January 08, 2014 00:00 By Christiane Oelrich
The world's largest aquarium in Singapore displays wonders of marine life
Singapore is a country of superlatives, where tourists can be thrilled at night by Formula One racing, enjoy a trip on the planet’s highest Ferris wheel and even stay in a hotel overlooking the world’s largest aquarium.
The SEA Aquarium is located on the island of Sentosa off, just off the coast. Majestic manta rays glide past your eyes, leopard sharks prowl and hulking goliath groupers meander through the sea grass, offering hours of enjoyment to adults and children alike.
While the enormous main aquarium is a wonder to behold in itself, there are also many other tanks housing crabs, jellyfish and dolphins. There is also a touching pool where you can feel the different types of sea creatures.
The hotel rooms are offered by Resorts World Sentosa’s (RSW) Marine Life Park. They include a floor-to-ceiling window looking out on the aquarium. The view does not come cheap, however, with one night costing 2,406 Singapore dollars (Bt62,800).
“The 11 suites are very popular,” says RSW spokeswoman Linette Lin.
Much of the island of Sentosa has been converted into one large leisure area in recent years, with numerous hotels and restaurants and a Universal Studios theme park and casino. A water park also opened there last year.
The SEA Aquarium is the largest of its kind in the world with more than 800 species of marine animals, according to RSW.
The 43-million-litre complex of tanks is home to around 10,000 animals, including manta rays, Napoleon wrasse, moray eels and over 200 sharks.
The main acrylic-panel viewing window is 36 metres long and 8.3 metres high. The pool is maintained around the clock by a team of 40 divers, with at least two at work cleaning the enormous tank at any one time.
There are smaller pools alongside the main aquarium where visitors can learn the secret of how baby sharks grow up to be like their egg-laying mothers.
The glass is magnified in one section so that it is possible to have a closer look at shark embryos developing in their eggs. Once fully developed, the young fish hatch out and are ready to begin life fending for themselves.
Not all sharks lay eggs. The great white, for example, gives birth to live young, as does its cousin, the sand tiger shark. During pregnancy, the most developed embryo will feed upon its siblings, a reproductive strategy known as intrauterine cannibalism.
In a pool further on, visitors can wonder at the unusual pipefish, which are abundant on coasts of the tropical and temperate zones such as around Australia and look like straight-bodied seahorses with tiny mouths.
From the same family of Syngnathidae as seahorses, there are approximately 200 species of pipefish, which use camouflage to avoid predators and are barely distinguishable from marine plants.
Another aquarium highlight is the jellyfish and squid pool, where tiny creatures measuring less than a centimetre swim alongside majestic squid with tentacles measuring upwards of a metre.
The aquarium is illuminated in different colours with psychedelic music adding to the surreal visual effect.
The aquarium boasts 49 separate biotopes from 10 different oceans, stretching from Southeast Asia to Arabia. Asian visitors often recognise many of the fish from their local market stalls.
“They often shout out how good they taste,” says Lin, as she stands in front of pool teeming with cuttlefish from the squid family.
“The wall panels highlight the devastating effects overfishing has on balance for biodiversity,” she explains.
Singapore is also home to the Japanese spider crab, which has the greatest leg-span of any arthropod, with specimens reaching 3.8 metres from claw to claw. The country’s favourite culinary specialities include pepper crab and chilli crab.