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Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Keeping Out the Cold

Welcome to Canada, where the winters never seem to end!

It’s near the end of February, but we may still have a way to go before spring arrives to free us from this bitter cold. Thankfully we Canadians have come up with a few helpful ways to stay warm during this long chilly season: fluffy coats, wool socks, long underwear, lots of warm beverages, you name it!

But what about the fish? How can they possibly tolerate these harsh winters?

They don’t wear coats, they don’t have houses with central heating, they can’t even regulate their own body temperature! Fish are poikilotherms, meaning their internal body temperature is largely dependent on the temperature of their environment. That’s bad news if you’re a fish and your environment is negative 20°C. But don’t fret my fish-loving friends! These scaly animals have come up with some pretty interesting ways to beat back the chill.


Imagine if you could produce a protein that flowed through your blood and kept your heart from turning into a popsicle. Well, fish like the Atlantic cod, the winter flounder, and the sea raven have such a magical molecule! As soon as ice crystals begin to form in their blood, these antifreeze proteins will coat it and prevent it from growing. This handy little adaptation has allowed these fishes to survive their frigid ocean home by preventing their tissues from being damage by frost.



You know how you constantly have to salt your driveway in the winter to melt the ice? Well, fish have also figured out that salt is pretty handy for preventing themselves from freezing! In fact, salt water has a freezing point of about negative 2°C, which is two degrees more than fresh water. Many fish will have very high concentrations of electrolytes (salts), glycerol, and sugars in their body to stay ice-free.

Bottom of the Lake

We talked about chemistry, now let’s do a little physics. Ice is less dense than liquid water, which is most dense at 4°C. So when our lakes freeze over, the ice floats at the top, leaving the liquid water underneath that goes from 0 to 4 degrees the deeper it gets. This allows most fresh water fish to survive simply by staying at the bottom-most part of the lake.

Let’s take the walleye as an example. When the cold weather hits, this big tasty fish goes into a resting state while staying near the muddy or sandy bottom of the lake. Its metabolic activity – all the chemical reactions the happen inside its cells – is reduced, as is its need for food and oxygen. It’s a good thing they don’t need as much oxygen, because there will be a limited supply in the frozen lake, since ice at the top prevents any more of it in the air from dissolving into the water.

So there you have it! Canadian fish are just as amazingly adept at living through the winter as Canadian people, although they complain a heck of a lot less. So next time you think you can’t possibly survive another day in this snow globe of a country, remember the fish: if they can make it, so can you!

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Fin-tastic Fish Families

Families come in many shapes and sizes. While you may think your family has their fair share of problems, in the fish world things are a little different…

Some fish mouth brood.

Mouth brooding means that the fish keep the babies and/or eggs in their mouth until they are ready to swim on their own. The best example of this is the cardinalfish. Cardinalfish, like the pajama cardinalfish above, actually have to live with at least one other cardinalfish or they are too lonely to go on by themselves! When the mother lays eggs, the father fertilizes them and then holds them in his mouth. He removes the bad eggs and turns the healthy ones until they hatch. Once hatched, they then live in his mouth for 10 days! When they are ready, they swim off on their own to be adopted by sea anemones who protect them until the cardinalfish are larger.

The most protective parents are egg guarders.

For egg guarders, it is usually the male that finds or builds the perfect nest to attract a female and then watches the developing eggs until they are ready to swim off on their own. Our aquarium has many examples of nest guarding animals, two of which live in the kelp forest – the kelp greenling and lingcod.

In the fish world, it seems the fathers are more commonly the “stay at home” type.

Wolf eels, pictured above, are one exception. The father and mother live together in a cave. When the time is right, the mother will lay eggs and the father will fertilize them. Both parents take turns holding and turning the eggs with their tail until they hatch.

This next animal is not a fish, but this list would not be completed without mentioning them…

The female octopus dedicates her life to her children. Most species have a short lifespan. The giant Pacific octopus, for example, lives for a maximum of five years! An octopus usually grows really fast, reproduces and then passes away. The mating ritual between octopuses is pretty brutal, usually the father does not survive. The mother will lay thousands of eggs and gently brush them with her arms providing them with oxygen for their survival. During this time, the mother will usually fast. When the young octopuses are born, her final gift to them is her body as a food resource. Now the baby octopuses have their best foot forward for the new world.

The oddest families of all the fish? You may think are seahorses, but you would be wrong…

The oddest fish families are sharks! Here are a few amazing shark family facts.

Hammerhead sharks spend most of their days alone searching for food. However, once a year they have a family reunion! Many hammerheads swim in from their solitary homes to meet their relatives. Their reunion is at a good feeding ground and a great place to meet their mate. These are one of the few schooling sharks, which is one of the theories behind their cephalofoil (hammer-shaped head). Some scientists think the extrasensory organs in their oddly shaped head aids in communicating with other hammerheads of the same species. At the Aquarium, you will find the smallest type of hammerhead, the bonnethead!

If you are not a big fan of your siblings, then maybe you are a shark.

Adelphophagy! No, that was not a typo. Have you ever heard of shark children fighting to the death in-utero? Well adelphophagy is the fancy science word for it. Usually this is a characteristic of larger sharks, such as the great white or shortfin mako shark. However, the sand tiger sharks at our aquarium reproduce the same way. You may think this strategy is odd, and why not have a sibling? They can sometimes be your best friend! Sharks want their children to have the very best chance of survival. If three sharks are born at once, usually only one of those three will survive to adulthood. There are predators that think small sharks are tasty. But, if a shark has three young and one consumes the other two, that one shark has a good chance of survival based on their initial size and full stomach at birth. Talk about sibling rivalry.

Lastly, some female sharks can have children without a partner. They are not adopting their children; instead, they are making semi-copies of themselves. This process is called parthenogenesis. This is fairly rare and scientists only know this has happened because they have tested the genetics of the shark children. One of these parthenogenetic species lives at out aquarium, the whitespotted bamboo shark. If the sharks finds itself in an area without partners, female sharks will double the genetic material present in an existing egg, which can result in a child!

You may think your family is quirky and odd, but you proudly celebrate them anyway. And here at the aquarium we celebrate all of our fin-tastic fish families! Happy Family Day!



Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!


Love is in the Air

It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day is right around the corner! Whether you are looking to meet that special someone or show your partner how much you care, the animals at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada have some tips for you.

#1 Dress to impress.

Flamboyant cuttlefish are experts in this department. Cuttlefish possess special skin cells called chromatophores that allow them to change colour. Waves of colour pulse atop their bodies and are used to mesmerize and entice mates. Cuttlefish are also able to change the texture of their skin, creating tall peaks or deep grooves. If you don’t know what to wear this Valentine’s Day look to the cuttlefish, bright colours and puffy shoulder pads are a sure hit (if you’re trying to attract a cuttlefish that is)!

#2 Don’t beat around the bush.

Lobsters take a less subtle approach during courtship. Female lobsters approach a mate wearing only their undergarments…that is to say they have just molted (shed their shell). During this time, she is vulnerable and must venture into uncharted territory, the man cave! Male lobsters spend much of their time alone in protective rock crevices, the perfect place for a molting female to hide. In order to gain entry, the female releases a special perfume outside the man cave to signal a male. The couple remains together for only 2 weeks, enough time for the females’ shell to harden, at that point she is off and the next molting female is free to call upon the male.

#3 A friendly greeting goes a long way!

Our syngathid couples (sea horses and pipefishes) here at the aquarium can be seen re-affirming their bond each morning using this simple tip. This greeting consists of the couple swimming together and entwining their bodies in a loving embrace. It must work well because these fish form monogamous couples, often staying together for life. Remember this tip, a simple “Good Morning” text message can mean a lot!

#4 Be persistent.

When male horseshoe crabs find a suitable female they grab hold of her to guard her from other males. A male will stay attached to a female for months on end hoping that she will release eggs for him to fertilize. Little does the male know, she will only release her eggs in the same area where she herself was hatched. It could be a long wait.

#5 Show off your skills.

A male mantis shrimp is an expert fisherman. Using a powerful club-like appendage he will strike out and stun unsuspecting fish swimming by. He supplies his mate with food so she can use her energy to produce offspring. Often times the male is solely responsible for providing the food and in the event of his death the female will starve.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!


Drop Us a Line – January Q&A

You ask, we answer! Welcome to Deep Sea Diary’s monthly Q&A – a great way to connect with Aquarium experts as you fish for more information about all things Ripley’s.


Sarah asked…

Q. I have heard that some sharks have a nictitating membrane. What exactly is this, and what is it used for?

A. While we have eyelids and eyelashes to protect our eyes from debris and injury, sharks lack these protective measures. Instead, some species of sharks have what is called a nictitating membrane. This thin, tough membrane, or inner eyelid, covers the eye to protect it from damage, especially prior to feeding event where the prey may inflict damage while defending itself. Not all sharks have a nictitating membrane. Sharks, like the great white shark and whale shark, lack a nictitating member and instead roll their pupils back in their heads for protection when feeding.

Peter asked…

Q. How can you tell a male from a female shark?

A. Male sharks have paired, external reproductive organs called claspers, located on the underside of the shark. These claspers are actually modifications of the pelvic fins that function to deposit sperm into the female via grooves that lie in the upper side of the claspers. Females do not have claspers. Claspers are found on all male elasmobranchs (sharks, rays and sawfish).

Next time you’re in the Dangerous Lagoon Tunnel, be sure to look around and see if you can pick out the males from the females.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Feeding the Sharks of the Dangerous Lagoon


“How do you take care of the sharks?” is one of the most common questions we get at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

Doing your part to take care of sharks in the wild is an easy thing to do – simply avoid things like shark fin soup, products with shark liver oil (also known as squaline) and support sustainable fisheries.

Taking care of sharks in human care however, is another story.

The sharks that call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home are ambassadors for the wild populations that are currently facing human threats, leaving many species on the endangered list.

At the Aquarium, we work hard to keep our sharks happy and healthy. One of the biggest tasks is feeding, of course!

Many people are surprised to hear that sharks generally have a slow metabolism and that we only need to offer food 3 times a week (Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays) to meet their dietary requirements. On average, we aim to deliver about 2% of their body weight per feed. The sharks are fed a variety of restaurant grade seafood such as bonito, herring and squid, along with a specialized shark vitamin.


At feeding time, it takes a minimum of nine staff members to ensure that the sharks, and the other inhabitants in the Dangerous Lagoons, are all well fed.

We have two “broadcast” stations at the surface where the fish are fed a variety of chopped seafood that is scattered in the water. The mix of food usually consists of clam, capelin, krill and marine pellets. This broadcast feed helps to keep them away from the area where the sharks are being fed.

To ensure the “shy” bottom feeder fish are also taken care of, a staff member is responsible for filling a tube system (located behind the scenes) that shoots the food under the water.

During this time, the two green sea turtles are brought into the back acclimation pool to not only keep them away from the sharks, but for a training session and enrichment. Training and enrichment for our green sea turtles is a very important job because it allows us to closely monitor their health on a regular basis. A typical lunch for the turtles consists of romaine lettuce, carrots, sweet potato, green peppers, brussel sprouts and capelin, a small fish. We make sure the sea turtles also get their vitamins, usually hidden in a piece of fish.

Back out in the Lagoon, we have 3 feeding “stations” designated for each species of shark (sand tiger, sandbar and nurse), sawfish and rays.

Each animal has been conditioned (or has learned) to feed at those areas with the use of a coloured target that we put in the water to let them know it is feeding time. As they swim by the station, each individual is offered their lunch at the end of a long feeding pole. Feeding staff are trained to recognize the individuals by their unique notches in their fin and spots on their back. One staff member is responsible for keeping track of how much food each individual is consuming. It takes approximately 30 minutes before the sharks are full and stop coming to their feeding station, which is when we know they are happily fed.

If you are interested in seeing all of this in action, feel free to swim by on a feeding day (times can be found here)! We also have a staff member in the heart of the action in the Dangerous Lagoon tunnel to answer any questions and explain how we tackle this big job of feeding the sharks.

We hope that after your experience with these beautiful creatures, you not only gain a higher appreciation for them, but also become more inspired to protect and educate others about their importance in the wild.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Email us at for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

They Found What in 2017?

A lot happened this past year so we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the most interesting biological discoveries of 2017.

The World’s First Glow-In-The-Dark Frog

The frog, Hypsiboas punctatus, is commonly found in South America, is pale green in colour, covered in red spots, and can glow when exposed to UV light!?! A team of scientists went looking for these amphibians in the forests of Argentina and made this luminous discovery by accident. Hoping to research a biochemical reaction in these amphibians, they instead discovered the frogs emitted a bright cyan fluorescence. Fluorescence is a trait commonly seen in fish, turtles, and birds and, for the first time, has been discovered in an amphibian! They propose the fluorescence is used as a means of communicating between individuals. So I guess there’s no need for a night light with these creatures around!

Rock n’ Roll Shrimp

You may need earplugs when hanging around these nifty crustaceans! A newly described pistol shrimp was found in the eastern Pacific Ocean living among rocky crevices. Pistol shrimp are characterized by their mismatched claws, the larger of which is able to produce a loud ‘snap’ when closed. The noise emitted from their claw is so loud, it has been found to stun, and even kill, smaller sized fish. Just to compare, a concert is around 110-140 decibels, whereas the pistol shrimp can create a noise around 210 decibels! The team of scientists who discovered this little noise-maker named the shrimp Synalpheus pinkfloydi. Hmmm…I wonder what their favourite band is??

Zuul – Destroyer of Shins!

A group of scientists in Toronto have identified a new dinosaur with ties to Ghostbusters (1984)! But you won’t see Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd trying to capture this demon, since it lived about 75 million years ago! This newly discovered fossil was uncovered in northern Montana and, because of its uncanny resemblance to the four-legged demon in Ghostbusters, the scientists decided to name it Zuul. Zuul is a type of ankylosaurid, a group of herbivorous dinosaurs characterized by their stocky, armoured appearance. Estimated to be about 20 feet long and with a series of large horns protruding from its head, Zuul is definitely not the prettiest dinosaur. But watch your shins because that clubbed tail can do some damage!

Can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for science!

Image Sources: Frog 1 / Frog 2 / Frog 3 / Pistol Shrimp / Animated Zuul / Zuul Skull / Zuul


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Deep Sea Diary’s 2017 in Review

Happy New Year! Today on Deep Sea Diary, we review the blog’s “troutstanding” year.



Deep Sea Diary launched in June, with a celebration of World Ocean’s Day. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada cleaned the shores of Lake Ontario, and discussed the effects of plastic pollution on aquatic ecosytems, specifically their impact on the Great Lakes. Our Senior Aquarist, Kat, also discussed what and how we feed some of the animals that call the Aquarium home. We rounded out the month by introducing our new monthly Q&A feature called Drop Us a Line, where we ask Deep Sea Diary readers to submit their burning Aquarium questions to potentially be featured the last Thursday of each month.

ripley's aquarium shoreline cleanup



Each June, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada takes part in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, helping clean the Lake Ontario shoreline at the mouth of the Humber River. In this post, we shared the results from our cleanup. How we take care of the sharks is one of the most common questions we receive from guests. So, you asked and we answered! One of our Aquarists, Carmen, explained exactly how we feed the animals in the Dangerous Lagoon, our largest tank in the Aquarium. A lot goes into maintaining the tanks and making sure the fish are happy and healthy here at the Aquarium. Aquarist Kevin discussed a day in the life of an Aquarium scuba diver.



August was Water Quality Awareness month, and since we take water quality seriously around here Aquarist Dave shared how we maintain the quality of the water at the Aquarium. Educator Katelyn gave us a peak at life in the harsh environment of the intertidal zone, Photo Port shared their best tips for hooking the perfect photograph at the aquarium and we dove into the Dangerous Lagoon with our Discovery Dive program.



In September, we went back to school and learned all about the importance and purpose of schooling behaviour and how we care for the jellies that call the Aquarium home. Finally, we dove into what is means to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and why it is such an honour for Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada to be a part of this community.


In the fall, we celebrate Coastal Cleanup Day with a shoreline cleanup along Lake Ontario and the Humber Marshes. We then turned our attention to the water, where we celebrated the endangered sawfish on International Sawfish Day.



In November, we celebrated World Jellyfish Day with an interview with Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s very own “Jelly Man”, Aquarist Eric. We discussed how you can do your part to keep our oceans happy and healthy and how we play our part maintaining the water in the Aquarium. For Share Your Unique Talent Day at the end of the month, we hosted “Ripley’s Got Talent” where a handful of our animals competed for the coveted title of “Ripley’s Most Talented Animal”.



We rounded out the year with an alien invasion, talking about the beautiful, but invasive, lionfish. To get in the holiday spirit, we shared Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Gift Guide and how you can do your part to help the environment by going green during the holiday season.


What would you like to see on Deep Sea Diary in 2018? Comment below, we’d love to hear!

Drop Us a Line – December Q&A

You ask, we answer! Welcome to Deep Sea Diary’s monthly Q&A – a great way to connect with Aquarium experts as you fish for more information about all things Ripley’s.


Sarah asked…

Q. With the holiday season upon us, I assume it is pretty busy at the Aquarium. What is the best time to visit?

A. The Aquarium is open daily from 9:00am to 11:00pm. Our holiday peak hours are 11:00am to 4:00pm. We recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance to avoid any lineups.

When you swim by, be sure to check out one of our daily Dive Shows – running 11:15am, 1:15pm, 3:15pm and 5:15pm at Ray Bay and 7:15pm at Rainbow Reef!

Jon asked…

Q: What interactive shows or talks are available for guests over the holidays? Are these included in the ticket price?

A: Beside the above mentioned daily dive shows, the Aquarium also has daily scheduled Aquarist talks. Animals and times vary by day (and are subject to change), so be sure to check out our Discovery Center digital screen when you visit to see where and when they are being held.

The Dangerous Lagoon shark feed takes place on Tuesdays and Thurdays at 1pm and can be viewed from above water at the Dangerous Lagoon overlook or below water in the Dangerou Lagoon tunnel. Tip: Best viewing area is near the entrance to the tunnel. To learn more about what takes place during the shark feed, check out this post.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Green Your Holidays

While many people wish for a white Christmas, here at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, we encourage you to keep it GREEN!

Between the wrapping, the decorating, the traveling and the eating, the holiday season can take quite a toll on the environment.

Here are 10 tips for keeping Mother Nature in mind this holiday season:

  1. Look for locally made gifts.
  2. Serve locally sourced food.
  3. Use LED Christmas lights.
  4. Set lights on a timer to go off during the day.
  5. Choose a live, fresh cut or potted tree.
  6. Make natural decorations.
  7. Reuse gift wrap.
  8. Carpool to family gatherings.
  9. Use reusable serving ware, dishware and cutlery.
  10. Recycle your real Christmas tree after the holidays.

Swimming by the Aquarium this holiday season? Be sure to check out our Recycled Tree – decorated with ornaments made from recycled Aquarium tickets, maps and brochures!

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!

Alien Invasion: Lionfish

Lionfish. These red and white striped beauties are dazzling with their bright colours and “lion’s mane”.

But while their appearance may lure you in, make sure you don’t come too close! These fish have 18 long, venomous spines that are used for defence against predators. In fact, they have been known to cause extreme pain for humans, leading to headaches, vomiting and paralysis. Ouch!

Lionfish originate from the Indo-Pacific Ocean, where their predators include many species of large fish and sharks. In the 1980’s, this popular aquarium fish was introduced to the Western Atlantic and Caribbean, where they have quickly become an extremely destructive invasive species.

With no natural predators in these parts of the world, their population has rapidly expanded, destroying marine sanctuaries as it grows. As an invasive species, prey do not recognize lionfish as predators, making it easy for these predators to consume any fish or invertebrate in their path. They easily feast on many vital members of the food chain, causing entire underwater ecosystems to collapse!

And if you think one lionfish sounds dangerous, a single female can lay 50,000 eggs, every 3 days, for up to 30 years!

So what is Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada doing to combat this alien invasion?

For the last few years, the Aquarium has volunteered in the Lionfish Invitational at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas. The Invitational sends dive teams down into the marine sanctuary to remove as many invasive lionfish as possible using a spear fishing technique. While spear fishing is regularly illegal in the sanctuary, special permits are issued for the research team to capture lionfish.

The lionfish caught are tallied, measured, bagged and tagged with labels noting location and time before heading to the lab. The results are then analyzed to determine gut contents, genetics and age.

The work completed at the Lionfish Invitational helps to combat this incredibly successful invasive species while furthering a scientific understanding of the effects on native fish communities and habitats.

Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Comment below for the chance for your question to be featured in our monthly Q&A post!