Number six on my Bucket List (from my first ever blog entry) was to visit all the aquariums around the world. I’ve been to one: in New York, at Coney Island, to be exact, but now that I am able to write about my experiences, I thought I’d begin with the one closest to home.
Out of all Toronto’s many splendid tourist attractions, my new favourite is now Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada: situated at the base of the CN Tower, right next to the Rogers Centre, across the street from the Steam Whistle Brewery. The aquarium officially opened on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013. It seemed to appear overnight. One minute it wasn’t there and the next there it was, in all its glory. I don’t know why I hadn’t heard it was coming. After all, a place like that takes time to design and construct. It is hard to believe such a place now exists at that spot.
The one thing I love just as much as I love writing would have to be marine biology and marine life. I didn’t find it easy to study science, but in another life, a marine biologist is exactly what I would be. The place has only been there a few short months, but already the hype seems to have spread and the word on the street has been majorly positive overall. At only $30 per person, admission for the day, that price simply can’t be beat and the tourists are coming in droves.
It is possible to order reserved tickets online, which can make the wait significantly less at times. Ripley’s does an excellent job at keeping customers informed with current updates, to be found on their very accommodating Facebook page. Wait times are often around an hour or less, when not at their busiest..
There’s a clear sense of peace I feel, when in a place like that, surrounded by all that water and all those sea creatures. If it weren’t for all the people, pushing and shoving to get up against each window of glass, I could stand and stare, not really sure what I was seeing, but transfixed all the same. Going to an aquarium makes little sense, to some, when you can’t see the animals. I am happy to be able to touch a select few of the creatures living there. As I walked through, I began to imagine a scenario where it was the middle of the night and I found myself in a completely empty aquarium: just myself, the sea creatures, and the distant sound of their watery home.
As I reached down, thinking I was going to touch a sting ray, I was surprised to feel not a smooth but hard surface under my fingertips. As we stood there, me in confusion, the woman who worked there began to describe the horseshoe crabs and what they were doing. I recognized there were two of them and soon learned why they seemed to be attached to one another. The male had hitched himself onto the female, patiently waiting for her to release her eggs. In that moment I jerked my hand up and away, feeling suddenly as if I had disturbed their mating ritual. I apologized for intruding on their private moment and off I went. Sometimes getting to experience the animals up close and personal isn’t all its cracked up to be.
Giant fish, closely resembling goldfish were the first thing inside. Right away I noticed a soft background of relaxing music was playing, no doubt to add to the atmosphere. This was inviting and made me want to continue further.
Our own home country was greatly represented, with a Canadian marine life exhibit: Canadian Waters and The Great Lakes. This included sturgeon, cod and haddock. The speakers gave out information on the aquarium, however were fairly quiet, drowned out by the sea of people.
The majestic Giant Pacific Octopus was climbing up the side of the glass, it’s suction cups the only thing to be seen. There were sea stars, blue lobster, and to me the never-before-heard-of sea pens. Being unable to get a clear picture in my mind of what a sea pen might look like, I was thrilled to learn about the existence of the ocean’s literary representatives. The seahorse is another of the aquarium’s best-loved and well-recognized , yet strange creature; its main specialty would have to be the male’s job. I guess you could say the male seahorse would be the National Inquirer headline of the marine world…MALE HAS BABIES, but seeing as this is the natural world and not some tabloid magazine, their ability to carry the young and give them life while hanging, tail around a piece of coral or sea grass is simply a miraculous and selfless gift.
As I looked from window to window, focusing hard and looking this way and that, I kept wondering how a visit to this same place would have gone for me when I was younger. Your eyes can play tricks on you, even if and especially when you are blind. I see very little and miss a lot, but it is almost impossible for me to recall back to a time when I had more sight. I tried really hard, but could not imagine how much better I could have spotted these creatures before the years passed, my sight very easily slowly fading, so subtle that it was hardly distinguishable to me. These things make me pause and feel sorry for what might have been, but my love for such a place never dies, only increases. Look left. Look right. Look up or look down. With all the heads and moving bodies in my way it made it hard to know if I were seeing fish or just really tall visitors. How do you explain to each and every child who gets in your way that you need to be directly in front of the window?
The rays were otherwise preoccupied when we got to Ray Bay, so I missed my chance to see if they felt as I remembered them, smooth and slippery. The goal of the people working at the aquarium is for each and every visitor to get their chance to be up close and personal with a shark. I stood at their habitat, The Dangerous Lagoon, a two-teared tank, where the bamboo sharks had the choice to stay further away in the water or up at the visitor area. My first experience touching a bamboo shark was not as I’d expected. Instead of feeling rubbery like a dolphin or a whale, their skin is rough to the touch, scratchy. I felt its fin, a new experience for me.
There was fascinating information given about such under sea marvels as hydrothermal vents and the strange creatures living in such a remote and hostile environment. Over the lout speaker there was a voice speaking about coral and other sea life, such as the anemones and eels. Some creatures such as these live together, in harmony with one giving another a ride on their back. “Some might call this co-dependence, but scientists just refer to it as symbiosis.” I can appreciate this view, being it’s all how you look at it. This is exactly how creatures should get along. We humans could take this more to heart: not necessarily literally, but as the perfect example of how to work together in harmony with one another in our own society.
A moving walkway allows viewers the opportunity to remain still as they are slowly moved along, through the shark habitat, as they swim all around, beside and directly above. As I went along for the ride, I was left wondering: Are they happy in there? I felt an urge to release these beautiful yet highly misunderstood animals from their captivity. The silver tipped and reef sharks are not the biggest, by any means, unlike hammerhead or great whites, but how much space could they possibly have to swim? Such spectacular creatures which most people fear and of which receive a bad rap. I was conflicted between finding piece for myself in such a place and my love of all these animals and their happiness. What right did we all have to keep them here? Was it a safe and loving habitat, cared for by the most dedicated and educated people, or was it just like any other zoo and aquarium? Could mishandling and cruelty go on even right in front of me? And yet I still looked in awe, could not look away or barely tear myself away from the glass.
Was such a place a great learning opportunity for thousands of children, with their families and on school trips? Would they grow up learning about the sea and appreciating and loving its ecosystems? Or would it continue to go on as a bunch of ignorant gawking people, such as one man I heard speak his view at my favourite of all the exhibits.
As we stood, me admiring the moon and the upside down jellyfish, with the symbiotic relationship of having such organisms as algae living on top, able to receive energy from the light of the sun, as the upside down jellies glided happily along. This was clearly what happened in nature.
“Those things are the lowest form of animal. they can’t even get their positioning right.”
I could not believe what I was hearing in that moment. I desperately longed to reach over and give such an ignorant head a shake. For someone to say such a thing, left me wondering seriously about the kinds of people visiting here. I had to move away from there immediately, my anger and disgust so strong.
By far the most amazing feature of this aquarium would have to be the kelp farm. It is an awe-inspiring sight: rhythmic in appearance, almost hypnotic as you stand and stare…these vast ecosystems, not unlike the layers and canopy of an on land rain forrest. It is a replica of the giant kelp farms which grow and flourish off the Pacific coast of California and in many other coastal regions: temperate, polar, and other tropical areas. Of course this particular exhibit (spoiler alert) is artificially created, as the real thing would be unruly and impossible to keep up with maintenance wise, but the spot is soothing and crazy to behold, all at once.
From the mellow and delicate-looking jellies to often vicious and frenzied piranha; from the big fish to the small; and from the ones you could touch to the ones you’d never want to offer up your hand and five fingers. The Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is Toronto’s newest and most talked about landmark. It is both peaceful and wild. I’d seriously consider a season pass, for sure if I lived just a little bit closer to the city, but would then take my time to discover the best days to visit, the ones when human traffic was the least. The open layout of the aquarium’s entire water system is refreshingly displayed and open to view, leaving a lasting impression at the very end and the discount offers to the visually impaired and their guides made the experience an excellent deal. While I myself do get so much out of such a place, others unable to see might find it boring and uneventful. For sure it takes away from the beauty and wonder when one is unable to see all the many marine species up close.
The open food court atmosphere of Ripley’s Cafe allowed the smells of the food to effect my senses, mixing with the feel the rest of the aquarium offers, but the play ground and spots for the kids to crawl into to get a better look at some sharks and other sea life are, no doubt, a hit with families. My favourite place to end up in was the gift shop. This one was not your average store full of over-priced junk. The high quality items for sale were set out, and I made my way through the shelves, exploring the beautiful crystal carved fish, sea turtles, seahorses, and jellyfish, suspended in a glass dome not unlike a snow globe might be. Who wouldn’t want a souvenir to remember this magical place: a sweatshirt, mug, books or movies to allow for further learning about the ocean and its plethora of animal life.
it is open 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. most days, and open 365 days a year.
The second best option to experiencing the sea up close is definitely this spectacular attraction in the heart of Toronto. It’s worth a visit or an annual visit at that. My feelings, always mixed when it comes to my favourite habitat and environment are brought into closer focus when set up in the middle of this large city, far away from any ocean, but set at the edge of Lake Ontario. According to their website, the team running this facility initiates many environmental and sustainability programs. They have the lead premier shark expert guy right on site, who seems to love sharks more than just about anyone and has made it his life’s mission to facilitate the falling in love with the magnificent shark from an early age for all children, just as he did. However, the aquarium is owned by Ripley Entertainment Inc. and entertainment is right there in the name of the company. Can a name synonymous with entertainment also do good things for the environment and the natural world?
I am drawn to anything marine related, yet conflicted and fearing many of its elements. This place now has a hold on me that I can not quite put into words, which is what I spend most of my life attempting to do. I can not explain why I love the sea and everything in it, with everything in me. I only know that The Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is now only a short drive away and will always be one of my top destinations to visit. You should too.
According to them they are: “making a splash in the heart of downtown Toronto.” Love the pun and love the aquarium.