Visiting the Vancouver Aquarium of British Columbia, Canada

The Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia (Credit: MCArnott)

The creature has no bones, no heart, no brain and no eyes. Shredded ribbons of white jelly seem to drift away from its flamboyant bell-shaped body. The orange jellyfish is one of the fascinating exhibits of the Vancouver Aquarium.

Like most people around me, I am trying to look at the tanks while keeping up with children who are either “glued” to the tank, or rushing to the next “best thing.” I barely manage to read the AquaFacts tags — displayed by each tank — so I can answer questions later: Jellyfish is 96 percent water; their tentacles are transparent because they are drifters and cannot hide to catch their prey;  they have been around longer than dinosaurs. I’ve got it; it’s time to move on.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • Marine life is an endless source of fantastic mind-boggling facts.
  • You never see the same thing twice.
  • You can have a sleepover at the Aquarium — or a wedding.
  • For adults, students, children, and seekers of natural wonders.

The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park

The largest aquarium in Canada, and one of the five largest in North America, the aquarium is located in Stanley Park, a peninsula situated on the northern side of Vancouver. With one million visitors annually, it is self-supporting, non-profit, and a favorite place of Vancouverites — who supported its costly extension and renovation, an indication of their love of nature and conservation.

An exhibit of the Canada Pavilion (Credit: MCArnott)

Created in 1951 as an association, it became the first public aquarium to employ fulltime professional naturalists to explain animal behaviors at galleries and exhibits. It is also a worldwide-recognized facility for Marine Mammal Rescue Programs and rehabilitation.

A Marine Research Center for the University of British Columbia (UBC)

Aquariums have their detractors, but marine biologists — who also study species in their natural habitat — cannot advance environmental conservation without doing research on captive animals. In Vancouver, the result is a collaboration between the Aquarium as a marine research center and UBC.

And let’s not forget that the species that live in aquariums are not subjected to pollution, illegal trade, overfishing, and climate change, and are therefore protected from extinction. For this reason, the 70,000 creatures that live at the Vancouver Aquarium are now the “ambassadors for their species in the wild.” The exhibits, galleries and other special encounters with animals raise awareness and help visitors connect with the natural world.

Captivity, it seems, may not always be a bad thing. Kavna was 46 year-old when he recently died… of old age. Studies have shown that beluga whales don’t seem to live more than 30 years in the wild.

Going back to jellyfish, it’s the access to that species that has allowed marine biologists to discover that one of the proteins that make the creatures glow might be a lead to cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning about Marine Electronics at the Aquarium Outdoor Exhibits

We are following the walkways of the outdoor Wild Coast exhibit, where peek-a-boo-playing dolphins, otters and other harbor seals and sea lions show that they are alive and well after having been rescued and nursed back to health.

Rescued white-sided dolphins get a treat at the Vancouver Aquarium (Credit: MCArnott)

I am happy to hear that five seal pups recently released in the wild are doing well as they fend for themselves. But even for these seals, privacy is hard to come by: They are being spied on by a satellite-linked transmitters that monitors their whereabouts and behavior. Don’t worry, the tags will come off when the pups moult.

And then my grandson asks why the animals had to be rescued, so I explain that fishing nets are as dangerous as natural predators. The good news is that scientists are developing a sonar device that will alert dolphins of the danger.

Sometimes, the facts lead me to thoughts far afield, such as… the origin of physics. For example, take the electricity-producing eels, whose method of making electricity is as “simple” as their heads being positive and their tails being negative.

Going from the Tropic Zone to the Permafrost Regions

Interactive activity: FInd the answer on the computer! (Credit: MCArnott)

Interactive activity: FInd the answer on the computer! (Credit: MCArnott)

We open the door to the Amazon Rain Forest area and close it on Canada’s Artic zone. It’s warm in there so it’s time to take off our coats, and as we do, a monarch butterfly checks out my grandson, and then lands on his dad’s cap. The aquarium is full of surprises: Even Santa Claus left a message, warning all of us that he is finding himself on thin ice as the North Pole’s ice cap melts away.

We exit through the gift shop only to find out that most of the books are sold at the small coffee-bar on the lower floor. On the way back home, we name the Treasures of the B.C. Coast exhibit: slime-producing hagfish, squids, crabs and giant octopuses, among many other creatures. And last but not least, colorful coral live in the deep, murky and cold waters of the North Pacific, the same waters that surround our Vancouver home.


  • Take buses, or a 15 min.-walk from the city center.
  • Parking fee for cars is 5$/day in winter, $10 in summer.
  • A miniature train operates in the park part of the year.
  • Bikes are popular to visit the park: rental at Denman and Georgia streets.
  • The Aquarium has a covered outdoor small cafeteria (rain or shine) and is wheelchair accessible.
  • Check about daily shows and encounters with animals (additional fee).
  • The Vancouver Aquarium offers summer camps, and educative and entertaining online programs for children.



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