Ripley’s Aquarium of Toronto – Ontario, Canada

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Ripley's Aquarium of Toronto

Photos from Ripley’s Aquarium of Toronto

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Ripley’s Aquarium of Toronto

Ripley’s Aquarium of Toronto, located in the heart of downtown Toronto, opened to the public in October 2013. The 12,500 square metre (135,000 sq ft) facility holds 5.7 million litres (1.5 million gallons) of water. It holds both fresh and saltwater environments, each tailored to the creatures it houses. There are 13,500 animals from 450 different species housed in the Aquarium of Toronto.

The Aquarium of Toronto took a while to come to fruition. It was originally planned for Niagara Falls in 2007 but was moved to Toronto when things fell through. Construction began in 2011 and took just over two years to complete. The final cost was just under $130 million, $21 million contributed by the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, and millions more in property tax incentives from the City of Toronto.

As with any facility of this sort, the Aquarium of Toronto has come under fire by animal rights groups. There has also been a significant criticism of the capture of endangered tiger sharks. Great care was taken when building the aquarium to ensure the safety and health of the animals. For instance, special shielding was incorporated into the construction of the building to protect sharks from electrical fields.

Visit the Waters of the World

Visiting each of the nine exhibits takes you on a journey around the world and into some alien environments. There is a delicate balance struck between recreating a more natural environment for the animals and allowing guests to see creatures they would otherwise not have the chance to see.

The design of the exhibits allows for an immersive experience. Tanks are not just lined up along the walls. They run from floor to ceiling, they are built into stand-alone units, you even walk through a tunnel inside of one huge tank. Many of the tanks have rounded edges and rippled sides, to create a more natural, flowing feeling. The beauty of the building alone is pretty impressive.

In many places, the lighting is very dim (walkways are well defined and lit). This is to protect the animals who live deep in the sea with very little light. For that reason, flash photography is prohibited as well.

Canadian Waters

The first exhibit is Canadian Waters, which features animals from the northern Atlantic, northern Pacific, the Arctic Ocean, and many freshwater species from Canada’s plentiful lakes. Featured Species include a giant Pacific octopus, American lobster, cod, paddlefish, sturgeon, and wolf eel.

The Pacific octopus tank is set in the wall, with a portion that comes out into the walkway. It was fascinating to watch it move from one space to another. Show up at the right time and you will be able to catch octopus enrichment – basically playtime for the octopus.

One of the most impressive parts of this gallery is the massive Pacific kelp exhibit. It contains almost 360,000 litres of water. The huge tank is more than a story tall, with a spiraling walkway around it.

Rainbow Reef

The Rainbow Reef has animals from the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It features coral reefs, home to a huge variety of sea life. Featured animals include the Picasso triggerfish, harlequin tuskfish, lunare wrasse, batfish, unicorn surgeonfish, and sailfin tang. You may even see a scuba diver or two, during one of the dive shows that happen daily.

The gallery is over 200,000 litres of water and contains more than 100 species of fish!

I enjoyed seeing this as I had recently returned from Mexico, where I had snorkeled at coral reefs for the first time. Many of the fish in the exhibit were the same ones I had seen on my trip.

Dangerous Lagoon

Dangerous Lagoon is probably the most awe-inspiring gallery in the Aquarium of Toronto. At 2.9 million litres of water, it is the largest exhibit in the facility. It has a long, winding glass tunnel that works its way through the tank, so you’re surrounded on both sides as well as above as you walk. It is home to some very impressive fish, including green sawfish, sand tiger sharks, green sea turtles, moray eels, lookdowns, and Queensland groupers.

It also has the longest moving sidewalk in North America. A word of warning, if you go to the Aquarium of Toronto during a busy time. There is often a line up to get on the sidewalk. If you are tempted to skip the line and walk under your own power, you can – however, you aren’t allowed to stop in the underwater tunnel. Staff ensured that everyone kept moving, so it’s hard to take photos, even when a huge sawfish swims over your head.

If you are a certified scuba diver over the age of 16, you can book a 30-minute ‘discovery dive’ in the lagoon. Be sure to book in advance, as of this writing, they were booked until the end of 2017.

Discovery Centre

The discovery centre is a hands-on gallery, designed to appeal to younger minds (and those of us who are young at heart). Many of the exhibits are a bit too small for adults, but there are still lots of interesting things to see and do.

Featured species in this area include the clownfish, blacktip reef sharks, wobbegong, zebra shark, and horseshoe crab. You can even reach out and touch the horseshoe crabs in the world’s largest touch tank.

The Gallery

The gallery has much smaller exhibits, containing some of the most delicate species from around the world. I was very excited to see some personal favourites here, including cuttlefish and the weedy sea dragon. Other featured species are a variety of seahorses, piranhas, electric eels, mudskippers, lionfish, and pipefish.

Ray Bay & Shoreline Gallery

A huge, 350,000-litre tank holds rays from four different species and the bonnethead shark. I could sit for hours and watch these graceful animals ‘fly’ through the water. It may not be one of the flashy parts of the Aquarium of Toronto, but it is one of the most tranquil. It provides a much-needed respite from the loud and busy parts of the exhibits.

Shoreline Gallery is the top of Ray Bay, so you can see the exhibit from a different angle. Here, you can interact with rays and sharks in special pools. For an extra fee, you can even get right in the water with them.

Planet Jellies

Planet Jellies was one of my favourite parts of the Aquarium of Toronto. It is dark, with the exhibits lit up in different colours to highlight the jellyfish. The exhibit feels like modern art meets jellyfish tank.

You can see many different types of jellyfish and see their different stages of development, from polyp to medusa. Don’t forget to look up to see the moon jellyfish in an overhead tank.

Life Support System

This gallery offers a behind the scenes look at the inner workings of the Aquarium of Toronto. See what it takes to keep all the water clean and the animals alive, with real-time numbers on display for the curious.

If you’re interested in visiting, the Ripley’s Aquarium of Toronto website has information on hours, ticket costs, and extra programs. Plan for a full day if you want to take your time or a full afternoon for a quick walkthrough.

Other Toronto attractions I’ve visited:


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