Reviews

$5 a month for Education, Entertainment and SHARKS

Whipray, Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium

Whipray, Photo credit: Vancouver Aquarium

There are a few places in this city where membership really pays off. With an admission rate of $21/adult, I was certain I’d never be able to visit the Vancouver Aquarium on a tight budget. Even though Monita gets in for free, it’s still considerably beyond my $5 or less limit. I made a comment about it to some fellow Moms at a playgym, to which one of them replied: “Well, how much is membership? You really only need a single adult membership since it’s just you at home.” Now why didn’t I think of that?

I looked up the rates and did the math. $58 for a single adult membership means that if I visit once a month for a year, it’s less than $5 per visit. Score! Monita won’t need to be included in a membership until she’s 4, which is a long way off, and though it would be nice to visit all together as a family, I’m the one that is spending time entertaining her during the day.

The benefit of having a membership also means that I could take Monita for mini-visits of not longer than a hour. Her pliant little brain can’t really handle looking at so many new things for long. She soaks up everything for a bit, then, overwhelmed with all the information, shuts down. Come to think of it, adults do that too. How many times have I spent hours in a museum, zoo or art gallery with a glazed expression without really seeing anything simply because I wanted to get my money’s worth? I’m sure I only really saw about five paintings in the Louvre. We can focus our visit on just one part of the aquarium —hey kiddo? would you rather visit the arctic or the rain forest today?– then go for a nice picnic lunch in Stanley Park and run around outside a bit.

Hardly bigger than a Macaroni penguin

Hardly bigger than a Macaroni penguin

I have to admit, I already know the Aquarium inside out. I was a volunteer there during university and then got my first Education / Biology related job there as a Naturalist. I made almost 100 dives in the exhibits; about 60 of them in the tropical gallery with the sharks. I did countless Beluga shows. I was there at the inception of the “Wild Coast” exhibit (just when Bjossa the killer whale left for Sea World, if you’re a true Vancouverite). I was once kissed by a Cabezon, right on the lips. (I was pretending to “talk” underwater without my regulator during a dive show and it just came and planted one on me). I witnessed the birth of two blacktip reef sharks (thrilling!), lots of mating (always during shows, it seems) and a fair bit of self-pleasuring (also during shows) on the part of those frisky sea otters. There were no scripts for the interpreters during those days, so I got very, very good at thinking on my feet and tactfully putting behaviours in a scientific context. “Grooming” became a favourite euphemism.

The marvelous moustachioed Wobbegong

The marvelous moustachioed Wobbegong

So why would I want to visit so often when I’ve already seen it all? The Aquarium recently hosted a tour of their new feature, The Secret World of Sharks and Rays, for Mommy bloggers (many thanks to Lisa who writes The Sprog for getting me on the list and Danielle and Alex for the tour!). Though the basic bones of the Aquarium remain the same, there are a few additions that I quite literally squealed with delight to see. Of course I want to come to share my love of Marine Biology with my daughter, but I adore cuttlefish and the colour changes flashing down their cute pillowy bodies captivate me whether she’s there or not. There are three –or more? they are remarkably good at camouflage– hanging out in the tropical gallery. I also love ugly fish and the Wobbegong Shark fits all my criteria of being weird and wonderful. We witnessed a shark feeding and got to check out the shark egg cases, delightfully known as “mermaid purses”, which were lit from behind so you could see the embryo moving inside. Very cool.

"Mermaid's Purse" with a shark embryo inside!

Remember your first ultrasound photos? Aww… he has his Mama’s dorsal fin.

The Aquarium does have some perks for members too, including discounts and members-only events like Super Saturdays and Twilight Tuesdays when members are admitted without the general public to either view the galleries without the crowds or participate in special events. Bobs & Lolo, the awesome singing duo from Vancouver, have given concerts in the past and there are usually activities for kids.

Of course, you could also just join to support marine science research, conservation and direct action programs like the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and OceanWise, which helps you make sustainable choices when buying seafood. It all helps you feel good about that $5 a month during your visit. I also breathed a sigh of contentment to see that the Amazon gallery was filled with my favourite iridescent blue butterfly. You’ve got to do things to bring yourself inner peace as a Mom sometimes too.

Working at the Aquarium in 2001. Andrea is holding a giant boa that is sneaking behind my back. Why are we so stunned?

Me (on the left) working at the Aquarium in 2001. My friend Andrea is holding a giant boa constrictor that is sneaking behind my back.  Is this why I look so stunned?

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