Along with strolling through Graffiti Alley, Brit’s other request for her birthday getaway weekend was to visit Ripley’s Aquarium in downtown Toronto. The aquarium was a great addition to the tourist scene in Toronto, and after visiting, I would highly recommend you see it at least once.
The aquarium opened in 2013, and is located close to the CN Tower. It is one of the options for the CityPass but it’s definitely worth a visit on its own if you don’t want to see the other attractions as well.
The exhibits begin with a look at fish found in Canadian waters. The Great Lakes, home to a wide range of diverse wildlife, make up about 20% of the world’s fresh water. In the exhibit, you’ll see paddlefish, lobster, cod, and more.
Beside each tank exhibit are screens displaying pictures of each fish and fun facts or tidbits about them. For instance, the common carp was introduced in Ontario waters in 1870 (originally from Asia) and their feeding habits can be destructive to wetlands. Paddlefish eat by simply swimming with their mouths open, making them either the smartest or laziest fish by my estimation.
One of the most fascinating fish found in the Canadian Waters section was definitely the wolf eel. Despite their somewhat creepy appearance – which largely seems to be linked to the blue lighting – they are reportedly friendly towards human divers.
Another interesting fact is that there used to be so many cod that fishermen merely dipped a basket into the Atlantic Ocean and it would be full of cod.
From Canadian Waters, you transition into the Rainbow Reef exhibit, home to plenty of anemones and colourful fish.
The Rainbow Reef exhibit is very appropriately named due to the incredibly colourful reef and fish. You’ll see such species as tuskfish, surgeonfish, and plenty of Dory fish (royal blue tang)!
You’ll never be bored at the Rainbow Reef, as it’s home to around 100 species of fish, most of them moving at a quick pace as they swim past. This was definitely the area where I ended up with the highest number of fish blurs in my pictures.
One of the coolest experiences at the aquarium has to be the fact that you can do yoga in front of the colourful reef. I guess that would be the next best thing to a tropical yoga retreat, right?
Up next, we entered the Dangerous Lagoon.
One of the coolest parts of the Dangerous Lagoon is its moving walkway, which – if you want the best views – you have to be on. I suspect it’s to prevent people from hanging out in here too long and blocking the way of other people. It does get crowded but because it’s always moving it doesn’t feel too bad. It also extends far longer than I expected it to, so despite the constant motion you never feel rushed (plus it moves super slowly).
Along with sand tiger sharks and sawfish, you’ll also see sea turtles, moray eels, groupers, and plenty of tiny fish. There is no shortage of fish to look at or crazy swimming antics to see. My favourite name for a fish is now the Potato Cod, named for the dark splotches on its body.
An experience that I would love to one day try is the Discovery Dive, an immersive experience observing the amazing sharks up close and personal on a 30 minute guided scuba dive.
Sharks are magnificent creatures, incredibly graceful for their size. I’m not scared of sharks by any means, but I have to admit their teeth make them look incredibly creepy and dangerous. They honestly look so much more pleasant when the teeth are changed.
It may not be a great picture, but I couldn’t pass up trying to get a photo of the sea turtle as it sailed through the water above us. I only learned after our visit that the aquarium also offers a photography tour to help you learn how to snap impressive photos of fish.
After so much time observing the sharks, the next section mellows things out again. The Gallery is home to pipefish, lionfish, eels, and more. A lionfish is something I’ve always wanted to see up close and in person because they look so unique.
Despite how cool it looks, the lionfish is actually a venomous fish, introduced due to people getting rid of unwanted fish pets, and is not native to North America.
Another cool spotting was the flamboyant cuttlefish, who looked SUPER different from how I’d imagined. Unlike other cuttlefish, this species prefers to crawl along the bottom.
Stingrays have always fascinated me. While this exhibit can’t quite live up to interacting with wild stingrays in the ocean, I always enjoy watching them gracefully swim. Plus, it’s always chuckle-inducing when you see them from underneath, because they just look so happy.
Jellyfish are creatures that always seem so fake to me. The first kind you come across are displayed in a vibrantly lit tank, and are Pacific Sea Nettles.
Next up were the stunningly beautiful Moon Jellies, which are actually capable of reverting back to their younger stage.
By far, the craziest ones were the Upside Down Jellies, who just chill on the bottom unless they’re disturbed. The way these jellies move was quite fascinating, as they don’t float around the way the others do. The legs of the jellies house algae, which is also where they get their nutrients from.
The final area gives you an insight into how the aquarium exhibits are maintained, and displays the tank filtration systems openly. Carbon filters remove impurities from the water, after which point it’s directed either to the freshwater area or to have salt and minerals mixed in for the salt water exhibits.
The aquarium also makes a point to discuss conservation and its importance. 95% of the water they use is recycled, which significantly reduces consumption levels.
They also display a turtle design composed of 200 single-use plastic bags, and is surrounded by facts related to plastic, including that plastic does not biodegrade, and that 9,000,000 kg of plastic pollution is added to the Great Lakes each year. It’s a depressing but necessary display.
To end on a lighter note, the gift shop is definitely worth a look as there is plenty of water and fish related humour to be found (particularly with their shirts!).
Have you been to the aquarium? Would you ever swim with sharks?