Ocean Park is worth a visit

One of Hong Kong’s big attractions (rivaling HK Disney!) is a park that combines amazing aquariums, education about threats to the oceans and the conservation of endangered animals with extreme roller coasters … a combination we just couldn’t pass up!  Also, as a teacher, I have to say that the chance to visit an amusement park with my family on a weekday during the off-season was pretty enticing.  We certainly weren’t the only ones at Ocean Park that day, but crowds and lineups were reasonable.  We took the efficient MTR and an express bus to get to the site, and started our day with a visit to the Grand Aquarium.  I have said many times that our travels this year (and especially our new skills as certified scuba divers) have opened my eyes to the oceans — their beauty, diversity, and plights.  Well, the Grand Aquarium at Ocean Park can have a similar effect, minus the wetsuit and air tank! 

The Grand Aquarium is well-named!
Manta rays swam above us.
Here's one we didn't manage to see in the wild: hammerheads!
Jake used his new phone as a camera for the first time that day!
Jake took this shot of a seahorse.
Lionfish seem to scream out "don't touch" with their bizarre, frilly fins. They have venomous spines on their back.

In the Asian animals section, we loved the pandas — especially the cute red pandas that are more active and playful than their ‘giant’ cousins.

Red pandas (which are, in fact, a type of bear) have beautiful thick fur and tail. They are protected due to their declining population.
The two male giant pandas were in residence at Ocean Park while the female was back in mainland China to (hopefully) have a baby. This guy looks kind of dejected, but pandas are generally quite "lazy" since there isn't much nutrition in their main source of food: bamboo.
There were many information panels about the threats to Giant Panda populations (specifically deforestation). One of the suggestions for how people could help was to limit their use of disposable bamboo chopsticks.
The good news is that, although the Giant Panda population hovered at around 1000 individuals for a long time, the past decade is the first one in recorded history that has actually seen a significant increase.
There was a whole display of unique goldfish that have been bred for certain bizarre characteristics like this popcorn-faced pair.

Of course, we also had to take in some of the rides and, on the recommendation of the grade 4 students in Shea’s class at Chinese International School (where we did our presentation), we made it a priority to ride the “Hair Raiser”.

No turning back now ...

We didn’t buy the photo that was snapped during the ride, but here’s a pretty good facsimile (courtesy of Kaia).

That's me on the left, and, yes, I had quite a terrified expression on my face. I don't recall the short shorts, though. Kaia stuck her tongue out the whole time to make sure it would be like that for the picture!

We got to enjoy some cooler temperatures in the arctic animals pavilion.

The gentoo penguins shared space with rockhoppers and king penguins.

The on-site restaurants promoted sustainable seafood choices and they even had available little wallet-sized lists of good/questionable/bad seafood for different locales (compiled by World Wildlife Federation and available online).  Given their commitment to the understanding and conservation of ocean species, it was surprising to see that Ocean Park continues to prioritize and promote its controversial dolphin show.  It is quite popular and I have to admit that we watched it too.  It was clear that these captive dolphins have minds of their own as they continuously refused to do what the trainer was directing them to do!  It was the last show of the day and maybe they’d had enough of performing.  The Ocean Park animal trainers/vets have also been involved in trying to rehabilitate injured dolphins (most recently a protected Chinese white dolphin that was hit by an outboard motor and eventually had to be euthanized).

Our final stop was the “Shark Mystique” pavilion where we quickly realized we’d saved the best for last.  It houses an amazing array of sharks, but more importantly, conveyed a clear and important message about conservation.

With all these teeth, I'm not even sure this guy can close his mouth!


This approach to conservation was, of course, explained in both English and Chinese.

A couple of years ago, a movie called “Revolution” played briefly in Ontario cinemas.  Cam and I both took groups of students to see it.  A young Canadian film maker was researching global threats to marine environments as a follow-up to his previous documentary “Sharkwater”.  Central to his findings was the fact that earlier mass extinction episodes have always been preceded by the die-back of ocean coral.  Unfortunately, corals are highly vulnerable now due to rising ocean temperatures and acidification.  A recent CBC news article makes a comparison between ancient and current acidification events.
The film-maker (Rob Stewart) was especially interested in sharks and included disturbing scenes of shark-finning operations.  In the Shark Mystique pavilion, there were numerous panels about the unsustainable shark-finning industry that provides the main ingredient of the asian delicacy, shark-fin soup.  As someone who has never tasted it, it was easy (and somewhat useless) for me to take the pledge not to eat shark-fin soup in the future.  However, with all the Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese visitors to Ocean Park, I couldn’t help but think that the message was well placed.  The final room of the exhibit was full of TV screens with young Chinese celebrities explaining (in Mandarin with English subtitles) why they refuse to eat shark-fin soup and asking others to do the same. 
Getting to the park’s exit gate involved a cable-car ride across the mountain for which there was a 45-minute line up! 

View of harbour and part of Hong Kong from the cable car.

When we got to the front of the line, we were irritated to see most cars leaving with only 2 passengers when they could accommodate 6!  We tried to explain to the overtired attendant that if he filled the cars, the line-up would only last 15 minutes.  He said that “people want their personal space”.  For a society that can pack themselves like sardines into the MTR trains and live in tiny apartments in 50-storey buildings in a concrete jungle, I was a bit surprised to hear that personal space was a priority!  But, I guess a day at an amusement park should allow you to escape your everyday routine. 
Thank you, Ocean Park, for doing such a great job of combining fun and education !


One thought on “Ocean Park is worth a visit”

  1. hi cam yvonne kaia jake, just got hooked up with the link to your blog tonight. looks like i have a little bit of catching up to do! so excited to read about your adventures. all well here in ole pbo. we’re all going on about the sun and the warmth after a long cold winter. thanks for the vicarious adventures you lucky sods.


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