Let the fun begin…

Japanese Spider Crab 1[4]Half term got off to a flying start yesterday, thanks to my friends at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium who invited us to the opening of the new CLAWS exhibition where real sharks, leeches and eels have replaced their political equivalents who used to inhabit County Hall on London’s Southbank.

Katy has been a fan of the aquarium since she was five, but she had always gone with her big sister, Ella, so this was my first visit. It is amazing! We were there for the launch of CLAWS, a special interactive gallery devoted to crabs and crustaceans including the giant “B movie stars” the Japanese spider crabs that can grow up to 12 feet wide. The centre of the building houses a three-storey aquarium that you enter by stepping over a glass bridge while sharks swim beneath your feet. Once inside you are greeted by a vertical white Stingray, which swims up the glass of his tank to greet you like a swimming Casper the ghost. It really is a magical celebration of the utter fabulousness of the oceans in all their weird and wonderful creations. Jellyfish so delicate they look as if their tentacles are spun from coloured sugar, teeny tiny ray-shaped camouflage fish whose skin is so indistinguishable from the sand they are hiding in that they can only be spotted by their eyes, fairytale sea horses and incredible multi-coloured creatures who stand up in the sand like a cross between a Muppet and a candy cane. We were all – Jack, who had had to be crowbarred away from his computer, Cleo who had been out all night and had zero sleep, Katy who needed absolutely no coaxing and me – absolutely transfixed from start to finish. I can honestly say there were no Cinderella tanks – you know the ones you just rush by because there’s nothing in it but a South American prawn and a bit of algae. Every tank had something fabulous in it, even the sunbathing terrapins were playing up for the cameras, striking yoga poses and doing the doggy paddle. And thanks to Ben – one of the hands-on keepers – we even got to stroke a star fish (you have to get the right side – the one with no nerve endings) and empathise with an anemone. Did you know they move about a millimetre an hour?

It seemed strange, after so much wind and rain, to actually seek out such a “wet play” area on the first weekend of half term – especially on the first sunny day of the year – but it was worth it. Although on our way to the star attraction – the magnificent celebration of all things crab, including those incredible giant Japanese spider crabs – we did pass up the Hurricane Experience booth, where for the price of £2 you can climb into a shower cubicle built for two and get blasted with hurricane-force winds. No dice, I told the kids, as they pestered me for pound coins. You weren’t so keen on that much fresh air on Friday night when I asked you to walk Doughnut with me just as the winds were gusting an impressive 60mph, were you? You had your chance of a hurricane experience then and you blew it.

There are 12 SEA LIFE aquariums across the country from Loch Lomond in Scotland to Gweek in Cornwall. Find out more at visitsealife.com.

Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn

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