I couldn’t help but hold my breath as the doors hissed shut and the sounds of what I assumed were a submarine took over the small chamber. Above, the image of trees and sky began to blur and shimmer as we submerged below the surface. I was alone with my friend, but I could easily picture young kids being either completely enthralled, or completely horrified by this part of their visit. Personally, as a full-grown adult, I was unreasonably excited. After a brief introduction to the Salish Sea and another exaggerated hiss accompanied by some bubbles, the double doors opened on the other side and we walked into the aquarium.
Almost immediately, an employee in an aquarium-branded vest approached to give us a run down and then we were off! Like the rest of the kids in the aquarium, I wanted to see everything. I, however, slowed down enough to read about the different kinds of animals and fully understand the displays, rather than just place my hands and face against the glass. There were plaques to flip, things to read and tons of other incredible information – all inspiring to get your act together and take better care of the world around us. Over 160 species reside in the 28 habitats, meaning you can try to spot upwards of 3,500 creatures during your visit. I did my best as I stuck my head under a clear bubble-ish depression in a tank that let me be “inside” the habitat as much as possible. Various curves and tubes gave you close up views of the beautiful fish that shimmered and swam by happily. The jellyfish aquarium is a natural favourite, as its bright blue background makes the acrobatic jellyfish vibrant and mesmerizing. Nudibranchs, sea stars, different sea-weeds, anenomes and nameless other animals were enticing to sit and watch. Pressed for time (we arrived closer to closing than expected), I couldn’t spend too long at any section. That is, of course, until the Queen of the aquarium demanded my attention.
Syliva, the Giant Pacific Octopus, was busy releasing her suction cups one-by-one as we passed under her tank’s archway. She was absolutely stunning, and rumour had it was hardly ever out to play. We stood and watched as she made her way throughout her tank, enamored with her bright pink colour and intelligent, albeit alien, eyes. Nimbly, she ascended one side of her watery home, crossed the arch and descended again, leaving patterns on the glass with her white suction cups. Her bulbous head made ripples on delay as she made her movements through the water. It was so intriguing to see an octopus up close that I hardly noticed as a little hand latched on to mine and tugged. Shocked, I looked down to find a cute, bespectacled child trying to lead me to the other side of the aquarium. His grandma smiled at me, so off we went to play with the sea stars, sea cucumbers and other touchable creatures. The pools were his favourite, he informed me, as we let sand dollars rest on our hands. After the little boy had been fetched by his grandma, an incredibly informative kid wearing the employee branded vest walked my friend and I through the touching pools, handing us sea cucumbers to pet, and various sea stars. With a few words of encouragement, I slowly reached out a finger and stuck it straight into an anemone. You know, the shocking kind from Finding Nemo. To my delight, the “shock” came in the form of an incredible stickiness, rather than pain. Peeling my finger back carefully, the anemone retreated and I inspected my finger in amazement. It was still very much intact. The winning maneuver was having us stick our hands within the sharp bristles of an urchin, watching as it slowly squeezed and entrapped the finger in a “hug.” We were having so much fun in the touching tanks that when the closing announcement reached our ears, we had still missed an entire section of the aquarium!
Hustling out through a small door beside the submarine chamber, we paused for a quick moment to check out the shop. Cute stuffed animals featuring the critters we’d seen in the tanks, as well as plenty of other goods, all made in the Salish Sea Bioregion, filled the shelves. The Coast Salish indigenous art and jewellery were eye-catching, but I restrained myself and we stepped back outside into the real world. Rain threatened, which had been our driving cause to explore the aquarium – as far as rainy-day activities go, an aquarium should be in the top ten. We explored the rest of Sidney’s cute streets and shops before finally heading back to the car where we’d taken advantage of the free parking next to the pier. A stunning sunset, made decorative thanks to the clouds, was the finishing touch to our “underwater” adventure. As the colours kissed the surface, I felt more in touch with the ocean than normal. There’s nothing like diving into the wonders of the waters to make you realize how special it is to be by the sea.
The aquarium is located in Sidney, just twenty minutes outside of Victoria and is a great destination on its own. Check out the page on Sidney to make a day out of it!
To find the top things to do in Victoria, check out our page here.
For hours, information about parking, cost and more information about the aquarium itself, check out their website.
Photos and Article Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk