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We went behind the scenes of the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth

PUBLISHED: 17:00 14 August 2017

There is so much to see on a day at the aquarium

There is so much to see on a day at the aquarium

Archant

Devon Life's Lydia Tewkesbury was invited to take a VIP tour of the National Marine Aquarium. This is what she found...

Go on a VIP behind the scenes tour at Plymouth aquariumGo on a VIP behind the scenes tour at Plymouth aquarium

On arrival, we were taken past the Plymouth Sound exhibit, through double doors and into the previously unknown back-of-house area. As I have been going to the aquarium since my childhood, the opportunity to see behind the scenes was incredibly exciting, and our knowledgeable and clearly passionate host Oleta, made the experience everything I hoped it would be. I also got to wear a blue vest declaring my VIP status – an added bonus.

We commenced what Oleta referred to as our whistle stop tour right away. As the largest aquarium in the UK and home to around 4,000 fish, it is of course not possible to see everything, but by the end of our time, I had a much greater insight into how life at the aquarium functions day-to-day. I learned that many of its dedicated staff work on Christmas day, giving the fish some well-deserved Christmas dinner before they tuck into their own.

Sting rays glide through the tanksSting rays glide through the tanks

After stepping into an anti-bacterial foot bath and liberally applying hand sanitiser, I found myself ushered into the depths of the aquarium and taken to the lab - the space used for treating minor and some more major fish ailments, and, in some cases, conducting autopsies. I saw incredible photographs of procedures I had never even considered could be done for fish, like a successful caesarean performed on a sting ray whose unborn baby had sadly died. I was able to learn about the innovative approach to medical care of fish at the aquarium, and perhaps most interesting of all, how they catch them to treat them in the first place.

When new fish first arrive at the aquarium, they live in quarantine for a few weeks so they can acclimatise to their new environment and be checked and treated for any potentially harmful diseases, and during this time they are trained to respond to certain cues. They are taught – and this amazed me – to swim up to markers put into the water to receive medicine, food and, when they are very sick, to be caught and taken to the vet. Plymouth is one of the only aquariums doing this, and with a massive stroke of luck, during my tour I was able to see the training in action with three new sting rays that had recently come to Plymouth from Living Coasts in Torquay.

This was one of many highlights in an excellent tour. The feed room (though very smelly), was fascinating and our guide produced menus for various creatures living in the tanks, including Friday the turtle, so I could get an idea of how much certain species eat (less than I thought.). We were also invited into the jelly fish breeding lab and taught about the water purification process – with over 2 millions tons of water in the shark tank alone, it’s more interesting than you might think – among other fantastic experiences.

Visit the aquarium’s website for more information.

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