Meet the Norwegian sea life at the Ålesund Aquarium
By Helene Toftner
Set out to explore life under the sea at one of the most unique aquariums in Europe, Ålesund Aquarium. Here you can feed scary looking wolfish; watch the diver feed the biggest fish in the Atlantic Ocean tank, and the alfa male seal, Knut, swimming around and flirting with his female friends, all within their natural habitats.
The attractions of an aquarium are many and obvious, for young as well as old. Ålesund Aquarium is no different – if anything, it has more up its sleeve than most. Having been awarded the prestigious prize as the Best Aquarium in the Nordics in 2013 and 2015, there is no wonder all generations are flocking to the stunning attraction by the sea. “We have always focused on showcasing the natural habitat of the animals, and not least house the natural animals and fish of the Atlantic Ocean just outside our doorstep,” says sales and new product manager Britt Giske Andersen. “We want to make ‘our own fish’ interesting, and we have succeed through great focus on the interactive part of the aquarium.”
Catching the fish just outside their doorstep
The aquarium beautifully overlooks the Atlantic Ocean just a few minutes’ drive from Ålesund, the famed art nouveau town in Norway’s fjord region. The town is easily reached from London and Amsterdam with several direct routes per week, and a visit here can easily be combined with hikes around some of the most stunning fjord landscapes in the world.
In Norwegian, the aquarium is appropriately named Atlanterhavsparken, (The Atlantic Ocean Park). The aquarium truly lives up to its name by focusing mainly on fish and creatures that live in the ocean just outside the Aquarium. “The aquarium was established in the midst of nature, and just by the ocean. It was important when building it that it wouldn’t interfere with the scenery, so we incorporated the coastal habitat into the building. More importantly however is that we almost only house species captured just outside, so we have a lot of cod, crabs and scary looking monkfish,” Giske Andersen says.
An exotic addition – the penguins
One species that normally does not appear in this part of the world is the penguin. The Humboldt penguins are a part of an international breading program through EAZA (The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria). They are one of the most popular attractions, the feeding particularly popular – and the feeders know how to please the crowd with their outfit bearing similarities to a morning suit.
Feeding time is generally very popular, and the diver’s show is the ultimate experience as visitors can take part in the entertainment from a glass window placed into the pool. “They witness how well the divers interact with the fish, and how the different species have very different personalities. Luckily we do not have any bad fishes there,” Giske Andersen laughs.
Another very popular attraction is the activity room, a room where visitors can feed and pet small fish, crabs and starfish, as well as learning more about how they live and function.
Opening of the new seal pool
A much anticipated opening took place in September 2014, namely the opening of the massive new seal pool. An outdoor pool located just on the side of the ocean is the home of seven seals. “It is Knut and the ladies,” Giske Andersen says. Knut, the chief male in the pool, was brought from the Lofoten Islands further north in Norway, while the ladies are brought from different aquariums around Europe. “Here they have founded their own little colony, and live as close to their natural ways as possible,” Giske Andersen says.
You may wonder what made Knut such a lucky man to be the “chief rooster in the basket”. While there may not be a good explanation for this, we can offer a reason for the name. Knut is named after the Aquarium’s former general manager whom is now retired. “It seemed very appropriate,” Giske Andersen says with a smile.
Putting animal welfare at the top
In a time when animal welfare awareness is on the rise, many zoos and aquariums are under intense pressure to ensure they are treating their inhabitants right. For Ålesund Aquarium this has always been top priority. “It also comes naturally as we want to showcase the world in and under the sea in its natural form. The aquarium was built on top of the nature and we kept the nature as it was, everything inside the tanks is real. This is as close as it gets to their natural habitat, and still be served free meals,” Giske Andersen says.
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