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Whale sharks, dolphins favorites at Churaumi

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-04-17

Churaumi Aquarium receives than 10,000 visitors each day, with the bulk of them flocking to see giant whale sharks feeding.

The whale sharks, which grow to lengths of 26-30 feet, are a top attraction at Churaumi, Asia’s largest aquarium—and second largest in the world—where its prowess in breeding the giant whale sharks is unmatched. The aquarium, located in Motobu on the northwest Okinawa coast, is part of Ocean Expo Park.

The aquarium’s dolphins, stars in their own right with daily shows, are almost as popular as the whale sharks. Five dolphin shows take place daily at Okichan Theater, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. There also three 15-minute shows at Dolphin Lagoon, starting at 11:50 a.m., 1:50 p.m. and 3:50 p.m.

Churaumi Aquarium is gearing up for Golden Week, which this year runs April 29th through May 6th. The aquarium’s operating hours during Golden Week will be 8:30 a.m. ~ 9 p.m., one hour later than normal times. Churaumi is offering free admission for adults and children on Sunday, April 26th, and Green Day on Monday, May 4th. Admission for children under 12 will be extended to Children’s Day, Tuesday, May 5th. Aquarium officials caution that Children’s Day is expected to be very crowded, and some admission restrictions may be in place.

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium 4th Floor Event Hall will be open, but free throughout Golden Week. Aquarium administrators remind visitors the aquarium itself is not free, except as noted above. The Event Hall will highlight the many living creatures in Okinawa’s waters, as well as those that are dangerous. The exhibition is designed to prepare everyone on Okinawa for the potential dangers found during the summer season.

A typical day at Churaumi Aquarium affords visitors a firsthand exposure to the underwater ecosystems that exist in waters around Okinawa. The aquarium’s giant Kurishuo Tank holds 7,500 cubic meters of water, and is home to 30,000 fish. The largest inhabitants, the whale sharks, and graceful manta rays glide through the water, viewed through the world’s largest acrylic panel. The state-of-the-art facility, which replaced an older and smaller aquarium in 2002, has a 60 centimeters thick, 8.2 meters by 22.5 meters panel, offering a panoramic view of underwater nature.

Daily educational programs are offered, including those for children and handicapped visitors, ranging from introductions to living coral, tropical fish and hands-on touching of seashells and starfish. All lectures are in Japanese, but Churaumi offers self-guided tour tapes in English, Chinese and Korean. The Churaumi Theater offers 20-minute shows on its giant high-definition screen at the top of each hour, and those presentations are available in English, Chinese and Korean.

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 the aquarium offers an Annual Passport for repeat visitors. Both U.S. dollars and Japanese yen are accepted at the aquarium.

An electric tour car provides shuttle services 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. 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 is roughly a 2½ hour drive from Naha City, using the Expressway. 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 3½ hour trip from Naha, depending on traffic. Take bus 65 or 66 from Naha Bus Terminal.

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