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Nothing Fishy about Blue Reef, Tynemouth
Blue Reef Aquarium (England)
Member Name: SWSt
Blue Reef Aquarium (England)
Advantages: Well laid out displays, informative boards, massive amount of fish to see
Disadvantages: Can get very busy and noisy
I've always loved fish (live ones, not with chips!) and been amazed at the variety of life the sea contains. As such, I'm also a bit of a sucker for aquariums, sea life centres and if there's one nearby, I just have to go and visit it When I heard that the Blue Reef Aquarium was in Tynemouth, I was in that car before Mrs SWSt knew what was happening!
The aquarium is very easy to find, mainly because Tynemouth is not actually that large, so it's quite tricky to get lost there. Ironically, when you arrive on the main road into Tynemouth, you turn away from the town centre and head out on the road which runs along the coast. The aquarium (which is well signed) is just a couple of minutes down the road.
Although some parking is available at the centre, there is also ample free on-street parking down some of the side streets just a few minutes' walk from the centre. This is where we parked and our car was fine.
The aquarium is housed in a large purpose-built building. The foyer inside is a little bit sterile and rather reminded me of old-style swimming baths. Space in this lobby is fairly limited, mainly consisting of a gift shop (selling the usual zoo and aquarium type tat) a cafe (OK for basics, but not that much on offer food-wise) and the ticket kiosk. There's also a small display of fish so you can see a few for free to whet your appetite before making your way through into the main aquarium.
The aquarium itself is massive. I have no idea how many tanks there are, but Mrs SWSt and I spent well over two and a half hours there. There appear to be little corridors lined with tanks leading off in all direction (although everything is well signed, so it's impossible to get lost).
Tanks are very well laid out and spaced out sufficiently so that you can get close enough to peer inside and get a really good look, without feeling that you are blocking someone else's view or stopping them from getting past.
Pretty much every tank has an information board displaying details of the fish inside, their preferred foods, behaviour and any notable features. These were really well written and interesting to read. They were also very well pitched, containing enough detail for adults to find them interesting but short enough for kids to read without getting bored. A smattering of "interesting facts" were also aimed at children, revealing surprising things about some of the fish, (in fact these were just as much fun for adults to read!). If kids did get bored of staring into the tanks, there are a number of "rubbings" scattered around the place, where kids can make outline drawings of different fish on pen and paper.
What astounded me was the sheer amount of variety of creatures on display. Once you've been to a number of aquaria, you start to see the same thing in the same layout - tanks of fish which are common to British waters then those native to more tropical climes etc. As well as these, Blue Reef also had lots of other creatures that were a bit different: an outside tank contained several seals, there was an otter pool, an amphibian section containing spiders and frogs and even a small Amazon area housing some amazingly cute pygmy marmosets and other furry creatures.
This level of variety means you get so much more than just fish and. Everyone will have their favourite creature of course (mine was the pygmy marmosets), but you're never quite sure what you're going to see around the next corner. Whilst it has some features common to most aquariums (ray tank, shark tunnel etc.), Blue Reef also offers something a little different.
Particularly fascinating was a large octopus in a tank of its own. This really seemed to enjoy showing off, and swam around the tank, giving a stunning view of its tentacles, suckers and bulbous head. It's unlikely that many of us will ever have the chance to study such a beautiful creature this close in the wild and it really helps you to appreciate how incredible it is.
At regular intervals throughout the day, you see some of the creatures being fed and hear a talk about them. The timings for these are very clearly listed on a number of boards around the aquarium, giving you chance to plan your visit around these if you want to. Loud speaker announcements are also made 10 minutes or so before a talk to give you time to make your way to the relevant area.
Normally I wouldn't bother with this sort of thing, but we just happened to be by the otter pool as one was starting and so stayed to watch and listen. Overall, it was really interesting and well delivered, containing exactly the right balance of information about otters generally and about the four living at Tynemouth specifically. The only criticism was that the person delivering it could have done with a microphone. Although she delivered her talk in a loud, clear voice, the constant chatter of other people going past or the excited shrieks of kids did mean that she was occasionally drowned out by the background noise.
Blue Reef can get very, very busy. We went in early July - just before the main school holidays, but it was still pretty packed. Although there wasn't much of a queue to get the tickets once we were inside it was full of schoolchildren on a school trip. At times, moving around or getting to see into the tanks close-up could be a problem, as there were lots of other people trying to do the same. It was also very noisy. The aquarium is housed in an enclosed space with a low roof and sounds echo around quite a lot. Much though I enjoyed it, I did leave with a pounding headache caused mostly by the noise. I would imagine that, during the main tourist season, these issues are magnified.
Cost-wise, Blue Reef offers very good value for money. 2010 admission prices are: Adults £8.30 (concessions £7.20) and Children £5.95. For the amount of animals you get to see and the length of time you could spend in there, I have no complaints about that price. Mrs SWSt and I spent well over two hours in there and could easily have spent much longer.
Blue Reef Aquarium is definitely well worth a visit. It offers a deeply interesting and well though-out view of all sorts of marine life and will delight both children and adults.
Blue Reef Aquarium
Tyne & Wear
© Copyright SWSt 2011
Summary: Blue Reef won't leave you feelibe blue
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