20th September 2016 – £25 per adult
Joined by Sinead Flament
Why are the “animal loving”, wave-ruling Brits so dogshit at aquariums? We float like so much flotsam in the North Sea, yet our homages to it look less Atlantis than Chernobyl. I tend to forget this truism until right after I’ve stepped through the turnstile and forked out £25; then it all comes flooding back like a smashed shark tunnel.
Things started inauspiciously with the plastic, service-station lobby we’re coming to expect from South Bank, inc. The staff were pleasant enough, sharing horror stories of the recent summer holidays, providing light salve to the gaping wound of the entrance fee.
I must concede though, that walking over glass with sharks underneath was pretty special, but ruined immediately by nickel-and-diming staff members taking my picture before a green screen against my will. “Pretend you’re cold”. Listen “Andre”, it’s cost me twenty-five notes to be here, I’m in no mood for entry-level improv.
The first area’s hardly box office. I had to sift through a lot of grey mullets and sea toads before getting to anything good, but enough about the visitors – harharhar, I’m gorgeous! The looped music being played wasn’t a bad idea, but if they’d tried so hard to ape the public domain mystery of Saint-Saens’s Aquarium, they might just as well have used the public domain mystery of Saint-Saens’s Aquarium instead of the garden centre muzak bollocks we were being aurally buggered with. Isn’t nature magical?
My problem was with the poor old animals, but it’s the paradox of all zoos: when they’re active it seems cruel, when they’re sleeping or invisible, why am I there?
It’s zoos and aquariums that remind me just how scummy some people can be. Banging, grabbing, screaming and shouting, whinging that real life animals aren’t singing Hakuna Matata in a chorus line. Why does locking things up turn people into such beasts, like an inter-species Zimbardo study.
And Christ! were they plugging the new Finding Dory film. There were screens playing the trailer everywhere, even in the tanks with the animals. I don’t know why they didn’t just Sharpie the Disney signature on the turtle’s fucking back and have done with it.
The tunnel they extol with such regard is the same grotty old tunnel you’ve seen at every other grotty old Sea Life Centre. At least the animals are beautiful.
Then the Sharks. Primal leviathans ready to tear apart live flesh with the shake of an imperious head, reducing sane humans to frenetic splashings at the memory of those deadly cellos. Yeah, they were circling a tank the size of a squash court. The double standards of the “earth is dying” message with the “this’ll do” displays went beyond a sardonic museum review – it was immoral.
Mantis shrimp. Threats: tourism.
“Why not promote conservation by going on a shark dive?” And who provides the diving-with-sharks service? Yep. Fuck you, Sea Life Centre!
They kept banging on about how pointless shark fin soup is (it’s tasteless and shark numbers are worrying). What can I do about it? I’m a vegetarian, I live in England, and I’m not a politician. Maybe try negotiating with China and its public, and good luck with that, my friend!
Going through the obligatory tropical rainforest bit made me wonder, does anyone like the obligatory tropical rainforest bit? The piranhas are always good to photograph though, because they don’t fucking move. And I’m sick of being told how nonviolent they are and how naive we are to believe such a fallacy until, at 2:30pm, you can see the live demonstration of them ripping a whole chicken to bits.
The Thames Tidewater Tunnel told us all about Bazalgette’s sewage works. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS TO DO WITH THE SEA OR LIFE?! Their message meanders like the Thames itself.
Remember that squash court shark tank from before? Well, remember no more as you’ll be revisiting the bastard plenty for your £25. Their maladroit attempts to shoehorn different displays around it were beyond desperate.
We were projected onto a screen featuring a ropey CGI polar bear. It was the kind of display that a pre-industrial family would see, look at each other awkwardly, raise their eyebrows, then shuffle off quietly.
Then we were done. It was weird. How can such a simple idea as an aquarium be so woefully executed? To appreciate this aquarium you need to be a kid. A kid that hasn’t been to an aquarium before. And who’s been locked inside an attic all his life pulling the wings off daddy long legs.
We were in for less than an hour, which isn’t bad for a Sea Life Centre, but is appalling for £25.
William Blake said, “A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage.”
And Joe Deeney said, “A whale in a tank makes the Sea Life Centre wank.”