SEA Aquarium

This is a tie-in article with the Yilun Audio Tours Episode on the Aquarium.

South East Asia Aquarium, located in Resorts World Sentosa, is the world’s largest aquarium in terms of water volume and creature number. It also houses the largest single acrylic viewing pannel in the world. SEA Aquarium is an experience not-to-be-missed, and is definitely worth a visit.

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The admission price (as of opening day) is $29 for adults, and includes admission to the Maritime Experiential Museum as well.

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The experience starts at the lower level of the Maritime Experiential Museum. The entire experience is integrated seamlessly, especially if you go through the Typhoon Theater. If you recall, the Maritime Experiential Museum starts with the Souk, a lively gallery recreating the market places along the trading routes of South East Asia. Following that, you will see enter the Typhoon Theater, which is a 360 degrees theater, telling the story of the fateful journey of an ancient Chinese treasure dhow that sinks along the way. The dhow was carrying a golden cup, and the motif of the golden cup is carefully brought across the various segments of the experience. Before you enter the Typhoon Theater, you will find a treasure chest containing the golden cup. This treasure chest is an interactive exhibit, and when you reach your hand into the chest, an animated snake, as well as a blast of air, will be activated.

Once you enter the pre-show area of the Typhoon theater, you will see a short film whereby an ancient Chinese emissary will approach a captain to deliver this golden cup as dowry on behalf of the emperor. However, in a fateful twist of events, on of the astrological experts warn the emissary that the signs are not favorable.

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You then enter the Theater-in-the-Round. The film in the theater shows the voyage of this fated ship as it enters the eye of the Typhoon and sinks. The gold cup is lost in the sea, and sinks to the bottom of the ocean. This theater uses in-theater effects, including lights, mist and water spray. The platform that the audience is seating on also moves.

As the film ends, a door will open, and this will lead you to a giant aquarium tank, where you can see the sunken ship, as well as the golden cup in the water. This experience is seamless, and it leads into the SEA aquarium.

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The first exhibit zone for the SEA aquarium is the aforementioned Shipwreck habitat. You enter the tank through an aquarium tunnel, and you see the various marine life swimming above you, as well as among the shipwreck.

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The next habitat that you will enter is the Straits of Malacca. Over here, you will see the floor aquarium, where the fishes are swimming under your feet. There is also a beautiful cylindrical tank in the middle of the room.

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We will then reach a small alcove, and there is a small eatery to the side. This area is called the dolphin island, and the dolphins are displayed here. Currently, the dolphins are not on display, as they are under quarantine and climatization. In the future, this area will be a nice cozy corner where you can grab a bite and sit in front of one of the large floor to ceiling acrylic panels to watch the graceful dolphins in action.

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You then turn the corner and enter the climax of the aquarium: the Open Ocean. This is the largest tank in the entire aquarium, and houses the largest acrylic viewing panel in the world, measuring 35m by 8.3m. This is also the thickest acrylic panel in the world, at 70cm thick. Inside the Open Ocean tank, you will see many species of fishes, including sharks, sting rays, and many other exotic species that you don’t even know. What will strike you the most is the scale of the exhibition. The fishes in the tank are massive, and when they swim by you, you will get a sense of the scale of the fishes in the tank, many of which are much larger than the human being. In this area, there’s many tiers for you to sit and enjoy the marine life, and you can also get up close, right next to the panel. There is also a large dome at the side of the panel where you can go under and see the marine life from below (though you see more of the catwalk for the employees than the marine life).

Located at the other end of the tank is a set of 9 ocean suites. For about $1200-$2400 a night, you will be able to sleep in one of these suites, with a private window to the Open Ocean tank to yourself in your living room.

For those of you who cannot afford to spurge $2400 a night on a room, you may wish to just have a causal meal at the restaurant at the corner of the Open Ocean tank. There, you can have an exquisite meal while looking at the amazing marine life in the tank. Entrees will cost you about $20-$30 per dish, while a salad will cost anything from $15-$25. A simple can/ glass of Coke will cost $5-$6.

One of the reasons why the Open Ocean tank seems so empty is because of the 2009 Marine Life Park saga. In the initial stages of planning, RW Sentosa wanted to bring in a whale shark, a 7-10 meters long shark, to the Open Ocean tank. In fact, the tank was constructed so that the Whale Shark can survive in relative comfort. However, due to pressures from animal conservation activists, the Park decided to scrap the plan, and hence, for better (or for worse – depending on your perspective), the Open Ocean exhibit is missing its star. All that is left is a full size image of a whale shark in one of the galleries.

You then arrive at the other half of the gallery, which contains many other exhibits on the other habitats in Asia.

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Finally, as a sort of “conclusion” to the adventure under the sea, we head into the shark tunnel. The shark habitat is the final tank of the entire aquarium, and we go into the tank on a moving sidewalk. The tunnel is transparent on three sides, left, right, up, so you can see the different sharks swimming above and beside you. There are many different sharks on display, including Hammerhead sharks etc.

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I feel that the experience somehow tapers down towards the end. The “climax” of the whole aquarium is definitely the Open Ocean exhibit. However, the rest of the aquarium just goes downhill from there. The “finale”, which is the Shark pool, is decent, though it does not have the final “wow” factor to end your experience off with a bang.

You emerge from the shark tunnel back into the Maritime Experiential Museum basement. Here, you will be “dumped” into the gift shop, where you can purchase Maritime Museum and Marine Life Park related paraphernalia.

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Nemo!

I must say that the entire experience is definitely very well executed, and the integration between the museum and the aquarium is seamless. There are also many creative exhibits that make use of unconventional presentation methods, such as half-tanks that show you both the above-water and the under-water conditions of the habitat, as well as double level tanks, and walk-on talks embedded onto the floor.

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However, the galleries are not very memorable. This is perhaps because of the lack of distinction between the various zones, or the similarity in the mode of presentation. There isn’t a different ambience in each zone – it is just one continuous exhibition. The way the marine life is displayed is also lackluster. Most of the animals are kept in small/ medium sized tanks, and you just look at them like looking through department store windows. You do not really get any unique vantage points – like below the water. Furthermore, there is a lack of highlight to the exhibits. The place gets repetitive towards the end, and you will most likely forget 70% of the fishes you saw. There should have been more distinction of the exhibits, and the various species of fishes should be highlighted, rather than mixing the different species of fishes and losing the focus.

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Can you tell them apart? I can’t.

That being said, SEA aquarium, though it is not groundbreaking, is still worth a visit. The SEA aquarium is still the largest, and one of the better ones, of its type.

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