Vancouver is endowed with so many natural treasures – the coast, the mountains, the forests – that it’s sometimes easy to forget about the man-made ones. Among the most venerable and most visited of the city’s attractions is the Vancouver Aquarium. Hidden in the middle of 1,000-acre Stanley Park, the aquarium opened in 1956 and has had more than 33 million visitors over the years.
The amazing thing: In an era of 3D movies, Nintendo Wii and countless other electronic diversions, the aquarium can still hold its own. I had a chance to check out the exhibits recently. Between the dolphin and beluga shows and the touchable starfish, the sly-looking caiman and man-sized Amazon catfish, there were lots of candidates for favorite. But what left the deepest impression on me was a modest display tucked away in the basement: the jellyfish.
Mention jellyfish and I usually think of menacing blobs and knotted masses of tentacles marring a perfectly good day at the beach. But the specimens on display in the aquarium betrayed true glamor and elegance. In one large case, translucent moon jellyfish – each the size of a dinner plate – gently undulated, keeping time in a noiseless, underwater ballet. Backlit by the aquarium lighting, each radiated its own ghostly halo.
Nearby, a tank held a population of Pacific sea nettle jellyfish. Massive, more than a meter long, they pulsed through the water oblivious and unhurried, trailing in their wake a train of bright red strands and diaphanous, lacy frills. And I wasn’t the only one captivated. The scene was so stirring – and so tranquil – even little kids turned silent and stared.
I think that goes a long way toward explaining the enduring appeal of the aquarium. In a busy city, it offers a brief, refreshing glimpse of the grace and magic beneath the waves. I’m sure there are a lot of people with strong memories of the Vancouver Aquarium. Please share any thoughts by leaving a comment.