December 14, 2011

New Istanbul Aquarium Offers Views From Under the Sea

In a city surrounded by bodies of water, the new Istanbul Akvaryum, or aquarium, offers a peek at what lies beneath.

At the aquarium, which opened in July, visitors start by following a route lined with tanks of Russian sturgeon from the Black Sea, then walk through a replica of what curators imagine Noah’s Ark to have been like.

Later comes a selection of species found in the Bosporus Strait, through which dolphins still migrate, dodging some 55,000 ships a year that carry cargo from Russia and the Caspian Sea to global markets. (The display has a strong environmental message about marine life in danger of depletion.)

Next is a gently rising path that snakes from exhibits on the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles, the Aegean and the Suez Canal, through the Red Sea, Antarctica (with a chilly iceberg you can reach out and touch while considering the effects of global warming). Then it’s off to Gibraltar, the Atlantic and the Panama Canal to the Amazon rain forest, which will feel like a steamy Turkish hammam on a wintry day, for a peek at piranhas and frogs in shades of neon green, blue or yellow.

The facility attempts to recreate the natural habitats for its estimated 15,000 creatures and plants including scary sharks, slithery giant eels and deceptively placid stingrays. It also offers interactive games and, for an extra fee, what the creators call “5-D” movie theaters that mimic effects like fog and wind. The periodic fish-feeding by divers in wet suits is fun to watch.

Most, but not all, of the displays are accompanied by explanations in English. During a recent visit, the crowd was a blend of Turkish families and European couples with children. Figure on spending about two hours to see the full exhibition, and more if you want to enjoy a drink or lunch at one of the cafes, sitting in the sunshine to enjoy a view of the real Marmara Sea.

The aquarium is in Florya, a wealthy suburb of western Istanbul, well off the usual tourist track. A taxi cost around 40 lira from the Old City, but a local train leaving Sirkeci Station with a stop about a half-mile from the spot was 2 lira (about $1) each way, aquarium employees said.


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