Nausicaa Aquarium in Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France isn’t just any old aquarium – it is the biggest and the best aquarium in Europe with a mind boggling 36,000 animals under its roof!
Visiting Nausicaa in Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France is never the same twice thanks to an ever increasing and changing population. This is one of the most visited attractions in the region but, never happy to rest on their laurels, the team at Nausicaa have introduced a brilliant behind the scenes tour for the public. It’s a fabulous family day out and hugely exciting to meet the animals up close, chat to the keepers and see the machines that keep everything working in Europe’s largest fish tanks.
Nausicaa runs these behind the scenes tours on weekdays and you have to book in advance but it is absolutely worth taking the time to organise (details at the bottom of the page).
Meet the Penguins at Nausicaa
I met with Simon Becue who looks after the 21 black-foot penguins at Nausicaa. They live in an enclosure designed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the much loved Jacques and a big fan of and frequent visitor to Nausicaa. Its a great design, the glass walls of the tank and enclosure mean you can see the birds very clearly in and out of the water and get close to them without intruding. The penguins were ready for us – they wanted their food and knew that the herring fishy breakfast they love was imminent. They are very curious and rushed to the window to see us.
There is one penguin though who is very special – Opal the baby penguin. Like all the penguins here, she was born in captivity and she is used to human contact. When Simon opened the gate to the enclosure she came waddling over as fast as her feet could carry her.
I was lucky enough to meet Opal in person and I hopped through the gate and crouched down as I didn’t want to scare her. “She’s quivering all over” I said, I was worried she was afraid. “No” he laughed “she’s excited to meet you” and then she walked straight up to me and laid her head in my hands for a cuddle. It is without a doubt a memory that I will treasure forever and a dream come true.
I didn’t think it would get much better after that but we went next to the nursery room and coral farm. Head of the laboratories, Frederic Cousin asked me if I was brave. “Not really” I told him but who could resist holding a lurid green star fish that looks like the weirdest spider that ever lived?! Frederic put it in my hand and I’m sure the thing sighed and just stared at me until it returned to its watery home.
It was fascinating to see the shark eggs hanging in tiny net bags (like the ones you put in a washing machine with a soap tablet!) hanging on the side. Nausicaa keepers dive into the pools checking the health of the animals, collecting shark teeth and occasionally eggs and babies! They bring them to the nursery to ensure they get the best possible attention. Afterwards they are released into the huge shark tanks which hold visitors spellbound as these fascinating creatures swim past, fins up jaws-style!
I also got to meet a skunk cleaner shrimp. “Roll up your sleeves, put your arm up to you elbow into that tank there” said Frederic. I was a bit wary as I couldn’t really see much in the tank but within seconds I could feel a tickling sensation on my hands. “It’s the female – the male is shy and rarely comes up to meet strangers”. Not this time, he rapidly joined his partner and was feasting away on the dead skin and cleaning under my finger nails like it was a Christmas banquet and he hadn’t eaten in months.
You can also get up close to some of the animals in Nausicaa’s touch pool – it’s a great place to take the kids to introduce them to aquatic life and a joy to see their faces as they are able to stroke a ray or other fish that enjoy contact. It is definitely a magnet for kids of all ages!
Coral Farming at Nausicaa
Touring the coral farms was a real treat. These amazing creatures are so varied and strange and the farming at Nausicaa of this endangered species is second to none. 3000 to 5000 cuttings are grown each year and many are sent to aquariums around the world, from China to Canada. They grow 3-5 cm per year in Nausicaa because of the optimal conditions instead of the 1 cm per annum growth in the wild. Get up close and personal to the tropical fish and the coral in glass bubbles built into the base of the enormous tropical pools, the kids will love it.
Machine room at Nausicaa
The machine room at Nausicaa is fantastically efficient. Taking water from the sea (it’s not an accident that the building is located on the beach at Boulogne-sur-Mer) and converting it to use for the animals. A total of 4.5 million litres of water is filtered and heated to the perfect temperature for 300 tanks with a temperature span of 11°C – 27°C.
Book a Tour
The tours are in French and English at 10.00 and 15.00 daily and you need to book in advance by phone at 03 21 30 99 89.
Details here: Nausicaa Behind the Scenes tours (only available on the French version of the website)
Meet Nausicaa’s Sea Lions The fabulous sea lion show at Nausicaa, great video footage of the backstage training of these fabulous creatures!
Find out more about Nausicaa on their website (UK Version)