Monday, 2 February 2015




I have mixed feelings about aquariums. It’s probably because I watched too much Free Willy as a kid, and my mother’s disdain for Sea World, but I just can’t tell if the fish are happy. Anyway… this post is not going to be about animal rights (though maybe we'll have a post about that in the future), it’s about Ripley’s Aquarium as a centre for learning. But it was because of my moral dilemma that I haven’t gone before now. Well, that and the fact that it costs $30. But I kept hearing how AMAZING it was, so I managed to get a discount, and a few friends and I went on a watery adventure. 

Dramatic lighting sets the mood
Source: Meaghan Dalby
For this post, I’m going to review some elements of the aquarium. There were things that were awesome, and things that were less awesome, and since we all love lists….

Spin Browser … Awesome!
These “Spin Browsers” (definitely could have had a cooler name…) allowed the visitor to control the speed and direction of the video being played. You can move the wheel to make the video move super fast, you can rewind, make it go in super-slow motion. It was very cool because it allowed the audience to take control and explore the things they wanted to further.

Of course, if I had been thinking, I would have filmed myself playing with Spin Browser. But I wasn’t thinking, so all I have is this photo. You can kind of get the idea…

Spin browser allows visitors to control the action
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Moving Sidewalk … Not Awesome
Seriously? This seems super unnecessary and also made me feel like I had stepped onto the set of Wall-E. The walk moved super slowly, and forced you to move along at a prescribed pace, which didn’t jive with the speed I wanted to go. To be fair, there was normal floor right beside, so I just avoided the moving part. I’m not sure if it was installed to keep people moving during high-traffic times, but honestly, thinking about the maintenance I'd bet it’s more trouble than it’s worth. 
You can see the resemblance...
Jacob unable to contain his excitement on the moving sidewalk
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Blatantly Obvious Signage … Awesome!
There is nothing more frustrating than coming up to an interactive and not knowing what to do with it! The Aquarium has sought to destroy this frustration with these signs. Simple problem? Simple solution.
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Broken Interactives … Not Awesome
I am fully aware that thousands of kids run through the Aquarium every week. Any science centre worth it’s salt knows that everything has to be robust and nailed down, because kids are little you-know-whats and will destroy everything in their paths. However, it was still disappointing that when I went to “see like a shark” I couldn’t. Stupid kids. 

Now I'll never know what a shark sees :(
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Showing Behind the Scenes Up Front and Centre … Awesome!
A really cool part of the Aquarium was seeing all the tanks and regulators needed to control all the different pools. It’s a trend to let audiences come “behind the scenes;” it’s popularity is proven with the increase in Collections tours. I think Ripley’s made the right choice in showing this feature, and making it part of the attraction rather than hiding it from view. THINK OF ALL THE SCIENCE PUBLIC PROGRAMMING ACTIVITIES … THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES! 

Pumps and science stuff
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Immersive Experience … Awesome!
The reason, I’m certain, that the Aquarium is so popular and I kept hearing rave reviews is because of how you feel when you’re walking through. The tanks which house the animals are overwhelming, and you get the sensation that you’re at the bottom of the ocean looking up at all the fish and other marine creatures. There’s also some pretty spectacular mood music, which made me feel like I was a mermaid (so obviously super brownie points for that). The entertainment aspect of it was spot on, and you really felt like you were swimming with the fish.

"Fish are friends, not food"
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Guys! We found Nemo(s)!
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Pretty Lion Fish
Source: Meaghan Dalby
Overall, my experience at Ripley’s Aquarium was pretty average. There were some really cool things, and the stars of the event, the fish, were extremely beautiful. However, I didn’t quite get the unified, curated experience I am used to getting from a museum. I felt like I was bouncing around, and gathering random facts. This is where you can say, “well, duh, Meaghan, it’s not a museum, it’s an aquarium”. To that I say, no, not necessarily a museum, but yes, cultural and educational centre. There were some really neat elements, which I would use in my own cultural heritage institution, but there were a few lessons learned too.

What do you think? Are my expectations too high? What's your experience with the Aquarium? 


  1. I love the parameters of "awesome" and "not awesome" for this exhibition review. It seems appropriate for the Ripley's aquarium. How many times when you were walking through did you hear an elementary school child (or, let's face it, a full-grown adult) say, "AWESOME!!"?

    It's interesting to see which elements of the aquarium a museum might have or benefit from. I think the obvious signage would be awesome (and welcomed) in many contexts. The moving sidewalks, however... might find more of a place at Ripley's.

    1. Thanks Katherine, that's exactly what I was trying to get at! The awesome bits I pulled out, were things I thought could be successfully employed in a traditional museum context. The Aquarium holds a weird middle ground between educational and entertainment. Since it is so popular, I think we as museum professionals can observe what can work and what simply wont in our own contexts.

  2. Great article :) I have to say though I was big fan if the moving sidewalk through the glass aquarium tunnel. I was there at a high traffic time so it was very relaxing to be able to experience that really cool part without worrying about being someone's way, or everyone crowding around one thing. I also really liked the way they showed the behind the scenes! And my favourite was the kelp tank :)

    1. There you go, Cady. Haha, I'll have to give it a second chance. The kelp tank was also my favourite!