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Last updateTue, 22 May 2018 12am







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BC’s Tales of the Pacific: Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium

IF you are ever near New Zealand you must visit Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland. 

It is one of the great treasures of aquatic theme parks. But their mission does not stop there. They also work hard to protect vital marine resources, the likes of which I have advocated in these columns over the years.

Tarlton’s opened for business in 1985 but it was always difficult to find since most of the park is underground. The original tanks used to house the displays of fish, coral, rays and other sea life were actually unused sewage tanks. Tarlton envisoned a more honorable use for the waterproof containers.

But what really set Tarlton’s apart from other public aquariums was his use of curved acrylic viewing tunnels. Instead of looking at fish through flat, two-dimensional glass or plastic panels, Tarlton flipped the aquarium inside out. The fish are not trapped in a tank with viewers peering in at them, the people actually walk through a clear tunnel along the bottom of the tank. The sharks are all around you, to the left, the right, even over your head. Perhaps you have been to another aquarium that uses similar displays. But Tarlton invented it and all the others followed his lead.

One of the highlights of Tarlton’s Aquarium is diving with sharks. For an additional cost above the entry fee you can put on scuba gear and get in the tanks with the actual sharks, no nets or cages. The sharks have been doing this for a while so, although I would not call them tame, the chances of being attacked are miniscule. Tarlton’s is not interested in lawsuits by mangled guests. It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that is worth every penny of the fee.

Another highlight is the overnight stay, called a Family Sleepover. You can stay at the aquarium after it closes, the staff will give you a personal tour, and you can sleep in one of the tunnels in the tanks. How cool is that? Your children, three kids for each adult booked, can fall asleep watching sharks and rays slide past in the water above them. I don’t think I would get much sleep! Will someone let me borrow their kids for a weekend?

I am a fan of the behind-the-scenes tour. Like the Family Sleepover, you get to go through those doors that are marked “Private: Do Not Enter” and see how the operation works. You can feed the fish, they show you how they clean and maintain the equipment, you learn how the water pumping system works, and see that tanks from above, a very different view than most people get.

Businesses like Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium deserve our support. They are not just making money, they are working hard to protect our underwater resources, and like Jacques Cousteau, they are raising awareness and appreciation for the oceans for current and future generations. Check out their website and drop in when you are in Auckland.

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.