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Vancouver Aquarium’s Up Close exhibit features new interactive shows, special behind-the-scenes experiences, and up-close programming and displays designed to give visitors a new and exciting insight into what’s involved in caring for the diverse and unique creatures at the Aquarium.

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Last weekend, I joined a group of fellow bloggers at the Aquarium for a special tour of several spaces open to the public for the first time in its history.

We started at the Wet Lab, where our guide Keely took out several creatures from their tanks. We observed (and gently touched) sea cucumbers, anemones, and a rarely-seen Rhinoceros crab, with its fiery orange highlights and spiny legs.

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[Sea Cucumber]

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[Rhinoceros crab]

The Wet Lab is normally open to coincide with school groups and animal feeding times. Additional tanks line the sides of the room, holding a variety of creatures that are circulated as needed for research or repopulation into the main tanks.

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[Tiny jellies come to life here]

The Jelly Hallway is headed by Mackenzie (aka the Jelly Queen), who researches numerous jellyfish species, from birth through adult stages.

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Food for the jellies is also created on site. I can watch these mesmerizing creatures for hours, and this narrow room is filled with colourful jellies of all sizes.

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The Shark Penthouse is located directly above the main tank in the Tropic Zone.

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Reef sharks, a giant green sea turtle, and manta rays were swimming around as we had the unique vantage point of looking DOWN onto them.

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Schoona is a rescued green sea turtle who’s no longer releasable, thus now making the Aquarium tank her home. She was rescued off the coast of Prince Rupert and has since gained an appreciable amount of weight and seems right at home with the sharks and rays.

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The room also houses reserve areas for various animals, including reptiles and amphibians. Another surprise was finding tanks labeled Environment Canada: several creatures are confiscated at the Canadian border and are brought here as a holding area until a decision is made as to where they’ll be brought to next.

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There are 400 exhibits at the Vancouver Aquarium, and learning just a few aspects of what’s involved in the care of 50,000 aquatic creatures is eye-opening. The Ask the Staff Program is a daily part of the exhibit, alongside interactive mammal marine shows, where you’ll find out that the Helen and Hana, the Pacific White-sided dolphins, are routinely trained to learn different tricks and are handled with a whole lot of love and attention.

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Non-releasable into the oceans, they may appear as ‘entertainment’, however the staff spends a lot of time with them, learning from them, and gaining an understanding of their habits and patterns. One lucky person will be invited to step in and be part of each show.

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Our tour also included the 15-minute 4D BBC documentary, Shallow Seas, showing the feeding system in the shallow seas including the journey a humpback whale and her calf, driving home the message that we need to minimize our impact on this precious ecosystem.

Experience Vancouver Aquarium Up Close until April 30. View the daily schedule of Vancouver Aquarium Up Close online.

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