September 10, 2013

Underwater Reverie

             Apparently, my love of sharks and fascination with underwater creatures has only grown as I’ve gotten older. As far back as show and tell in fifth grade, my teacher asked us all to bring in items that represented us. I brought in a great white shark fact sheet. Luckily, there is a place for people like me, where I can unashamedly admire sharks and other animals with fellow devotees. This brings me to my recent trip to the London Sea Life Aquarium, situated in the County Hall Building. The attraction rightly earns its place next to the London Eye and the London Dungeon on the South Bank of the River Thames.

             Obligatory children were ever-present while making their rounds of the tanks, pressing their noses up against the glass and staring wide-eyed at the mysterious animals. That being said, the aquarium is by no means a fun day out solely for kids. I witnessed couples, friends, and full-grown adults admiring in the beauty of the water and its inhabitants. Since we as humans cannot survive underwater, watching animals glide effortlessly around their natural habitat is quite a spectacle, especially when the aquarium accommodates their animals with over two million gallons of water!

             The assortment of animals that can be viewed include jellyfish, sharks, rays, lobsters, piranhas, Gentoo penguins, clownfish, crocodiles, green sea turtles, and seahorses. That’s just to name a few! Each exhibit delves into recreating a natural, realistic setting, based on whether the animal is completely or partially water dependent. In the poison dart frogs’ stomping ground, I found myself surrounded by foliage in a muggy rain forest. After acclimating to that environment, I was struck by an instant chill as I entered the penguins’ arena, a feature that opened in May 2011. Etching my initials onto an icy white surface, it became harder and harder to imagine London existing just outside of those frost-dominated walls. Another section paid tribute to the film Finding Nemo, where sea anemones, clownfish, and blue tangs reigned supreme.

             The animals were truly mesmerizing and watching them was unusually soothing. I could have easily perched on one of the ledges next to a tank and stayed there all day. Rays seemed to be flying above me as they passed by in the surrounding tunnel with an unmatched elegance. In the ray pool, they were even more impressive. They weren’t afraid to get friendly and come up right next to me. A variety of sharks were on offer, from nurse sharks to sand tiger sharks to blacktip reef sharks - my own personal shark heaven! Then again, I am biased towards the ferocious beings, so my elation should come as no surprise.

             The aquarium makes it top priority for visitors to feel connected to the animals, to grant them the respect they deserve. We are merely voyeurs in their territory and I realized just how small I felt compared to something as magnificent and great as the green sea turtle. A comparative size chart on one of the walkways further demonstrated this, stretching to varying lengths of different sized sharks. My mouth was left agape at how very small I would appear underwater with the tremendous whale shark, which can reach 40 feet or more in length!  

             It is important to note that many of the animals housed at the aquarium are endangered. A sad reminder of this exists in information displays next to each tank, where animals are ranked on a scale of not in danger to critically threatened. While the aquarium is indeed an attraction to be enjoyed, an underlying tone pleads with us as visitors to help in animal conservation efforts. The London Sea Life Aquarium plays an active role in practicing what they preach through breeding, seal rescues, re-homing, and campaigns. Did you know that shark fins actually add no nutritional value or taste to shark fin soup? Neither did I, until I started reading the placards placed around the aquarium. Above appreciating the sea creatures, the aquarium spreads awareness.

             After touring the aquarium, I exited through the gift shop, naturally toting my new shark keychain all the way home.

             Visit the London Sea Life Aquarium website here to plan your trip, check for feeding times and offers, and find out how to get involved.

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