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Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

Celebrating Coastal Cleanup Day

In September, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Blue Team and over 50 members of the local community joined forces to celebrate Coastal Cleanup Day, cleaning Lake Ontario’s shoreline at the Humber Marshes.

Every year thousands of tons of garbage enter our oceans, harming wildlife, humans, and impacting the livelihood of those who work on the ocean.

Even though Toronto is located thousands of miles from the nearest ocean, the problem begins with us. Rivers, lakes, streams, storm drains and beaches are all connected, so litter at your shoreline can be transported far away from where it began.

Regardless of the origin, litter in the environment can have devastating consequences for wildlife. Animals mistake litter for food or become entangled in single-use plastic bags, rope and string. Litter can transport invasive species, or introduce dangerous toxins into an ecosystem. Plastic litter can break down into smaller pieces that are impossible to pick up and never truly disappear.

Over the course of the two-hour September cleanup, Aquarium staff and community members collected over 52 kg (113 lbs) of waste and recycling! The worst offenders? Cigarette butts, plastic bottle caps and small pieces of foam (less than 2.5 cm in diameter).

So, what do we do with that 52 kg of waste collected?

Waste collected during a Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada shoreline cleanup goes in one of three streams – trash, recycling and cigarette butts. The trash and recycling are collected by the City of Toronto, whereas the cigarette butts are sent to a recycling program called TerraCycle. Once collected in this program, the butts and packaging are separated by composition and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled industrial products, such as plastic pallets. The ash and tobacco are separated out and composted in a specialized process.

Coastal Cleanup Day was established by the Ocean Conservancy, an organization that work to help protect the ocean from the challenges it faces every year. The important day encourages us to get out to our beaches and help to limit this problem by cleaning up the garbage that has washed up on shore, and that left by visitors every day.

Twice a year, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada participates in a shoreline cleanup to help clean Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Humber River. This area, known as the Humber Marshes, is one of the few remaining river mouth marshes in Toronto. As part of Toronto’s largest watershed, the extensive marshes provide an important breeding habitat for ducks, turtles and fish, and are a significant corridor for migratory song birds and monarch butterflies. More than 60 species of fish live in the river including such sport fish as trout, pike and salmon.

A BIG ‘tank’ you to everyone that participated! Interested in participating in our next Shoreline cleanup in spring 2018? Subscribe to the Aquarium newsletter (located at the bottom of our website, here) for more information.

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!


Drop Us a Line – September 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.


Anna asked,

Q: How many types of fishes call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home?

A: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is home to over 16,000 fish and invertebrates, as well as two green sea turtles. Nine galleries showcase a cross section of saltwater and freshwater environments from around the world – starting with species from Toronto’s backyard, the Great Lakes basin. The Dangerous Lagoon is our largest exhibit with 2.9 million liters of salt water, and Rainbow Reef is the most diverse, with over 100 different types of tropical fish.

Learn how we take care of the animals in our largest exhibit, the Dangerous Lagoon, here.

Patricia asked,

Q: What is the most common place that is photographed at the Aquarium?

A: One of the most iconic and photographed places inside Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is Planet Jellies, specifically the wall of sea nettles. The giant floor to ceiling kriesel stops everyone in their tracks, and is the perfect location for a selfie or silhouette photo against the stunning blues, purples and pinks.

We want to see your Aquarium photos! When sharing your photos of Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, be sure to tag us @RipleysAquaCA and use our hashtag, #RipleysAquaCA.

Learn more about how to capture the perfect photo at the Aquarium here.


Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada? Drop us a line in the comments below for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A !

What is AZA?

Conserve. Educate. Inspire.

At Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, our mission is to provide a world class experience that will foster education, conservation and research, while providing fun and entertainment for all ages.

One way that we do this is by maintaining accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

AZA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. AZA has been the primary accrediting body for zoos and aquariums for over 40 years, and represents more than 230 institutions in the United States, Canada and internationally.

These accredited institutions meet the highest standards in animal care and provide a fun, safe, and educational family experience. Collectively drawing more than 180 million visitors every year and dedicating millions of dollars to support scientific research, conservation and education programs, accredited zoos and aquariums play an important role in connecting their visitors to the natural world.

Simply put, AZA accreditation is considered to be the “best” accreditation a zoo or aquarium can hold, due to the incredibly high standards and stringent requirements.

In September 2015, less than two years after opening, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada was granted accreditation by AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission.

To achieve accreditation, the Aquarium underwent a thorough review to ensure it has and will continue to meet rising standards, which include animal care, veterinary programs, conservation, education, and safety. In addition to a very lengthy written application, the Aquarium also took part in an intense multiple-day on-site inspection, which involved outside leaders in the zoo and aquarium industry observing all aspects of the institution’s operation. Over the course of three days, the inspectors observed the Aquarium’s animal care, safety for visitors, staff and animals, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability, risk management, visitor services, and more.  The accreditation process then concluded with an in-person hearing in front of the Accreditation Commission, at which time accreditation was presented.

Accreditation doesn’t stop there. AZA member institutions are required to repeat the entire accreditation process every five years to ensure that they are upholding the continuously evolving standards, incorporating best modern zoological practices in animal welfare and management, and embracing modern AZA philosophies.


So what does this mean for Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada?

Accreditation certifies that Ripley’s meets all mandatory and professional standards for animal welfare, management, veterinary care, behavioural enrichment, nutrition, staff training and beyond. This recognition ensure that the animals you visit receive excellent care every day.

“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredits only those zoos and aquariums that meet the highest standards and are proven leaders in the care and conservation of wildlife as well as education,” said former AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. “The community can take great pride in knowing that Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of conservationists.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and their member institutions are leaders in saving species, and your link to helping animals all over the world. So, the next time you visit a zoo or aquarium look for the AZA accreditation logo as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is extremely proud to hold this accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums! You can find Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s accreditation plaque proudly displayed at Guest Services. Visit us today to experience one of our dive shows and aquarist talks, and to learn more about our conservation programs and animal welfare practices.


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

Jellyfish 101

What is a jellyfish, and how do you take care of them?! A question on every visitor’s mind.

Being neither fish nor delicious fruit preserve, the name “jellyfish” is a bit of a misnomer.  Typically referred to as sea jellies, or just “jellies”, these animals belong to a larger collection of animals referred to as Cnidaria, and are more closely related to sea anemones and corals than they are to actual fish. They evolved over 580 million years ago when their ancestors laid claim to the planktonic, venomous marine predator niche of the food chain. And they’ve held onto it firmly ever since.

That being said, jellies are little more than a set of floating stomachs with stinging arms, a simple network of nerves and a reproductive system – so how much work can really go into their care? Let’s find out!

First, you just need to simulate the vast and fathomless open ocean in a relatively small space. How hard could it be?!

In order to recreate a jelly’s natural environment, we have to build a tank that ensures they aren’t exposed to powerful currents, walls, corners, edges, holes, any solid objects whatsoever, excreted waste, old food, microscopic organisms, other jellies – you get the idea. Sea jellies’ health will rapidly deteriorate if they have prolonged contact with anything solid. So, in terms of build, most jellyfish tanks are rounded and have painstakingly balanced water flow to keep jellies suspended off of the walls and floor. Similar to the ceiling moon jelly tank (pictured below) in our Planet Jellies gallery.


Second, you need to provide a constant, even supply of a variety of foods all day, every day.

Jellies are opportunistic carnivores. In the wild, this means they are continually pulling food out of the water. At the Aquarium, this means that we have to provide a near-constant supply of things for them to catch, a feat managed by our behind-the-scenes “live food” cultures and specially blended “shakes” made up of frozen krill, fish eggs, and other goodies. Delicious!

Each day, one aquarist is responsible for preparing the population of freshly hatched brine shrimp that will be fed out, via a low drip, to all of our tanks. Just as much work goes into keeping up our live foods as it does to care for any of our exhibit tanks; they have to be fed, their tanks have to be cleaned, and their health needs to be closely monitored to ensure our animals are getting the highest quality food possible.

Third, you need… well, jellyfish.

Jellies reproduce by broadcast spawning, which means the males and females release sperm and eggs into the water. These gametes meet up and create a small grain-like “planula” that will find a nice place to settle down into a polyp, which resembles a small sea anemone. These polyps will break off into several flower-like ephyrae, which eventually transform into medusae – the final life stage that most people recognize as “jellyfish”.

Perforated plates or mesh left in tanks containing adult jellies are ideal settling grounds for polyps, so our cultures behind the scenes and on-exhibit are always growing and changing! (When touring the Aquarium, be sure to check out the life cycle display in Planet Jellies.)

Finally, all that’s left is keeping up with the cnidarians.

Day to day maintenance of our jelly tanks is an involved and convoluted dance, since any interaction between cleaning equipment and jelly could result in injury. At the same time, our jellies also need their tanks to be kept clear of algae and other microscopic organisms that could damage them. To help combat this, once every few months each exhibit will have its inhabitants moved out to a holding tank overnight, and a diver will either enter the tank to scrub down all the surfaces, or the tank will be bleached, emptied, and refilled with fresh salt water.

Though it can be a bit disorienting with the ever-changing lights on our jellyfish exhibits, pay attention the next time you swim by and you might be able to see how the water flows around our tanks, spot some speck-sized brine shrimp zooming around, or even see some brand new baby ephyrae!


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

Back to School

It’s September!  This means that it’s time for everybody’s favourite time of the year – back to school!

Okay, so, maybe not everybody loves back-to-school time.  But for a lot of our fish, their “school” is the happiest and safest part of their lives.

A school of fish is most accurately defined as: a group of fish that swim together in the same direction. Fish that group for social purposes are technically shoaling, and groups of fish often switch back and forth between both.

For something that appears so simple, it’s actually an incredibly complex behaviour. Scientists don’t fully understand the ins and outs of it yet, but the fact that it’s so common means it must be advantageous.  Schooling can increase feeding efficiency, make it easier to find a mate, and let the group as a whole navigate better than an individual.  Some scientists believe that traveling in a school may reduce drag or resistance, similar to a flock of birds.  It’s also quite an effective predator-avoidance technique – safety in numbers, right?  Schooling behaviour can confuse hunters, and lower individual risk of predation.

One of the flashiest exhibits at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is the alewife exhibit, located at the entrance to the Canadian Waters gallery.

In-house, it’s referred to simply as “Schooling”, and it’s easy to see why.  This is a monospecific exhibit, meaning it has only one kind of animal.  Alewives are anadromous, which means that in the wild, they are born in freshwater and live most of their lives in the ocean (sort of like salmon).  They’re close cousins of herring, and there’s some evidence that they communicate with farts!  But the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a huge group of animals, all swimming together.  How many fish do you think there are in there?  Go on, take a guess.

Some fish, like alewives, are what we call obligate shoalers. This means that they spend their entire lives in a group.  With obligate shoalers, being alone or in a too-small group can cause a measurable stress response.  That’s part of the reason why we have such a large school here at the Aquarium – they won’t be happy or healthy otherwise.  If you’re looking at the alewife exhibit, watch out for any that get separated from the main group.  They zoom back in in quite a hurry!  You’ll be able to see the school swimming together against the current in the exhibit, and moving up and down in the water.  If you’re lucky, you might get to see a feeding, when they’ll all rocket to the surface together.  These fish usually have a very fast response time during feeds.  Many eyes mean someone is likely to spot the food as soon as it goes in.

While the alewives are certainly an obvious example, make sure to look for schooling and shoaling behaviour in the other exhibits as well!

Our Swarm: Nature by Numbers exhibit has more information about group behaviours in animals, and lots of other examples of animals that swarm, shoal, and school together. Make sure to check it out!

Oh, and to answer the question above? We have almost 7000 individuals in our alewife school!


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

Drop Us a Line – August Q&A


Deep Sea Diary 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.


Paige asked…

Q. What is the most invasive species at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada?

A. The lionfish, a popular fish in tropical home aquariums, is a flourishing invasive species in the US Southeast and Caribbean coastal waters.  Native to the Indo-Pacific, it is believed that they were likely released into the Atlantic Ocean and/or Gulf of Mexico on purpose when people no longer wanted them in their home aquariums.

This invasive venomous species has the potential to harm reef ecosystems because it is a top predator that competes for food and space.  In the US, the lionfish population is continuing to grow and increase its range. Juveniles have been collected in waters as far north as Long Island, New York. This expansion in range is largely due to the fact that lionfish have no known predators and reproduce all year long. A mature female releases roughly two million eggs a year!

Be sure to check out the lionfish that call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home, located in the Gallery!

Jackie asked…

Q. How do jellyfish eat? Do they have a mouth?

A. Jellyfish eat by catching prey with their oral arms (the ones that hang down from the center of the body) or their tentacles (found along the margins of the body). These oral arms and tentacles  are covered in specialized stinging cells, called nematocysts. These nematocysts function like a spring-loaded venomous harpoons, piercing pierce anything that brush up against them.

Prey caught in the central oral arms will be moved up canals in the arm to the mouth (which is an opening into the body at the point where all the arms meet in the middle) and then into the inner gastric pouch, where it is digested. If the prey is caught by the marginal tentacles, it is moved to canals in the body that then transport it to the center.

Jellyfish are passive hunters, which means they collect food as they move through the water. They feed on a steady diet of plankton and even other jellyfish.

Stay “tuna-d” for an upcoming Deep Sea Diary post on how we take care of the jellyfish at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada!

Christy asked…

Q. How large can an octopus grow at the Aquarium?

A. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is home to a giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini). This species of octopus is the largest of 300+ known octopus species. There is a huge variation in size that depends on the individual, but the average for this species is considered around 15-18kg (33-40lb), with an arm span around 4m(12-14ft) when stretched out. Of course, we can’t talk about size without mentioning the world record – OVER 130kg (300lb) and 9m (30ft) wide! There has also been the occasional “fisherman’s tale” of even larger individuals, but the proof isn’t quite there yet.

The giant Pacific octopus can live to be about four years old, with both males and females dying soon after breeding. Females live long enough to tend to their eggs, but they do not eat during this months-long brooding period, and usually die soon afterwards.

Check out our giant pacific octopus, located in the Canadian Waters gallery!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada? Drop us a line in the comments below for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A !


Diving with Sharks at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada



Have you ever wondered what it would be like to scuba dive with sharks?

How about doing it without hopping on a plane, or leaving the comfort of Toronto?

Now you can, thanks to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Discovery Dive program!

Like many avid scuba divers, diving with sharks was always on the top of my bucket list. For over three years, I watched my Ripley’s Aquarium colleagues dive in Dangerous Lagoon to perform routine maintenance and cleaning, and had always wondered what it felt like to come face-to-face with the ocean’s top predator.

So, when Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada launched the Discovery Dive program in Fall 2016, I dove at the opportunity to find out for myself.

Led by experienced Education and Husbandry/Animal Care staff, this two-hour experience begins with a behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium. If you’ve ever wondered how an Aquarium maintains the tanks, tests water quality, where the food is prepped and even how they move large animals to and fro, this behind the scenes tour will answer all of your questions and more.

After the tour, you’ll don your wetsuit, do a safety briefing and equipment check, and then, it’s dive time!

The 30-minute guided dive takes place in the Dangerous Lagoon, a 2.9 million litre tank that gives you the chance to see the Aquarium’s green sea turtles, green sawfish, stingrays, moray eels and numerous of species of tropical fish. And you can’t forget about the stars of the show, the sharks. The Dangerous Lagoon is home to over a dozen sharks, representing three species – sand tiger, sand bar and nurse. Some even measure up to 13 feet long! Talk about feeling like a small fish.

Some people may call me crazy, but there’s no need to worry about the sharks on this dive (or even in the wild for that matter), they’re just looking to go about their own business. The trained Divers that are guiding you through the water work with these animals every day. They know exactly what behaviours to look for, how to tell the sharks to move along and are very good at communicating with the guests about when to stop, when to keep your eyes open and most importantly, when to relax and enjoy the scenery.


So what exactly did it feel like to come face-to-face with the ocean’s top predator?

Just like I had always imagined, absolutely exhilarating. Being under the water, surrounded by fish, is such a calming experience. That’s right, calming. And despite the busy summer crowds staring at me from the other side of the tank, this underwater adventure was something I will be talking about for a long time.

Learn more about the Discovery Dive requirements, availability, cost and more on our website.

And if diving with the sharks isn’t for you, or you’d just like to keep your head above water, check out the Stingray Experience – your chance to get up close and personal with the cownose and southern stingrays in another feature tank, Ray Bay.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is proud to donate 10% of proceeds from the Discovery Dive program to the Shark Research Institute to support their work in shark conservation. Visit their website to learn more about their work.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Drop us a line in the comments below before August 31, 2017 for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A post and win 2 tickets to the Aquarium!

Hook the Perfect Shot: Aquarium Photography Tips




Photography at an Aquarium is not an easy feat. However, with a few simple tips, even the beginner can hook the perfect shot!

Aquariums are beautiful, mesmerizing places, full of colour and unique animals. How can you not want to photograph it all?

Whether you have a DSLR or a smart phone, aquariums also present many obstacles to photographers, including low light, reflections, fast moving subjects, crowds of people and restrictions on the use of flash and tripod.

But have no fear, there are ways around all of these challenges! Today, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada’s Photo Port staff member, Andrew, helps navigate the challenges to hooking the perfect shot at the Aquarium.


Challenge: Low light

Solution: The biggest issue when shooting underwater is lighting, as light does not travel well in water.  In addition, the water acts like a blue filter and absorbs the reds and greens.

If you are shooting in automatic, on most occasions, the camera can accurately decide what is best for the given situation. However, it will sometimes struggle in low light situations. If this is the case, manual mode may be best.

When shooting in manual mode on your DSLR, remember the higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light your camera is, and the grainier your photo is. You want to keep as low an ISO as your lens will allow for. Aim for an ISO of 100 to 400.

If you use an editing software, colour, brightness and contrast can also be adjusted post-visit.

Andrew’s tip: If shooting in manual mode on your DSLR, set your white balance to the “shade” setting. This will warm up your photos slightly and get rid of the bluish tinge associated with shooting underwater.


Challenge: Reflections and distortion

Solution: One of the biggest challenges to aquarium photography is dealing with the external reflections. The aquarium is lit so that you can view the fish and find your way around, which can cause issues because the light reflects off of everything, including walls, signs, yourself and other visitors. First step would be to block the reflection by wearing darker clothing the day of and position yourself (or timing a visitor) in front of the reflection.

If that does not work, try using a rubber lens hood and keep the front of it in direct contact with the glass. (Make sure the lens hood is made of rubber, so it does not scratch the tank.)

Due to the sizes and shapes of the exhibits, distortion is also an issue. Don’t aim your camera in a downward direction. For best results try to take the photograph at an angle that is perpendicular to the glass and the subject.

Andrew’s tip: Try a different perspective by taking up close, macro photos of the fish! For example, if you want to take a nice macro photo of a clown fish, use the AP (aperture priority) setting on your DSLR camera to give yourself a wide aperture so that only the fish is in focus while everything else is out of focus.

Challenge: Fast moving subjects

Solution: Despite how much you try, there is no telling a fish what to do. So instead, use their movements to your advantage.

First off, don’t chase the fish. To achieve your desired shot, first, stand back and observe the fish’s behavior patterns in order to predict where they may move throughout the tank. Set up and be ready for them when they swim into the frame.  Be patient, you will have to spend some time and take many shots to insure success, but it can be done.

When shooting a fast moving subject, a fast lens comes in handy. The speed is indicated by the f stop number. Andrew recommends a simple f/1.8 50mm lens. This lens is good for getting those highly detailed close ups of all of your favorite sea creatures, and can take some exciting family photos too! A 50mm lens does not allow for zoom. Instead, allow your feet to be the zoom.

Andrew’s tip: When photographing a fast moving subject, such as the stingrays in Ray Bay, switch your camera to the TV (shutter priority) setting on your DSLR camera to give yourself a high enough setting so you can capture the moment without blurring it!


Challenge: Crowds of people

Solution: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada posts peak visit times on the website. To avoid crowds and capture the best shot, visit outside of these times.

Challenge: Restrictions on the use of flash and tripod

Solution: Policies such as these restrictions are put in place for a reason. A lot of animals are sensitive to light. At Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, specific tanks are marked with a “no flash photography” sign. For example, the giant pacific octopus. When touring the Aquarium, be sure you are aware of this signage.

As a general rule of thumb, turn off your flash for all photos. If taking a photo in front of a tank with flash, the light will typically bounce off the tank and create a reflecting in the photo.

Tripods are not allowed for the safety of Aquarium guests.

Please note, for the safety of the animals, the Aquarium does not allow underwater cameras.


One of the great things about digital photography is that there is much room for error. You can take as many photos as you would like, or as your storage card allows. And if you don’t like a photo, you simply delete.

And don’t forget to photograph more than just fish! All those people that are in the way blocking your view of the tank, can make for excellent subjects themselves. Don’t overlook the architecture of the aquarium itself, most of these are works of art in themselves.

Interested in learning more about photographing the fish at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada? Check out our Photography Classes here.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Drop us a line in the comments below before August 31, 2017 for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A post and win 2 tickets to the Aquarium!

Life in Between the Tide


When thinking of extreme environments in the ocean you may picture the dead sea or hydrothermal vents.

It may be hard to imagine, but the shoreline created by tides is actually one of the most challenging places for an animal to live. In this week’s Deep Sea Diary post, we will delve into the amazing area of the ocean known as the intertidal zone, and discuss some of the aquatic animals that call this area home.

The intertidal zone is the area of the shore water reaches during high tides, but during low tide it is left exposed.

Canada is home to the largest tidal flux in the world – the east coast is home to the Bay of Fundy, which experiences tidal cycles with highs of over 16 meters (52 feet), about the height of a five-story building! These tidal cycles create a complex and dynamic environment with large fluctuations in many environmental factors. At high tide, the environmental conditions are relatively stable and constant as animals are covered by seawater. At low tide, however, the area becomes more of a terrestrial habitat and animals experience large fluctuations in temperature, salinity and oxygen level. Plus, during low tide, these species are exposed to predators and the threat of drying conditions!

Let’s explore some of the animals commonly found in the intertidal zone on our Canadian coasts, and how they survive in this extreme environment.

Limpets are small marine snails that inhabit the area known as the spray zone.

This area is mostly terrestrial and only becomes covered with seawater at very high tides. The spray zone, however, is frequently exposed to splashing waves and wind-blown spray. Limpets use a muscular foot to attach themselves to rocks so they don’t get knocked around and they have a strong shell to protect their body from the constant wave shock. They can even raise and lower their shell to help them control the temperature of their body. Limpets use their strong teeth to scrap algae off of rocks. This doesn’t sound very interesting until you learn that limpet teeth are the strongest natural material currently on record, six times stronger than spider silk!

In the high intertidal zone you will find an abundance of crustaceans.

Not the crustaceans you may commonly think of, like lobster and crab. Instead, barnacles (yes, they’re crustaceans too!) inhabit this area.  Larval barnacles get batted around the intertidal zone until they find a suitable place to call home. They glue themselves to that location and stay there forever, constructing a hard shell around their body. The shell not only protects them from predators, it also allows them to keep reserves of water to use during low tide. You may also see barnacles living on other animals such as whales and turtles, don’t be alarmed though, they are harmless and just filter feed on plankton in the water!

Sea urchins and sea stars are also animals common to the intertidal community, often inhabiting the mid intertidal zone.

Urchins and sea stars move using hundreds of small suckers, called tube feet. They have a complex system of water canals inside their body and they control the movement of their feet by squeezing water in and out of them. During low tides urchins, sea stars and sea cucumbers often become trapped in small pools of water and remain there until high tide. This is when they are vulnerable to terrestrial predators and it becomes a fight for survival! Urchins use sharp spines that protrude from their body to wound predators, some species also have venomous stinging spines they can use as an additional weapon. When attacked, sea stars will actually drop off their arm to escape and regrow it later. Sea cucumbers will take that strategy to another level and eviscerate (or “puke up”) their whole gut to distract and confuse predators!

Another resident often seen in these tide pools is the sculpin. These small fish are quite extraordinary! Tide pools often experience times of very low oxygen which would normally make survival quite hard. Sculpins however have adapted to extract oxygen directly from the air, using their skin to breathe! Their body also has no scales and instead they defend themselves using sharp spines on their head and gill covers. Many species of sculpin can also change the shade of their skin to camouflage with their surroundings and avoid predators.

This is just a small taste of some of the amazing inhabitants of the intertidal zone. You can find many more in the Canadian Waters gallery at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. Swim on by to see these animals in action and learn even more about the ocean.


Have a question about the Aquarium, or something you would like to see on Deep Sea Diary? Drop us a line in the comments below before August 31, 2017 for the chance to be featured in our monthly Q&A post and win 2 tickets to the Aquarium!

Water Quality at the Aquarium


It’s finally August! Time to relax on the beach, host a few BBQs, and of course celebrate National Water Quality Month!

Ok, so maybe August isn’t exactly synonymous with water quality for most people. But here at Ripley’s it’s always a top priority. As a member of the aquariums husbandry department and the aquarist in charge of our chemistry lab, I am responsible for testing and monitoring the water quality of our exhibits. Frequent and meticulous testing is critical to ensure that our exhibit water meets the highest of standards. The lives of our animals literally depend on it.

When we take care of aquatic animals, we do so in part by controlling their entire environment!

The water in their exhibit, for all intents and purposes, is their whole world. There is no current to flush waste away, no distant reef to retreat to, but rather a finite, and when compared to the size of lakes and oceans, relatively small volume of water that must be pristine. If left unchecked, waste and other potentially harmful contaminants could accumulate to levels that threaten the well-being of our animals!

But alas, there is no cause for concern. We have a dedicated laboratory for the sole purpose of testing water quality parameters to ensure they are always within the appropriate range that our animals need to thrive.

Now let us be clear, this is not like testing the pH and alkalinity of your pool or using a testing kit for your aquarium at home. Our lab is equipped with high-end scientific equipment to make certain we get accurate and precise results. Routine testing involves the use of multi parameter meters, pH/conductivity/luminescent dissolved oxygen probes, incubators, burettes, and the pièce de résistance, a UV/Vis spectrophotometer with an added on flow thru apparatus.


With this equipment we are able to measure, and thus closely monitor, the pH, salinity, alkalinity, oxygen saturation and oxygen content, levels of nitrogenous waste products, potential heavy metal contaminants, chlorine content, phosphate levels, and bacterial growth in our exhibits. Among other important parameters. We test our water constantly as early detection enables us to correct potential issues within our exhibits before they progress to the point were they pose a threat to the well-being and health of our animals.

Alright, I have delayed long enough. It’s time to talk about poop!

As you may have heard everyone poops, and this includes all of the animals here at the aquarium. So, where does that poop go exactly and does it affect our water quality? Some of it is removed as part of the mechanical filtration included in the life support systems for our tanks, more is removed by chemical filtration, and yet more during routine cleaning by siphoning and gravel vacuuming etc. But that doesn’t get rid of all the waste produced by fish, namely I’d like to focus on the nitrogen waste product – ammonia. Specifically, how we prevent it’s build up and how we test for it.

Ammonia accumulation is toxic to all vertebrates primarily due to its neurotoxic effects. In the open ocean, the concentration of ammonia never has the opportunity to suddenly spike because of just how massive oceans are. But in closed recirculating systems like our exhibits, ammonia levels have the potential to climb and to climb rapidly. To prevent this we use biological filtration which involves the help of nitrifying bacteria that actually use the ammonia as an energy source. These bacteria “eat” the ammonia which prevents it from building up to harmful levels.

But in order to ensure this beneficial bacteria is doing its job we have to do ours too.

This involves testing exhibit water for ammonia. For some tanks this means daily testing and for others a couple times a week. We test for ammonia and other nitrogenous waste compounds using colorimetric assays. As part of these assays, a dye or colour change is produced following a chemical reaction between our laboratory reagents and the waste compound we want to measure. The intensity of this colour being proportional to the amount of ammonia (in this example) present in the water sample. In the absence of ammonia, no colour change will occur. This colour change is measured using a spectrophotometer and offers precision home testing kits cannot replicate.

We are very conservative in our cut off for what constitutes safe levels of ammonia and other contaminants. We will perform water changes, replacing tank water with new water free of contaminants, whenever these limits are exceeded. Again, if ammonia would not accumulate in the oceans why should we tolerate ammonia accumulation in our tanks!

This abundance of caution helps to ensure our tanks don’t only look appealing to our guests, but the animals in them are happy and healthy too.   

P.S. Happy Water Quality Month!


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