While in Barcelona, we went down to Port Vell, which until not too long ago was a run-down area of empty warehouses & factories but was given an overhaul for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. We avoided the shopping centre, IMAX cinema & blistering heat and headed for the Aquàrium de Barcelona (well, you know how I feel about aquariums, right?). 1.5 million gallons of sea water, 8,000 fish and 21 tanks displaying the various marine life of the Mediterranean. I was a happy little fox!
The tanks were arranged in ways that were really interesting & informative. You got a close look at life in shallow coastal waters, underwater caves, coral reefs & atolls (to name a few!). I could have spent all day staring at the shoals of grouper & bream. It was also fascinating to watch moray eels & sea anemones going about their business. And it was quite sweet to see lots of children clustered around the tropical tanks looking for Nemo & Dory (and yes, I was looking for them too!)
And there were Rays, yay! Rays are actually closely related to sharks, though you wouldn't think it to look at them. They have no bones, their skeletons being made of cartilage. Having no ribcage means that if a large one ever got out of water the weight of their own bodies would crush their internal organs before they could suffocate. Ouch. But it does give them the ability to move efficiently & beautifully through water. Rays mostly eat crustaceans, snails & small fish, the manta ray prefers plankton.
The most spectacular feature of the aquarium is the tunnel - an 80 meter long glass tunnel that curves across the bottom of the Oceanarium, giving you the sensation of walking along the sea bed (but without the stressing over oxygen supplies or being gnawed at by one of the Sand Tiger sharks). The first half of the tunnel curves along one edge of the Oceanarium, so isn't too unsettling. The way the light plays on the wall opposite was too lovely to ignore too.
The second half of the glass tunnel is breathtaking, taking you right underneath the Oceanarium (and the 1.5 million gallons of sea water. Did I mention that?). There is also a moving walkway in the tunnel, so you can drift along with the fish. I found it a little too disorientating, so stayed on solid ground (less likely to fall over when a shark swims overhead that way). It was an unforgettable experience, and deeply soothing, while being utterly terrifying.
Of all the creatures that we encountered, I fell in love with this one - Mola mola, the Ocean Sunfish (though the Spanish name translates as Moonfish, as sailors used to mistake them for the reflection of the moon on the water. Their shimmery silver colour makes me think Moonfish is a much better name for them) probably the weirdest creature I will ever see. Mola is Latin for Millstone, describing its rough textured skin & rounded body (yes, that is a body, it's not just a floating head with fins - the German name for it is Schwimmender Kopf - swimming head). They can grow up to 3 meters in length, and can swim surprisingly fast. They are docile & friendly, and this one followed me all the way around the the Oceanarium, occasionally bumping into the glass (clearly we are kindred spirits). I felt very privileged to spend time with it, there are very few Sunfish in captivity (the only other examples being in Japan & Portugal).
So if you find yourself in Barcelona, go visit the aquarium, you won't be disappointed!