I think we’ve been spoiled when it comes to visiting wildlife destinations: San Diego, Vancouver, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Vancouver Island, Alberta, and the list goes on. In the past, at the end of each destination I felt happy knowing that there were people in the world actively pushing for change, conservation, and making the world a better place for creatures.

This is not how we felt after visiting the Aquarium of the Bay. At the end we felt dirty and disgusted. And, I’m ashamed to admit that we paid the full overpriced amount for entrance.

I’ll start with what the aquarium has going for it: two large acrylic tunnels that take you under the Bay and give you a glimpse of the life that exists under the surface. I always geek out when I get to watch sharks and rays swim unhindered above me. The aquarium focuses on maintaining a local ecosystem rather than introducing foreign species.

This is where the goodness ends.

What didn’t work: the place was packed. And, when I say packed, I mean sardine PACKED! I’ve been to a lot of busy places around the world and have called this out before, but here it was different. It was like the Star Trek episode The Mark of Gideon where the planet is so overpopulated that people are touching each other all the time. Not only do I hate being constantly touched by strangers, but this posed a danger to child who easily drifted away with the crowd at points.

This also made it difficult to explore the Aquarium and see what was available. For example, we frequently saw signs for an octopus exhibit; but, never once did we ever see an octopus. And, I’m not sure if this is because there wasn’t one or if it was because there were so many people that we simply missed seeing one through all the bodies.

At the end of the day, the overcrowding I can forgive… it simply means that we didn’t receive value for our purchase. Phooey on me for not checking TripAdvisor, Yelp, and GroupOn before visiting.

However, the one part I can’t forgive is the appalling and stressful conditions that the otters are forced to live in (and this is supposed to have improved). Hundreds of people surrounded them, all wanting the poor creatures to perform while they huddled in a recessed area. One otter was trying to aggressively trying to protect its family from the crowd. Also, it also looked like the creatures in the acrylic tunnels had been modified so they could live together in harmony (e.g. the sharks had their teeth removed and rays had no stingers).

I thought we were past these types of conditions in North American facilities.

The Aquarium will never have problems with drawing people because of its location at Pier 39; but honestly, I prefer places that focus on conservation, rehabilitation, and education (like the Vancouver Aquarium) rather than drawing crowds in. And, as you can imagine, the future animal rights activist/lawyer (my child) had A LOT to say about our visit.