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Whale sharks popular at Churaumi Aquarium

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-01-04

Nearly 10,000 visitors flock to Churaumi Aquarium each day, most hoping to catch a glimpse of giant whale sharks feeding.

Churaumi, Asia’s largest aquarium—and second largest in the world—is an aquatics leader in breeding the giant whale sharks, which grow to lengths of 26-30 feet. Churaumi Aquarium, located in Motobu on the northwest Okinawa coast, is part of the Ocean Expo Park. The state-of-the-art facility opened in 2002, replacing an older, smaller aquarium.

A day at Churaumi Aquarium provides visitors a firsthand exposure to the underwater ecosystems that exist around the Ryukyu Islands. The aquarium’s giant Kuroshio Tank holds 7,500 cubic meters of water, and is home to 30,000 fish. Visitors watch whale sharks, the largest inhabitants, and graceful manta rays as they glide through the waters, through the world’s largest acrylic panel. The 8.2 by 22.5-meter panel, 60 centimeters thick, provides a panoramic view of underwater nature.

Churaumi is user friendly for everyone, including children and handicapped visitors. Numerous educational programs are offered each day, ranging from introductions to living coral, tropical fish and hands-on touching of seashells and starfish. While lectures are in Japanese, self-guided tour tapes are available in English, Chinese and Korean. The Churaumi Theater has 20-minute shows on its giant high-definition screen, and offers audio interpretation in English, Chinese and Korean. Theater shows run at the top of each hour.

Behind-the-scenes tours, the Kuroshio Sea Tour, operate four times each day, exploring the backyard of the Kuroshio Sea. Kuroshio means ‘black current’ in Japanese. Seven dolphin shows at two locations, each running 15 minutes, take place four times daily.

The aquarium’s main facility spans four floors. with the “Lie in Inoo” touch pool near the entrance on the third level. Here, visitors can touch and handle starfish, shells, sea urchins and other species native to Okinawa’s coral reefs. The curving ramp winds its way down to the first floor, allowing visitors to survey the sea life that reside near the ocean surface, and on into deeper levels. The giant Kuroshio Tank is open on top, permitting the sun’s rays to penetrate into the aqua waters.

From the second floor, guests can move back-and-forth between the Churaumi Theater and a study of colorful fish, giant lobsters and eels, and sharks. The second floor is also home to the Shark Research Lab, a place where again, hands-on opportunities exist to touch and feel the texture of shark skins and teeth. The special shark tank has several species swimming.

The Deep Sea World exhibit is located on the first floor, providing insights to life in the murky deep waters that experienced divers are unable to see.

The Churaumi Aquarium is currently operating winter hours, open from 8:30am to 5:30pm. The last admissions are at 4:30pm. The aquarium, as well as the rest of Ocean Expo Park, will be closed December 6~7 for annual facilities maintenance checks and safety inspections.

Costs

Admission fees are ¥1,800 for adults, ¥1,200 for high school students, and ¥600 for elementary and junior high school students. Group rates are available for 20 persons or more, and Churaumi Aquarium offers an Annual Passport for repeat visitors. Both Japanese and American currency are accepted.

An electric tour car provides shuttle service throughout the Ocean Expo Park complex. The fee is ¥200 for a day ticket. Restaurants and souvenir shops are located throughout both the aquarium and Ocean Expo Park complex. Use of Japanese currency is preferred, although some will accept U.S. dollars.

Getting There

Ocean Expo Park is located in Motobu, northwest of Nago City. It’s roughly a 2-hour drive from Naha, using the Expressway. The toll is ¥1,000 for a standard size car. Take the expressway to the northern end, Kyoda Interchange, then travel north on Route 58 to Nago City, then west on Route 449 to Motobu. There are many signs to guide you.

Buses run from Naha to Churaumi Aquarium, with stops in Urasoe, Kadena and Onna. It’s a 3-hour trip from Naha, depending on traffic. Take bus 65 or 66 from Naha Bus Terminal.

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