Sea Life stars
Relive a bit of Blue Planet with a visit to The Sea Life Centre and its new starfish exhibition.
“You have to see this right now!” My nephew said as he pulled me over to look at a magnified starfish smaller than a 5p piece.
It’s part of the new Sea Stars exhibition at Sea Life, Brighton – a very handy place to hit in the school holidays when the weather is poor, especially if you and your family were recently glued to the wonderful Blue Planet II.
The starfish exhibition itself is small and it was not so much the real life specimens but the stuff on screen that wowed my nephews aged 8 and 10.
There’s an interactive bit where you can speed up a film of starfish moving across the ocean floor, and a gruesome piece of footage of a starfish pushing its stomach from its mouth to engulf a prawn. Or as the eight-year-old later embellished it: “its stomach came out like a beanbag and devoured its soul!”
It certainly captured all our imaginations, we watched it twice and were still talking about it after we left. In fact I was still freaking myself out that night with the thought that if starfish don’t have brains but they can ‘walk’ that means Triffids could actually happen!
There’s plenty to do in the wider Sea Life centre of course and the boys, who’d been there before and were excited about a revisit, wasted no time in showing me around.
It can get very busy and there are a lot of distractions and low lighting, so it’s a idea to set up a meet point in case you get separated. As it was, though the boys flew all over the place they were soon back tugging me in different directions to see their latest discoveries.
The main room is a beautiful space under rainbow-lit Victorian arches and, my brother pointed out he finds it a much better set up to the London version because you’re not channelled in a particular direction, so if one tank is busy you can easily come back.
There are some kid-height plastic bubbles youngsters can duck up into to put themselves within the tanks (don’t try to do this yourself, I can report it’s quite an undignified process for adults!)
I liked too the plinths in front of each tank so smaller kids can get eye level with the fish. There were a few surprises as we did just that, like a camoflagued ray taking off unexpectedly while we were looking at the amazing Oriental fish that look like old rock people come to life. Then the was the moment I was telling my youngest nephew the fish he’d seen was just a bit of old rope – until it blinked an eye an inch in front of mine.
In these days of digital entertainment it was heartening to see the children getting really enthused by more natural attractions. It was also a boon for them to be able to tell me fishy facts they knew from school and TV and make me feel inadequate with questions like “is that a sedimentary rock?” err…
I clawed backs some credibility by telling them about when I snorkelled with sharks last year (OK, they were harmless nurse sharks, but still…)
The shark tunnel is of course a favourite part of the aquarium for many and I particularly loved seeing the underside of an enormous swimming turtle and convincing myself it was really possible that the one I’d seen off Belize was really the size of a cow as I’d told everyone. You can for an extra charge take a glass bottomed boat trip over the top of the shark and turtle pool.
Though the boys’ rushed to see the sharks – opting to miss out on the shark film in the auditorium I was aiming for, their favourite thing in the aquarium actually turned out to be the lobsters – huge things climbing all over each other right up against the glass of their tank.
We spent two busy hours in Sea Life on what was a freezing cold day outside and I reckon we could have stretched it an hour longer if we’d seen the film, scrolled through more of the digital information displays and followed the timetable to see feeding times and the like. We did get to touch some sea anemones in a rock pool – or rather I was volunteered to, the boys proving strangely reluctant.
Entry isn’t cheap but I noticed the queue for walk up tickets was a lot longer than that for the pre-bookers on my visit, with plenty of people missing out on the saving (up to 40%) that you can make by booking online beforehand – so my tip is to check out all the various website options a day or so before, it’s also cheaper at certain times of day.
There’s also a chance to win an annual pass by adding your details to a computer on the way out. I’m not holding out much hope though for the boys’ entry – Place of residence: Afghanistan. Postcode: Pooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
SEA LIFE Brighton, Marine Parade, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 1TB visitsealife.com