You should not visit the wonderful city of Valencia without setting aside a day to spend at the Oceanografic Aquarium. Set in the City of Arts and Sciences at one end of the Turia Gardens, the impressive modern structure is said to be the second best aquarium in the world. It certainly exceeded our expectations and is filled with underwater wonders that will make you gasp, smile, wonder
No article about aquariums and zoos would be complete without discussing the ethical considerations of holding animals in captivity. Be aware that the Oceanografic does include whales and dolphins. We almost didn’t go when we realised they had performing dolphins, which we are strongly opposed to. However after reading the conservation section of their website, and reading a lot of reviews, we decided to visit, but not to go and look at the dolphins. By all accounts they seem happy and well cared for, but we still do not support the capture of wild dolphins and whales for holding in captivity. That said, let’s enjoy the other exhibits on offer over this huge complex.
How long does it take to look around Oceanografic?
You’ll be provided with a map, which is reproduced throughout the park with signs for ‘you are here’ and there is also signposting directing you to each area if you only want to pick and choose where to visit, perhaps because you have limited time. Just to give you an idea, we spent 6 hours here without visiting the Dolphinarium, so if you love aquariums, you really can spend all day here.
Oceanografic is split into regions such as Tropical, Mediterranean, Antarctic, and Pelagic along with other water related exhibits such as wetlands and islands. The layout is exceptionally well thought out and each leads you through the exhibit in an intuitive way, and throughout the whole layout.
Some highlights of our visit to Oceanografic
We start with mesmerizing displays of jellyfish. There are various types of jellyfish in each of the areas of the aquarium, as well as a jellyfish nursery where you can see the tiny baby jellyfish being raised.
Sadly our old point and press camera (and my lack of photography skills)
The tropical tanks were simply stunning. Filled with the most exquisite living corals and jewel-like tropical fish, along with crabs, clams, shrimps, moray and other eels, huge spider crabs, clownfish, snappers, puffers, and sand eels, even a
This area also includes the common seals – and what fun creatures they are. There are a couple of underwater viewing areas for the seals and also a section above the water where they have their beach area and laying about spots. We were lucky to be right there at feeding time.
The seals are encouraged to come out of the water to feed, and the trainers go through a routine with them everyday to check their health. With dog whistles and hand signals, they get the seals to show their teeth, roll over so their undersides can be checked, show their fins etc. It really made me appreciate that it wasn’t getting them to ‘do tricks’, it really was part of their daily health check up and to make handling and veterinary care easier for them if necessary.
We were lucky to visit out of high season, at the end of February, and on a weekday, so it seemed sometimes like we had the place almost to ourselves. There was a couple of school groups visiting, but they came through at top speed, were in and out really quickly, so if we happened to encounter one in the exhibit, we simply waited a few minutes until they were gone and then it was peace and quiet again.
And did we mention about the size of the tanks? Oh yeah, they are HUGE. This is only a part of one which sweeps around the room in a large curve. The whole tank is open without barriers, so the fish can move around as much as they like and it’s interesting to see how they seem to favor particilar parts of the tank.
The setting within the tanks is very well thought out with sandy bottoms, overhangs, small caves, sheer walls – just the same sort of enviroments that would be found underwater. The fish species favor the sort of environment in the tank that they would in nature.
As you travel through the exhibits, there are other displays, interesting facts to read about underwater environments and animals and historical facts. And of course plenty of areas where you can stop to take the obligatory tourist photos – a life-size replica of a real giant clam (and me).
Oceanografic has a number of underwater tunnels including the longest one in Europe. They really are exceptional, with fish swimming all around you and over the top. As you can see, this one goes on around the corner, and then around another corner after that. It’s truly magical to just stand and watch all the fish.
The most amazing of all is the shark and rays tank in the ‘oceans’ section! It seems to be built as two circular tanks with a long tunnel joining the two and it’s ENORMOUS! Sadly I only managed to take truly terrible photos so I don’t have anything to share, but you’ll have to imagine how awesome it is, with the sharks, rays
The sand tiger sharks were the stars of the show for me, with their raggedy looking teeth, but the cow-nose rays, the bull rays and the enormous southern stingray were a sight to behold!
Another favorite of ours was the seahorses. They had the big belly seahorses as well as the truly magical Sea Dragons. I could honestly sit and watch the sea dragons for hours too. In fact, they were so magical that at the end of our visit we came back to look a second time and were lucky to watch them feeding.
The outdoor exhibits at Oceanografic
Outdoors you can enjoy lots of other water-related exhibits other than the aquarium tanks. They have a ‘living lake’ filled with birds, frogs, fish
The aviary and wetlands exhibit is worth a look too. You queue for a short time to go in through the double door system to stop any of the birds escaping, and the staff member gives details of the life inside (in Spanish) teaching you more about the
Throughout the tanks are filled with huge fish to marvel at. We particularly enjoyed seeing the newts. The aviary is a massive 26 metres tall.
The Antarctic and the Beluga Whales
The antarctiic exhibit is astonishing. There are huge tanks which you can view from above as you enter, and then as you descend to the lower level you are level with the bottom of the tanks to see underwater.
They have walruses, and if you’ve never seen walruses in real life before you may well be amazed at how huge they are! I had no idea they were so big. But so graceful in the water.
They are the largest group of pinnipeds, after the male elephant seal (Mirounga sp). A male adult walrus reaches between 1,200 and 1,500 kilograms and 3.2 metres in length, while female adults weight from 600 to 850 kilograms and measure 2.7 metres.
They have plenty of toys in their pool to keep them occupied and they were carrying on life in the water having fun with their toys and completely ignoring all of us.
And then you come to the whales. We watched them swimming and playing with their toys for a while and then we were lucky enough to be there for feeding time. Again, the same as the seals, the whales were put through a health check routine to check them all over during feeding by hand. During this time we enjoyed hearing them shouting and singing. Apparently, the belugas have the greatest range of vocalisations among whales, leading to them being called ‘sea canaries’.
The belugas really look like ghosts in the water, pure white, which helps them with camouflage in their natural icy environment.
The whales at Oceanografic are a family of breeding male and female and their calf Kylu. He’s still a baby in whale terms and swims alongside his mother most of the time. Kylu is still a grey color, they take on the totally while color between five and twelve years old.
With the terrible things going on in the world today with whaling, climate change, the melting of the ice caps, animal and marine life in the polar regions starving to death etc, it’s difficult to come to terms with holding these animals in captivity, but at the same time knowing they are at least ‘safe’ from the harsh outside world.
We can only hope that seeing the majesty and beauty of all of the animals in the Oceanografic will inspire out younger generations to work more in the fields of research and conservation and save our planet and it’s life for future generations.
As we come to the end of the article, there is an honorable mention for other areas of the aquarium we’ve not yet covered above. Kids especially will love the penguins in their icy enclosure (I think pinguino is my favorite Spanish word).
The crocodiles will remind us that it’s not all harmony under the water and that these animals have to eat – sometimes they eat each other.
The giant tortoises are part of an ‘islands’ exhibit which is opening soon. They don’t seem at all shy as they sunbathe right next to you and you can look at their old, wise faces and impossibly wizened skin. There are also sea lions but each time we went past they were asleep so they weren’t the most interesting creatures to watch. Perhaps they perk up at feeding time.
Every one will enjoy the 4D cinema. The animated film we saw was in Spanish, but the message about conversation was clear and you really didn’t need to understand the dialogue. The 4D really was excellent. We’ve never been to a 3D film before so didn’t know what to expect, but I don’t want to give the secrets away – just make sure you book a ticket for the cinema, it’s a lot of fun.
Prices and opening hours
Buy the tickets to visit the largest marine park in Europe, where you can travel through the most important marine ecosystems. Belugas, dolphins, sharks and penguins are waiting for you to show you the secrets of the sea.
At the time of visiting (Feb 2019), the adult ticket is €29.70 and the kids from 4 to 12 are €22.30. Up to age 3 is free. Over 65 also get in for the reduced price. We were lucky enough to go during the week, out of season, but we still bought our tickets online in advance. There can be big queues to buy a ticket, so you can waltz straight past those if you already have one.
Opening hours are 10am to 6pm each day except for extended opening until 8pm on Saturdays.
Parking is €6.00 per day in their underground car park. Just get your entry ticket validated at the information desk downstairs to qualify for the reduced price parking. There is also metered on-street parking outside, but you’d need to get there early to get a space.
We LOVED our day out at the Oceanografic. There were sights large and small, huge and tiny, bright and beautiful, that would delight visitors of all ages. It’s very well laid out, has a nice balance between the spectacular and the more modest exhibits, and the aquarium tunnels, especially the sharks and rays and ‘must-see’ for your trip to Valencia.
And just for fun…a quick clip of aquarium cleaning.