No, we might go once or even twice a week to stand in the blue-green underwater light to look at the fishes, to be splashed with sea-water at the killer whale show, and to have irridescent butterflies land on our shoulders in the ferny paths of the Amazon rainforest gallery. It is a beautiful, cherished childhood memory.
So last weekend, for my birthday present, Jeff and I left our island Rock (enduring an excrutiatingly long wait in the ferry lineup) and travelled to the mainland. We visited with four long-unvisited friends, wandered the living-room and kitchen showrooms of IKEA, and visited the Aquarium for the first time in many years.
While part of me has worries about the ethics of capturing whales/tropical fish, I still want to see them. I rationalize that there is an argument to be made for the educational value of the aquarium. There is a strong environmental/caring for the oceans message in many of the exhibits displayed. One underwater gallery highlighted the diverse sea-life to be found in our own waters off British Columbia---Sechelt, Tofino, local inlets, coastal microcosms.
The Aquarium also runs a marine mammal rescue program (you can contribute an extra five dollars to your admission price if you wish to help with this).
But I am quite sure that all I really cared about as a child coming here was the sheer wonder of peering about under the water, imagining I was a fish. Fascinated and feeling brave as I watched the sharks swim by...eye to eye with the octopus...giggling at the tickle of sea anenomes in the children's touching-pool.
And that's all I really wanted to re-experience. Thirty years later, my eyes are older but still-wondering at it all.
What would it be like to be a jellyfish anyway? Your body is as ethereal as imagination, you pulse and undulate and float through the depths all your life--what does a jellyfish think about I wonder...I think its whole life must be like a meditation.
And here in the aquarium, I was able to see a little of what Jeff saw when he snorkelled in the shallow Indian Ocean off Zanzibar---white sand, coral and small, brightly-coloured darting fish. I didn't go on the dive then because there was a strong current and I am a very poor swimmer. I didn't want to get pulled too far away from the boat.
"It wasn't so bad", Jeff told me. "All you needed to do was snorkel up-current of the boat and then stop swimming. Then you'd just bump right back into the boat."
Perhaps. But although I'm fascinated by the element and mythology and beauty of the ocean, I'm a little scared of it too. I like the Aqarium much better.
And I love the insights it gives you. See these starfish? When you watch them they seem calm and sedate and almost motionless. But watching the video feed from the time-lapse camera next to their tank reveals that these little sea stars motor all about, crawling frenetically over and about the rocks and each other, wiggling an incredible amount.
And mostly unseen. Unless you're at the Aquarium.