Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World is located in the heart of Bangkok, where the streets are lined with tall shopping malls, and pedestrian and vehicular bridges and expressways run along over the roads. Looking at the tall shopping mall with designer brands peeking out at you from the shops’ windows, it is hard to imagine that creatures that have homes deep in the ocean can be found in the basement of the building. And the variety of marine life you see inside is such a pleasant surprise.
Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World claims to house over 6,000 marine creatures and offers a number of activities that give visitors a chance to get an up, close and personal experience that is as thrilling for kids as it is for adults. It’s simply breathtaking observing these marine wonders through thick glass walls of the many aquariums and enclosures — some so large that there is a walk-though path with glass roof to give you aglimpse of huge sharks swimming overhead.
I didn’t expected I would get so charmed by the experience that I would end up spending three hours inside instead of the one hour I had initially allotted it. Shopping time had to be cut to give the sea creatures the attention they deserved.
Study the brochure you get with the ticket to familiarise yourself with what lays ahead and keep referring to the map on it, otherwise you might miss out a few sections and waste a lot of time coming back to where you’ve already been. I missed out watching the penguin feeding as I couldn’t locate it on time.
A major part of the visit was spent trying to get the perfect picture of the rich marine life. I had to soon give up my camera to shot with my smartphone, as I couldn’t turn the flash off in the camera without taking it off the ‘auto’ mode. And without the auto mode, I couldn’t get a decent shot.
ANorth Pacific Giant octopus greets you in the first aquarium and close by is the home of giant spider crabs.
North Pacific Giant Octopus is the largest of all octopus species, with an arm span up to four metres. The largest octopus size recorded in this species has been of a specimen that was 30 feet (9.1 meters) across and weighed more than 600 pounds (272 kilograms). A master of camouflage, they change colour to blend with the environment and expel an ink-like substance confuse and escape from predators. They usually feed on crabs, shrimps, clams and fish.
Little is known about giant spider crabs because they live in vents and holes deep in the ocean, around the southern coast of Japan. The world’s largest crustaceans, spider crab males grow to approximately one metre in length with a four metres leg stretch. Not much is known about spider crabs’ breeding habits or biology, but they are a threatened species due to over-catching.
Penguin ice adventure
An Antarctic experience is had in the Penguin ice adventure enclave where gentoo penguins can be seen swimming or lazing on icy slopes. If you happen to be there when it is their feeding time, then you are sure to witness a frenzy as they scramble for fish!
Gentoo penguins are the third largest among penguins, reaching a height of 30 inches (76 centimetres) and a weight of 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms). And an adult gentoo penguin easily makes as many as 450 dives a day for food!
The gentoos prefer water to land and are pure grace underwater, thanks to their streamlined bodies and strong, paddle-shaped flippers that propel them up to 22 miles an hour (36 kilometres an hour) — faster than any other diving bird!
Dog-faced puffer fish
With its big expressive eyes and pouty little mouth, the dog-faced puffer fish makes visitors pause as they pass by its aquarium to give it a closer look. And it seems to stare straight at them, but always with a glum expression. Found in the tropical waters from the Indian Ocean, this fish needs some maintenance if you want it in an aquarium at home.
Housed in separate aquariums, the pot belly seahorses, zebra snout seahorses and the alligator pipefish are the residents of the Seahorse kingdom.
The alligator pipefish gets its name from its shape – its pipe-like body and long toothless snout. Living in the sea grass floor of tropical waters, it can easily camouflage itself in the surrounding sea grass blades to escape predators.
It sucks its prey at lightning-fast speed and is one of the few species of pipefish that can actively use its tail for gripping, like a seahorse.
The seahorse is one marine creature that fascinates me a lot. I somehow always considered it a fictional creature rather than a real one until I did see one up, close and personal. Scaly, horse-like with a tale and mostly standing upright in a regal way, a seahorse is so unlike any marine creature.
The pot belly seahorses are one of the largest among seahorses and reach up to 12 inches in length. Found in shallow tropical and temperate waters, seahorses they are sought-after by aquarium owners but need the right temperature to stay alive.
The zebra snout seahorses are beautiful, with colours ranging from bright orange to white, with most being a ruddy yellow. Fussy and lazy, they don’t bother actively searching for food unless it floats right near them.
The Tropical ocean zone is an eigth-metre-high aquarium that gives a panoramic view of dazzling coral and fish species. Many of the goldfish there can be seen in aquariums around homes but seeing them in a life-size replica of their ocean home is a sight that you can keep gazing at for hours.
Shark walk & Shark shipwreck
In what they claimed was Asia’s largest panoramic oceanarium, I had my first shark encounter — thankfully shielded by a thick acrylic sheet as I walked through a tunnel with sharks gliding all around!
There were sharks of many kinds — ragged-tooth, leopard, sand tiger, white spotted, bowmouth, blacktip reef and others – in addition to stingrays and giant groupers.
Sharks like the sand tiger shark can survive well in captivity and are therefore a popular choice in public aquariums, like this one. Mean-looking and large, their sharp teeth protrude in all directions, even when the mouth is shut, and are the only shark known to come to the surface and gulp air. By storing air in their stomachs, they float motionless in the water seeking their prey. They are voracious predators, eating mostly small fish, but will eat crustaceans and squid too.
Blacktip Reef sharks, are commonly found along the coastlines of Pacific regions as well as parts of the Indian Ocean. It can sometimes be found in freshwater too. Growing up to six feet long, blacktip reef has black tips on its dorsal and caudal fins, a short, round snout and angled, saw-like teeth. It has a white belly and dark back that help it camouflage itself.
The stingray fascinated me most among all the creatures in Ocean World. It was in a low-lit aquarium, much like its mysterious abode deep in the ocean. It swam fast and its dark back contrasted sharply with its light belly to make this flat and wide creature disappear in its dark surroundings one moment and suddenly appear when part of the underside flipped up, especially when it turned. I tried a number of times but failed to capture a good shot of it as it was just too fast!
Published in Dawn, Young World, December 25th, 2015