This weekend we were invited to take a first look inside the new Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade, the UK’s first Aquarium dedicated to conserving the world’s most endangered freshwater fish.
The Aquarium takes visitors to ten of the planet’s most extreme and fascinating aquatic habitats, starting with the fast-flowing rivers of Vietnam and ending with Middle-eastern caves. The Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade allows you to get close to some of the rarest and most unique fish alive today.
First of all we encountered the fast flowing rivers in Vietnam, where the Spotted Hillstream Loach uses its fins as suction cups to cling onto the rock, to avoid getting washed away by the current. The water was crystal clear and we were able to get really close to the Loach and the Red Cheeked Goby.
Next it was on to east Africa, where the Sainthouse killifish spend their whole lives in one puddle! When the puddle dries up the fish’s eggs survive in the mud, where they remain until the rains return and the eggs hatch. These small freshwater fish look unassuming but their story is fascinating and their lifecycle so unusual… it’s no wonder they’re so incredibly rare.
Then on to a flooded Brazilian forest where the murky waters meet the precise needs of the beautiful white-blotched river stingrays nicknamed ‘Polka’ and ‘Dot’. White-blotched river stingrays need a freshwater environment with a sandy bed, a strong current and temperature between 22°C to 28°C as well as a specific PH level and all of this is provided in the new Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade. At first the stingrays were enjoying time at the back of their new home but we could still see their striking white spots.
After a few minutes observing the fish in the Aquarium the stingrays then swam up against the glass and we had an amazing view of these beautiful creatures. I have never seen a river stingray before and it was fascinating to watch Polka and Dot gliding, just centimetres away.
Next, we encountered Caribbean mangroves and Greek springs. In some of the habitats there are also insects and arachnids on the landscape above the surface of the water. Some of them were difficult to see but we did spot a Praying Mantis and a spider that had spun an intricate web above the water.
The new Aquarium has some amazing specimens but there’s also lots of information on the work ZSL is doing to partner with local people and communities to monitor and protect critically endangered species. The La Palma pupfish incredibly survived intense sunshine and temperature changes when their spring in Mexico dried up. ZSL are now breeding this fish to try to find out how they survived such extreme conditions and to ensure their survival for future generations.
The Madagascan river Aquarium was one of our favourites as it stretches from floor to ceiling, allowing even very small children to get close to the fish.
The Aquarium is a really thoughtful addition to ZSL Whipsnade. Although the collection is small, if you are able to take time to read about the specimens, then you can appreciate the rare species that now call the Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade their home. Indeed some of the fish are extinct-in-the-wild and ZSL Whipsnade is one of the only places in the world where they exist.
Mr 4 loved the fish, even if he wasn’t able to appreciate the intricacies of the ZSL breeding programme which aims to rescue some of the world’s most incredible fish from the brink of extinction. His favourite species had to be the stingrays because they came to say, ‘hello’. The Aquarium tanks are modest in size but Mr 4 was able to see inside most of them without me having to lift him up, the exception being the Praying Mantis, which was lurking at the back of one of the aquarium tanks and was particularly tricky to see.
The Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade then leads into the Butterfly House, home to 30 species including a couple of dwarf crocodiles! We meandered through the Butterfly House and watched the butterflies flutter between flowers and fruits. We saw about five different species of butterfly, so there must have been some hiding really well.
From the warmth of the Butterfly House we ventured out into the rest of the zoo.
We love ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and we’ve visited many times. The new Aquarium is another great reason for a day out at the zoo and after we had been through the Aquarium and Butterfly House we went to see the fantastic animals who live at ZSL Whipsnade.
Top Tips For A Visit to the new Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
- ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is open 7 days a week from 10am, with seasonal closing times.
- You can get a 10% discount by booking in advance online at zsl.org.
- ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU6 2LF
- Entry to the new Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is included in the entrance to the zoo.
- The Jumbo Express steam train is a great way to see more of the zoo. Click here for prices and running times.
- Make sure that you take drinks and a bite to eat as the restaurant choices are limited. If the weather is bad then there are covered picnic areas.
We received complimentary entry to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo so that I could write about my experience. The images, words and opinions are all my own. All photography is owned by Kirsty Hornblow 2019. Please do not reproduce without permission.