Deep reflections on the frilly, deadly, delicate and shy

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Deep-Sea World, in a dramatic setting beneath the Forth Rail Bridge, was in the news this year when its staff organised an armada to drive a disorientated sperm whale nicknamed Moby downstream and back into the North Sea. Twelve days of effort failed, but the complex has set up a Moby memorial fund for research into the conservation of whales.

The aquarium is committed to raising awareness of the marine environment through education and entertainment as reflected in its mission statement: "The principle focus of Deep-Sea World is to enlighten, increase knowledge and further raise interest in our marine environment in an interactive, appealing, entertaining and a sustainable manner."

The Underwater Safari is undoubtedly the highlight. A slowly moving walkway carries visitors through a 112-metre long transparent tunnel, the longest in the world, for a spectacular view of more than 3,500 fish from 45 national species and eight tiger sharks from the Atlantic.

The settings start with kelp forests and small fish, and move on to sandy flats with turbot and skate and into subterranean caves with lurking conger eels. After underwater cliffs and deep water crabs, we come to the open sea, angel shark and shipwrecks and finally to shallow waters with lobsters and crawfish.

You can step off the walkway for closer views anytime. Look for divers, dwarf-like because of the tunnel effect, giving the area its daily cleaning or feeding the fish. A communication system allows visitors to speak to divers during feeding sessions.

In the big exhibition hall presentation of different species is paramount. A bold notice "Dangerous Animals" demands attention for the multi-skirted lion fish and its frilly but deadly fins and the bull-like poisonous puffer.

The huge teeth of the wolf fish in another tank will not draw you as close as Scotland's largest piranha display, their feeding viewable on television screens.

Octopuses need careful study to spot in a recreation of their natural environment. Their versatility is demonstrated by two small tubes between their tanks through which they squeeze easily.

The coral tank houses a dazzling collection from tropical seas with many combinations of brilliant colours. Next there are shy and delicate seahorses, which are enchanting.

In another tank are rays with a view of the infant creatures which are bred there. Further on you can see examples of shore creatures which flick sand over themselves for camouflage and can only be spotted by sustained attention.

The aquarium's original exhibition "Pirates the Unknown Story" has been replaced this year with a scene from the Amazonian rain forest complete with thunder, sudden deluge and species like arawana, arapaima and electric eels. The largest rockpool in the UK is a special attraction since dive-masters in wet-suits lift out crabs, starfish and other inhabitants for safe handling by visitors.

The purpose-built classroom has equipment from nursery age to FE, with slides, pictorial quizzes, games, cartoon fish, sharks teeth, skeletons, shells and mermaid's purses.

Deep-Sea World, North Queensferry, Nr Edinburgh KY11 1JR. Tel: 01383 411411. Adults Pounds 6, children Pounds 3.50

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