Published: 00:00, 28 March 2014 |
Updated: 17:59, 28 March 2014
by Sam Lennon
Sea lions that do handstands?
Sharks that swim up close and personal?
Hordes of penguins waddling on rocks?
Amazingly, you can see them all in one place.
These are just some of the spectacular sights that await you when you visit the Nausicaa sea life centre, just a short hop over the Channel in Boulogne.
It’s a fascinating insight into underwater life. When I visited I got a behind-the-scenes view of the performing sea lions and saw 18-year-old Speedy doing a handstand for keeper William Gournay.
M. Gournay and colleague Caron Aurelia also diligently brushed Speedy’s teeth with a normal toothbrush!
Nausicaa has 36,000 marine, freshwater and land animals, covering 1,000 species and spread over 50 aquariums and tanks.
The dreaded sharks (les requins) can be seen from above the water with their fins menacingly circling over the surface or face-to-face by walking down steps to the side of a giant tank. They are then just a couple of feet away from you – but the toughened glass window is a reassuringly safe barrier.
The centre has more than 140 sharks, some as long as 10ft and ranging from strikingly patterned leopard species of the American west coast to the familiar greyish coloured image of sand tiger or nurse types.
Visitors can even dip their hands into one tank and experience the strange tickling sensation of the cleaner shrimps. These creatures eat parasites and can clean away dead skin from humans.
Nausicaa is home to animals from all over the world, from the regular North Sea cod to the clown-faced tropical humphead wrasse and the South American pacu, a more harmless cousin of the vicious piranha.
Other creatures include African penguins, camains (South American alligators) and two Aldabra giant tortoises, the largest land types, which can live for more than 150 years.
And conceptually, Nausicaa is one of a kind. It is one of the largest public aquarium parks in Europe and is designed to educate and raise public awareness of the marine environment as well as to entertain.
The centre opened on May 18, 1991 on the site of a former casino. Some of the longer-living creatures, such as sharks and morays, have been in the centre since the first day.
The idea was conceived in 1982 by the town’s then mayor Guy Lengagne and a group of oceanographers. Boulogne-sur-Mer was considered ideal because it is France’s premier fishing port.
The centre’s name comes from the young Greek mythological woman in Homer’s Odyssey who cared for Ulysses after he was shipwrecked.
Nausicaa is open seven days a week.
Admission fees are 18.80 euros for adults plus children over 12, 12.30 euros for three to 12-year-olds and 17.30 euros for over-60s. There are also reductions for students and the unemployed and for disabled visitors.
For further details visit www.nausicaa.co.uk
To get there, sail by ferry via P&O, DFDS Seaways or MyFerryLink to Calais and follow the A16/D96/D940 roads to Boulogne.
Motorists can also use the Eurotunnel shuttle service from Folkestone to Coquelles, which is right next to the A16.
Foot passengers can sail to France and travel by train between Calais and Boulogne.
n Sam’s trip was courtesy of the Nausicaa Centre
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