Amongst the inexhaustible list of attractions that London has to offer, a habitat rich in natural aquatic wildlife is not one. Yet, just a few metres from the bleak, murky waters of the Thames sits London Sea Life Aquarium – an experience which promises the discovery of “a magical underwater world filled with a dazzling array of amazing creatures”. With such a claim, what better place could there be to review for this issue of Broadsheet focusing on the oceans?
Keener than the keenest parent, I arrived just minutes after the aquarium opened, managing to beat the half-term queues to get in. Immediately after passing the ticket desks, you get a glimpse of the underwater world which awaits, having to walk over a glass platform covering the main shark tank. And just round the corner, two wildly enthusiastic employees direct you to throw some shapes for a quick photo shoot.
The next steps to the main aquarium exhibits aren’t quite so glamorous; descending poorly lit, well-worn stairs, it feels more like entering an underground car park than “the jewel in the crown of the SEA LIFE attractions”.
However, once you get over the fact that the aquarium is located under County Hall, the old home of London’s local government, and learn to excuse the narrow walkways and dark décor, there is plenty of wildlife on offer to ogle at.
Taking you through multiple geographic regions including a Pacific Ocean tank, Rainforests of the World and even the River Thames Story, the exhibits are well organised and include a huge variety of aquatic animals from seahorses and sharks to penguins, and even a crocodile.
With a section titled “Nemo’s Coral Caves” teeming with clownfish and surgeonfish, it is clear that the aquarium is targeted at kids. But this definitely doesn’t have to stop you having fun; just be aware that joining in with the cries of, “Look daddy, Nemo, Nemo, Nemo!” may get you some odd looks.
All of this led to the final exhibit: Penguins, Ice Adventure. Having never been there, I can’t comment on how close they have come to their aim of “recreat[ing] a taste of the Antarctic in the heart of the city”, but being newer than the rest of the aquarium, and with plastic “ice” walls along the walkway, the area was definitely a pleasanter environment than what had preceded.
The highlight of the trip followed at the end: the aquarium’s Gentoo penguins! Admittedly, the “ice cave” they were kept in seemed small and dark for what we were told are the world’s third largest species of penguin, and the viewing area got extremely congested, with young children literally crawling through our legs to get a better view during feeding time. But the penguins were a major hit, bringing more life and energy to the aquarium experience.
On the world stage, London Sea Life Aquarium almost definitely would not be major contender for Best Aquarium. But, they have done a great job with the space on offer in the heart of the capital, and the huge emphasis they place on the importance of conservation throughout the attraction is commendable. As LSE student Sabrina succinctly put it: “If you like animals, you’ll love the aquarium.”