Jellyfish Ballet at the Vancouver Aquarium

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.

Remy Scalza

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