the aquarium also features special events regularly.
Since opening in 1956, the Vancouver Aquarium has not only been a leader in aquatic sciences, but it has also tripled in size thanks to a massive expansion in 1967. Over the years, its research and conservation programs have been ground-breaking. It was the first facility in the world to study a killer whale (1964), its researchers discovered a new species of shrimp in the Gulf Islands (1997) and it became the first aquarium in the world to make a commitment to no longer capture cetaceans from the wild for display (1996). It’s been a primary source of research, conservation and education since opening to the world and region.
The aquarium is all about teaching, whether it be to an out-of-town visitor just in from a walk around the Seawall or a classroom full of children at a local elementary school. It offers numerous school lessons and visit options, student sleepovers, teacher resources for the classroom and even programs offered in French.
Research and Ocean Wise
What good is an aquarium if it serves as a lesson in history rather than one that keeps its finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world’s waterways? With serious over-fishing problems in all corners of the world and the threat of mass extinction of various species at the hands of climate change, the Vancouver Aquarium is taking action and serving as a leader in research and conservation. Through research that focuses on marine mammals, sea lions, the Howe Sound and marine protection areas; creative programs such as Adopt a Whale; and toll-free numbers to report wildlife sightings, it has been on the cutting edge of conservation since opening. It also created Ocean Wise, a movement that certifies sustainably harvested seafood so consumers can order off a restaurant menu without concern.