The Vancouver Aquarium

May 4, 2014

What to do when you are the only species of fish in the lake? This is the problem the arctic char has faced for thousands of years in the far north of Canada. So the char has diversified: there are midgets the size of a herring which specialize in plankton, there are large, deep-water char which feed exclusively on fish, and there the medium-sized char which do the usual trout things. Before long, biologists suggest, the three will have evolved into distinct speces.

I had fun with an interactive board detailing the dietary history of a captured Greenland shark. This not-yet-published research showed that the subject eats a mix of seal, halibut, crustaceans and mullosks, with an emphasis upon the invertebrates.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a biologist’s playground. Our resident ornithologist took a kid’s delight in the displays of living fish, reptiles, and an occasional parrot in the Amazon display. The true star of the show was likely the large anaconda just finishing the shedding of its skin, but it’s hard to warm up to a large, slow-moving, mud-coloured reptile without much of a face.

More amusing were the large caymans (S. American crocodiles) on display. They would occasionally open an eye, but otherwise remained motionless. Charlie speculated that they were from Disney Studios, robots. The mouths looked fake, but we really couldn’t tell. Of course he tried the same thing on Roz about the parakeets a couple of minutes later, but one reprimanded him for the impertinence with piercing gaze.

The dolphins rescued from nets off the coast of Japan were the most engaging characters to perform. Those two females showed amazing comic timing with their trainer. Our perch was a bit back from the small, informal pool where they did their shows, actually over “the green room”, where they hung out between performances. The hilarious thing was the way they would vanish, tear around the perimeter of the pool in response to a line in the trainer’s lecture, then resume what they were doing without a ripple.

If this pair were the starlets of the show, a beluga whale was the mermaid. She was large, white, and everywhere the trainer touched her, she jiggled. A little dim in comparison to the dolphins, she nevertheless swam with effortless grace and great power. In her endless, hypnotic laps of the pool, she always made her return trip on her back, along the bottom. We watched though the glass side of the pool. Though in her show she showed little intelligence or personality, the beluga was soothing to watch and it was easy to see the human form in her rippling flanks, though sometimes in surprising places, rather like a large, rubbery, fast-moving Henry Moore statue.

Apart from traffic jams (outside one women’s washroom and anywhere more than six strollers congregated), the flow through the many tanks of the aquarium allowed a large crowd to enjoy the rainy day with their toddlers.

The Vancouver Aquarium is definitely worth seeing.

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