Canada’s biggest indoor aquarium opens its doors

Our science writer was front of the line at the opening of Ripley’s aquarium in Toronto

It’s said that we know less about the deep ocean than we do of the moon or Mars, and occasionally, a creature will surface reminding us of just how true this is. On Sunday, off the southern California coast, a snorkeler discovered a monstrous sea creature—an oarfish measuring five meters long—so massive it took 15 people to drag it to shore. They’d never seen anything like it. The underwater world remains a mysterious place, and now, a small slice of it is on display at the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, the biggest indoor aquarium in the country (its tanks contain over 5.7 million liters of water), which opened its doors today. The Ripley’s Aquarium showcases a series of habitats, from Canadian waters to coral reefs, although none nearly so deep as the world of that oarfish, a species thought to dive deeper than 3,000 feet, leaving it largely unstudied by scientists.

On the aquarium’s opening day, visitors stood agog inside the “Dangerous Lagoon,” a sort of glass tunnel where sharks, turtles, a long-snouted sawfish, and giant rays ply the waters overhead. (Some species, like the green sea turtle, the sandbar shark, and the sawfish, are endangered.) Giant lobsters, over a century old, crawled along the rocky bottom of their tanks. Kids reached down to feel the horseshoe crabs that populate a touch pool. The lavalike jellyfish tanks, displays that have become increasingly popular at public aquariums over the last decade or so, attracted some of the biggest crowds as they undulated through their neon-lit waters.

Aquariums have sparked some controversy, especially marine mammal exhibits (unlike the Vancouver Aquarium, Ripley’s Toronto outfit does not house beluga whales). Animal welfare is more on the radar than ever, with the Toronto Zoo elephants set to leave this week for an animal sanctuary in California. To boost goodwill, the Ripley’s aquarium emphasizes education and conservation, like Vancouver’s has done; with thousands of visitors expected on the aquarium’s first day alone, it will give them a peek at creatures they’d never otherwise encounter. The deep ocean remains mysterious, yet over 80 per cent of the life on our planet is there.