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SEA LIFE London Aquarium Sea Life London Aquarium review

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by devilfish, 6 May 2009.

  1. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    Having finished my spring exams last week, I was given my little sister to look after. On Saturday we went to the newly revamped ‘Sea Life London Aquarium’ to see how it had changed. It was my first time walking around a tourist attraction taking notes without being on a school trip - and here’s what I found:

    Apart from the anticipated acrylic tunnel and ‘shark walk’, there is little change to the main structure of the aquarium but pretty much all of it has been redecorated with colours and wall murals aplenty. The theatrical lighting of the exhibits has been exaggerated and most of the smaller tanks have curved viewing windows, making photography more difficult with my cameras (I will post a sample of my appalling attempts within a couple of days.) Another thing I noticed had changed was the strength of the currents in the tanks - almost every tank had fish struggling against the current. The route taken around the aquarium has also changed, starting at the lowest level and moving upwards.

    On entry, a walk/queue to the ticket desk passes a Madame Tussauds statue of Charles Darwin, supposedly to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth. Entry price has changed, at about £2-3 more per ticket than last year. The route taken around the aquarium is meant to illustrate the world’s aquatic environments by taking you around the ‘oceanic conveyer’, a concept clearly illustrated in the guide but less easy to follow in a crowded aquarium. The first thing you do after presenting a ticket is go downstairs, where the journey along the world’s currents begins.

    The first zone is ‘Atlantic Depths’, a collection of six tanks featuring sand eels, John Dory, a magnificent, elusive and unlabelled blue lobster in a kelp tank, starfish and brittlestars, pipefish and coldwater anemones.

    Following the path, you soon encounter the ‘Tidal Reach’ area; the first tank being home to a common octopus which we didn’t see at all, followed by a series of exhibits for various creatures including a tank for assorted juvenile rays, one for wolf eels and a large tidal tank with very strong waves – home to various wrasse, bream and gurnards.

    Next was the ray lagoon, apparently a stop on the oceanic conveyer. Both before entering this area and just after exiting there are two kreisel tanks for moon jellyfish; the first has about 50, mainly smaller specimens; the second around 30 slightly larger animals. Both have a lighting which gradually changes colour. In the ray lagoon area, there are three exhibits: A large open-topped pool in the middle for rays, mullet and spider crabs. Oddly, this seems like a perfectly proportioned ray touch pool, but touching the rays is prohibited. Another exhibit shows mermaids’ purses as well as newly hatched rays and dogfish. A further tank on the side displays whiting, plaice and spider crabs.

    The next room is a viewing gallery for the huge reef tank (formerly the 750,000 litre Atlantic tank – now complete with sunken whale skeleton cast and an acrylic tunnel) which houses a large number of tangs, clown triggerfish, southern stingrays, Europe’s largest cownose ray collection, several very young blacktip reef sharks, and a gigantic green sea turtle named Boris for London’s Mayor. At one side of the room before entering the tunnel is a set of small touchpools for anemones and starfish.

    Exiting the tunnel, a series of ‘bubble windows’ give distorted views of peacock mantis shrimp, juvenile boxfish & cowfish, pyjama cardinals, starfish, a sea cucumber and anemones. Another tank displays upside-down jellyfish. All of this leads to a large viewing window to the million litre Pacific tank, which still contains the large sandtigers, as well as some nurse, brown and zebra sharks. Other fish include trevally, mono and a southern stingray.

    The next bit – entitled ‘Nemo’s coral caves’, has a set of tanks displaying miniature coral reefs with ‘Nemo’ (clownfish), and often ‘Dory’ (regal tang) in every single one. This section is made infinitely worse by the crowds of screaming kids on the day I went – the kids are usually bad enough around clownfish without the aquarium encouraging them. My favourite tank in this area was one displaying a couple of stonefish alongside some scorpionfish; it was really great looking for them while they were just sitting still beneath our noses.

    Following this was the ‘Seahorse Temple’, an interesting collection of common seahorses alongside various pipefish; I was intrigued to see a label for ‘Ribboned Seadragons’ hoping to find real seadragons, only to discover that they were just more pipefish (don’t get me wrong, they were fascinating pipefish nonetheless.)

    The following section (Tropical Rainforest) has changed very little; the first set of tanks are standard tropical amazonian fish (namely tetras), followed by the large red-bellied piranha tank and an overcrowded tank for red-eared sliders. One of my favourite parts of the aquarium is the mangrove area which follows, displaying anableps, mudskippers and archerfish in two tanks. The arch at the end of the mangrove area leads into the final section of the rainforest, comprising tanks for giant fish and cichlids. The first tank for huge fish displays pacu, red tailed catfish and shovelnose catfish; the second displaying giant gourami, golden arowana and giraffe-nosed catfish. The final tank shows hundreds of colourful cichlids from Lake Malawi. This is the last tank in the route before going upstairs.

    The ‘River Thames Story’ is smaller than the previous freshwater area; they are now left with just five tanks connected stepwise by a series of waterfalls. They display a variety of fish from stickleback to carp. After this there is another view of the large reef tank.

    There is a small kid’s area where they can draw and colour various pictures, make their own badges free of charge, have their faces painted, or have their photo taken in front of a green screen. The theme is meant to be Antarctica, but only the blue walls and a couple of Antarctic facts on the walls bring this across.

    The next section is the ‘Sea life conservation’ zone. I feel that they could have done a lot more with this bit. They have a video playing on loop asking kids and scientists about marine conservation and a couple of signs about their work with the WDCS, but apart from that, a few tanks for reef fish are the only features of this zone. One of my favourite exhibits is a set of two tanks interconnected by two acrylic tubes and housing dragon morays among other reef fish.

    After another viewing area for the Pacific tank, a series of tanks on the left display several interesting species, including two species of garden eel, some shrimpfish and a set of mermaids’ purses which are on the verge of hatching (we saw a newly emerged catshark) whilst on the right, several windows offer more viewing points into the Pacific tank.

    The grand finale is the ‘Shark Walk’, effectively just a corridor with a couple of glass panes looking down into the Pacific Tank – still pretty cool though. I think this is where the giant sandtigers are most impressive. The corridor itself is decorated with scale images of shark jaws and the windows looking down into the tank consist of two glass panels, about one metre apart.

    Overall, I enjoyed my visit. Though there are many areas for improvement, particularly the delivery of conservation messages and the emphasis needed on some of the more interesting fish (e.g. mudskippers and upside-down jellies,) the aquarium makes for a good trip, despite taking less than two hours to go round once. The commercialisation is something I wasn’t too pleased about, but as Sea Life centres go, this is probably one of the better ones.

    Apologies for the length of the review – I wanted to make it extensive enough for comparison with the aquarium under previous management. Congratulations if you made it to the end. :)
     
    Last edited: 6 May 2009
  2. fanaloka

    fanaloka Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for your nice and informative report from your visit to Sea Life London. I was there only once in September 2001. But I have already seen many of continental Sea Life aquariums (i.a. Berlin, Konigswinter, Timmendorfer Strand, Hannover, Scheveningen etc.). I understand from your description that more or less London Sea Life is similar to others. You mentioned there a guide book. As I am a fanatic collector of zoo/aquarium guides, maps and leaflets as well I will appreciate if you can tell me more on this subject. Well, actually I will appreciate if you can upload a scan of the cover of this particular guide or perhaps you can send such scan directly to my email address which I can give you in a private message.
     
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Fantastic and highly informative review. Thank you for taking the time to type up a response to your visit.:)
     
  4. JamesB

    JamesB Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the lengthy review, I love a good review to read once in a while!
     
  5. Johnny

    Johnny Well-Known Member

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    I have been there in 2007, and I appreciated the tropical freshwater part, as well as the coral section and the sandtiger tank. My fear was that this would all dissapear when it became a sealife, luckily it hasn't.
     
  6. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    @ fanaloka: They do have a guidebook which looks very nice but only the map and the introduction actually seem specific to this Sea Life centre. The rest of the book, though interesting, refers to species which are not necessarily found in the aquarium. They also have generic ‘setting up a sea life centre’ and ‘a day in the life’ (of the Biological Services curator), which aren’t especially applicable to this case. Other sections include ‘Seahorses’, ‘Sharks’, ‘Crabs’ and ‘Pollution’. The guide is quite expensive, at just under £5. I will scan the cover as soon as I can – meantime, Orycteropus has uploaded a picture of the map on pages 4 and 5 in the gallery. I’ve also sent you a PM.

    I forgot to mention that rather than normal signage at the aquarium, every tank is accompanied by a screen which flicks through its inhabitants. This is a great improvement from the faded photos used last year. A photo of an example should be coming soon.
     
  7. devilfish

    devilfish Well-Known Member

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    @ snowleopard & Tigerlemurguy: Thanks very much, I’ve always enjoyed reading both of your reviews but having tried writing my own, I’ve found it a lot more difficult to keep it as concise (though still as informative) as yours make it look. Hats off to you both for such expert zoo-writing, and for making it look so easy. :)

    @ Johnny: I was also pleased to see the massive sandtigers and estuarine fish again. Though it still bothers me that people look at the anableps without seeing anything special, or without even noticing the presence of the mudskippers, I am pleased that they have found ways to make the large sharks seem yet more impressive.