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Even the Exhibits Want To Leave
Sea Life Centre (Brighton)
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Sea Life Centre (Brighton)
Advantages: Nice Fish
Disadvantages: Dark, slippery, poor signage, expensive
On a recent weekend break to Brighton, we had some free time on Monday morning before our afternoon train, so after a little walk down to the seafront, when we spotted the poster for the Sea Life Centre, we decided to make a spontaneous visit. The Centre is open daily from 10am until 5pm in the week and 6pm at weekends and is located on the Marine Parade, almost opposite the Pier (the one that isn't burnt down). It is wheelchair accessible through a slightly different entrance. They claim they are the world's oldest aquarium.
The staff member on the admissions desk was faffing about a bit and struggling with this ticket machine. He informed us that there was some building work going on due to a new exhibit being built and that the glass bottomed boat was closed for maintenance, The cost for admission for adults was £15.82 (inc VAT), which I think is rather steep.
Walking into the main section, my first thoughts is that it was quite dark. Once my eyes adjusted I could see the shabbiness of the building - paint was chipped and floors were wet (yellow A-Boards were out to warn people) in quite a few places. We started to look at the exhibits, as after all, that is what we were there fore. I wasn't really sure how we should approach this main room. Tanks went down either side and there were lots of things in the middle. These included boards with info and games for younger visitors, smaller tanks and a café. We weren't sure whether to circle the room or just wander back and forth, and in the end settled on the latter plan of attack. I don't think it really makes any difference how you approach it, I doubt the layout would be any more cohesive. I understand that the building is Grade II listed, so this would mean that they probably can't change the layout of the building too much. The layout of the types of fish seemed a bit random me, it was not divided up into regions such as tropics or temperate for example. There seemed to be some large, slow fish in some smallish tanks, while much smaller fish were darting about in more spacious tanks. I have seen this before and think that the particular larger fish are more sedentary. Nevertheless, my boyfriend decided to ask one of the staff members, who informed us that the the decision was often down to the popularity of the fish! He said that the sharks were always popular and that was why they were in the large tank in the main auditorium. He seemed to have missed the point that they probably wouldn't have all fitted into one of the other tanks anyway. I am sure there must be some sort of official regulations in place, so after I accepted his polite offer to stroke a sea urchin, we moved on.
I have to say I didn't think the signage by the tanks was particularly good. They were placed at quite a low level so able to be read by younger visitors, which is a nice touch, but it means that adults, even petite ones like me, virtually had to bend double to read some notices. When I did get down there I found them hard to read as the lighting was so poor. It indicated how endangered the species of fish were, but said very little about their habitat or lifestyle (what they ate, how long they lived etc). There was a small Amazonia exhibit which was quite dark and they used mirrors to give you a feeling of disorientation. I appreciate that they tried to make it interesting but again, I didn't really know what I was looking at due to the poor signs. The highlight of the visit was the main tank in the auditorium. Once upon a time it was used for dolphin shows before they were banned. The tank is maybe 30 foot across and is quite deep, they do have a tunnel that you can walk through to see the exhibits swim over your heads. Inside are some very sad turtles that seemed to want to try and get out of the tank. There didn't seem to be any 'land' within the tank for them to get out onto if they wished. Keeping the turtles company, amongst other fish, were the sharks. I must have missed the sign that said what type of shark they were but I am guessing they were reef sharks (they certainly weren't any great whites!). We did see the glass bottomed boat that was closed, it seems to travel across the tank but I don't think we had missed much to be fair. I did enjoy the experience of the underwater tunnel though, which is very much a prerequisite in an aquarium these days.
As we left there were a few displays of old funfair machines which seemed a bit out of place and an afterthought, and perhaps should have been left to the pier. There was also a 'Deep Sea Adventure' type simulator ride. This was free so we decided to wait a few minutes to give it a go. It was obviously quite old judging by its design - the benches were supposed to wobble , but some didn't seem to even work. As it was midweek during term time, there were no kids on the 'ride', only adults. I think we were all a bit embarrassed by how poor and out of date it was when we got off and I suspect most children over toddler age would be unimpressed these days.
Overall I was disappointed with my visit. The fish were lovely and as expected, but I felt the layout (albeit one that they may not be able to change due to its listed status) was a bit all over the place and cluttered. The place looked very unloved and in need of paint and possibly even a clean (it was too dark to be sure). However as long as the exhibits were loved and cared for, and I saw no evidence to the contrary (other than the turtle who seemed to want to get out - but that may just be a turtle 'quirk'), then all is well and good. I would like to have seen more staff, especially ones that were knowledgeable and passionate about their jobs, as they can pass on their enthusiasm to the visitors. They do advertise feeding times on their website, something we missed as spontaneous visitors but I would suspect would be worth scheduling into a visit if they do a little talk or presentation at the same time. The centre seemed very keen on the environment and sustainability which is highly laudable. There were a number of boards supporting this and encouraging donations, but the poor lighting was not conducive to reading them. When I visit aquarium or a zoo, I do expect to pay a bit more as I appreciate that the maintenance of such attractions are expensive, however I didn't think the £16 full price adult admission charge offered good value for money for an hour's 'entertainment'. There are a lot of interactive games for children here, so possibly they are the target market, but I dread to think how much it would cost to bring a family here.
Summary: A poor hour long visit
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