Monday, 7 February 2011
London Landmarks - London Aquarium
The overall ambience of the London Aquarium is one of stillness and gloom. This is mainly because of the piped music which sounds like an Ibiza chill-out CD being funnelled through the blow hole of a whale. It's also because of the strange murky light that hangs over everything like a fog. It feels like you yourself are underwater and it makes everything strangely calming. Escaping the madness of the tube, the South Bank, the gawping tourists and their umbrellas, you genuinely do start to feel like you're floating along without a care.
In terms of the company it's a mixed bag. Fish have a largely mournful look as if they know something you don't, and this can be unnerving. They lurch towards you gasping for air, their eyes glazed with regrets like something out of a Wilfred Owen poem (“He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”). Alternatively they float there slack-jawed and worried like they're suffering from shell shock. Dark things happen at the bottom of the ocean. Things you can't even imagine, and these guys have seen it all.
A lot of them though, are beautiful. Hues that you just don't get on the ground, bright sparkly bellies. There's one fish that's covered in glitter. Another is the kind of electric blue that you could never hope to replicate. The snake pipe fish, a pipe cleaner brought to life, is one of the oddest things you've ever seen and the mantis shrimp – half-shrimp, half-mantis – has got to be the biggest bad ass in the ocean. You also get to press your nose up against the glass and shriek as a shark glides past baring its gums. That never gets old. The day is pretty much made when I get the chance to stroke a starfish, which feels like a spongy emery board. It's not tempered by the fact I have to push a child aside in order to do this.
Be under no illusions though, dear reader, this was not purely a jolly. Admittedly I didn't arrive until lunchtime and I did get the day off work. But I took the whole affair very seriously. So seriously that I jotted down several fish-related facts. When global warming strikes properly, the whole of London is engulfed in 'The Day After Tomorrow' sized tidal waves and your new next door neighbour is a stingray, you're going to thank me.
1. Terrapins flirt with each other by waving their finger nails in each other's faces. The boy terrapin has longer fingernails 'cause he's all manly. They are fans of grapes.
2. Jellyfish are a bit like a one man Wizard of Oz production. They don't have a heart, blood, brain or gills. But they do have four horseshoe shaped gonads so every cloud...
3. The starfish is partial to shellfish and eats them by squeezing them until he crushes them. Then he lobs his stomach out of its body and begins digesting his prey. This can take several hours.
4. Blind cave fish have no eyes because where they live is so dark they've got no need for them. They navigate by using vibrations in the water.
5. A drop of water falling into the Thames will be drunk by 8 people before it reaches the sea.
6. The snowflake moray eel is the creepiest thing I've ever seen.
So, there we go. I learnt a lot, you learnt a lot, I got to handle a starfish and I generally felt pretty relaxed. You can't really ask for much more.
Thanks to Sophie Marchant for the photos!