Returning to the Sea life Centre in Birmingham recently was of the most exciting days out I have looked forward to in a long time and not just because its an amazing place to visit, but because I grew up from a young age visiting the attraction with my mum and younger sister and it brings back fond memories of my childhood-as i’m sure is the same for many families across the UK. Going back almost bought that child-like excitable innocence back for me and my mum who I returned with after all those years…
Travelling from Nottingham on a Friday, we arrived in no more than an hour and found parking right next to the attraction- easy.
Purchasing pre-paid tickets is advisable as it is such a popular place to visit, in particular at peak times such as in school holidays and weekends, though they do say afternoons are not as busy as mornings. Upon arrival there are two queues-one for pre-paid ticket holders and one for ‘pay on the day’, we strolled straight in with our tickets with ease and were welcomed by the friendly and informative staff at the counter.
We were offered an additional ‘behind the scenes’ tour at this point for £3.50 each, which we were delighted to accept. Although we had visited Sea life centre a few times before many years ago, we had forgotten what exactly to expect and it had also been refurbished and more areas added over the years, therefore it was just as exciting as visiting for the very first time for us and we couldn’t wait to get started!
Firstly we approached the small rock pool containing a few star fish and crabs and were able to touch the star fish if we wanted to- though we opted against that on this occasion! Great for children however as we soon realised that most of the areas had allocated time slots for talks, in which you could learn more about the sea life in that area and even interact with some of them.
Next we came across the otters who seemed at home in their enclosure and feeding time with them was a cute experience, although seeing some of what they ate was not the most pleasant, with them being carnivores and enjoying snacking on dead baby chicks to name a few items of their dinner.
A large IMAX cinema screen meets you half way round as you make your way around the centre and it is an optional attraction which takes place a few times throughout the day at set times…
The seahorses were a delight to view – so beautiful and majestic as they slowly floated in their tanks, with a few species to see it made it all the more interesting and whats more you could actually adopt a seahorse and help the centre to breed them and keep them in their care if you so felt inclined.
Soon enough we came across the jellyfish corner which was stylishly decorated and low lit with neon blue lighting, creating a calming mood effect which made us want to stay a while and just take in the incredible creatures as they glided in their tanks, again several types of species of jellyfish were available to see and was most certainly one of my highlights.
What became apparent as we wandered the centre was that the work they do for the sea life is incredible and many of the creatures as we know them happen to be on the endangered list or close to, therefore what work the centre does to raise the awareness of these marine issues, as well as caring for those species and breeding where needed is all in the best interests of the animals and it became clear that the centre is a platform in order for them to raise valuable funds to keep their projects going and to keep up the good work that they do as a wider picture.
The grand finale of the visit was without a doubt the glass sea tunnel which is famous in its own right across the country at all sea life centres and one of the main reasons for visiting in my opinion…
Approaching the tunnel from the lift, we were faced with the most breath taking site- Molokai the giant green sea turtle, who I recognised immediately as being ‘my friend’ as a child, slowly gliding through the water as if he weighs nothing with a permanent smile on his kind face, whats not to love about this beautiful creature?
As we walked through the tunnel you are faced with the decision of where to look first as you imagine yourself in the ocean surrounded by the colourful array of sea life swimming all around you. Sharks huge sharks, giant stingray and the most unusual of fish you would expect to find in the coral reef all there to be seen up close and personal, to the sides of you and above- stand still and wait for them to swim directly above you with only a glass ceiling between you and them – the details on their underbellies – angles you would never be able to see in normal circumstances, this really is an unforgettable experience and if you’re lucky you may catch feeding time, which happens several times a day- Molokai the 20+ stone turtle is a vegetarian and loves broccoli! We were fortunate enough to see him tucking into his daily intake of small green trees and certainly made it clear when he had, had enough by swimming away. We were told that he also splashes staff when they are late feeding him, enjoys a snooze in the tunnel and likes to scratch his belly on the coral- what a personality!
One question we wondered was why did the sharks not eat the smaller fish in there with them? A question that we were pleased was answered later on our visit on the behind the scenes tour…
Savannah a very knowledgable and clearly passionate team member welcomed a small group of us into a laboratory, where a few hidden marine life were stored away never to be shown on the centres main floor – why? Well frankly they were either to precious or too dangerous!
A species of shrimp known as the tiny mantis, looks harmless enough, but this little fella can pack a punch and is known as the worlds deadliest shrimp, punching his little fists at a rate that would show up muhammed ali. He hid in his tunnel and wouldn’t come out to see us, though apparently if riled can attempt to punch the glass- we stayed at a safe distance after we were informed by Savannah that if hit he can shatter your bones and do some serious damage- but only when feeling threatened- therefore deemed too dangerous to be in the centre in case folk knock on the glass and upset him! (or her!)
We were also informed about details of feeding times and what creature ate.. what creature for dinner- very interesting if not a little gross, but thats nature for you.
We were shown sharks teeth and coral which is incredibly being cultured in the centre in a bid to contribute towards the devastating destruction of the coral reef barrier in the caribbean countries, where fisherman use barbaric explosion techniques to fish, destroying the reef in the process- learning of this made me feel emotional as did much of the visit.
There is something not only fascinating about sea life but artistic and this evoked many emotions in me whilst there, learning and taking in new facts, being up close with creatures, some of which I have never seen nor even knew existed and having the privilege of somehow being in their world for a moment, even though it is not their natural environment, they seem to be well cared for and happy.
The penguins are another must see reason to visit Sea life Centre and something you could stand and watch for hours, as they’re so entertaining particularly at feeding time.
Along all routes are boards and plaques with interesting fact about the creatures and games for the children to participate in- plus you can also opt to have your photo taken which is then available to purchase at the end along with the opportunity to browse and spend a few pennies in the gift shop.
One thing missing at sea life centre is a cafe of some sort as you would expect there to be a food area of some kind within the visitor centre, however there are plenty of restaurants in the surrounding area for lunch and dinner, therefore it did not cause any inconvenience to our day out.
All in all I would highly recommend a visit to the sea life Centre Birmingham, as it is a highly enjoyable experience for all ages, as well as an important education and I look forward to returning again in another ten years if not sooner!
Fiona Duncan, RSViP