Nausicaa Aquarium in Boulogne is one of the largest public aquariums in Europe, opened its doors to the public in 1991 and was immediately popular. In the summer of 2012 the Aquarium received its 13 millionth visitor and now has some 600,000 visitors per year. People come from local towns and villages but also from all over France and Europe, making it one of the most popular venues in the north of France.
The animals are of course the main draw but there is more emphasis these days on education and the environment as knowledge of the important role of the ocean and its aquatic life forms increases. Nausicaa has a successful breeding programme for many of the fish as well as for coral and most of the 36,000 animals here have been bred in captivity.
Its an ideal half day out for all the family from young children (it’s push chair friendly with special lifts and ramps), teenagers and grown ups of all ages! As soon as you enter through the turnstile gates you feel as if you are descending the stairs of a boat into the sea itself via stairs or lifts into the warm, dark exhibition areas. There are ray nurseries, sea horses, barracudas, jelly fish, sharks, tropical fish, deep sea fish, caimans, coral, penguins, sea lions, giant tortoises and more as well as a pond where visitors can stroke a fully grown ray.
The tanks are imaginatively created and designed so that visitors can get up close and personal with their inhabitants – in total 43 million litres of water are held in the tanks at Nausicaa. In the tropical lagoon coral and fish thrive in perfect surroundings; in fact Nausicaa is one of the largest coral farmers in Europe. Below the tropical lagoon there are glass domes which you can climb into and look directly into the water above – it’s a bit like being in a submarine! Egg collecting tanks float gently on the surface of the water which is maintained at 28°C. The egg collecting machines do exactly that, when the fish deposit their eggs in the water, they float gently until they are swept into these long shallow tanks when they are then collected by the scientists and transferred to a nursery to increase the eggs chances of healthy survival.
A diamond shaped deep sea fish tank allows you to stand at the base and watch the fish close up, huge amberjacks which, curious, come up to eyeball those who are watching. Walk through passages lined with glass walls and floors and watch the sea lions playing and swerving past or underneath you.
The rays are the most popular feature at Nausicaa, they live for 20 years or more and some of them have been at Nauiscaa since it opened 21 years ago. They seem to enjoy the human interaction and swim up to the sides of the pool to be stroked by the delighted visitors and squealing children. Also in the touch pool are cod, halibut and turbot which seem to love the attention and are happy to be in contact!
Nausicaa is about entertainment but it’s also about the environment and their message to visitors is about conserving energy for the future and preserving what we have now. Many of the displays are aimed at helping small children understanding the message – there are films and information boards.
Although the great majority of the thousands of animals at Nausicaa are fish of all kinds from around the world – there are also other creatures such as caimans, penguins, sea lions, giant tortoises,
Film producer, explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the eminent scientist, TV presenter and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, helped plan the penguin enclosure which is designed to make visitors imagine that they are on a tour with Jean-Michel. Entering a boat like structure “destined for South Africa”, there are information boards and a film show – a serious message about the effect that rubbish in the ocean has on the coast line around the world.
The twenty or so Black Foot African penguins that live here seem to love their home and are perfectly at ease with visitors. Born in captivity the penguin pairs mate for life and Nausicaa are proud of the babies that have been born here – they are an endangered species with 90% being lost due to petrol released from ships at sea.
Nausicaa runs a programme aimed at supporting penguins which has been very successful in schools. Children give €1-2 to sponsor a penguin, they get to name it, are sent photos and information and can participate in an interactive game where the winner is invited to come and meet the penguin.
Jean-Michel Cousteau regularly attends events at Nausicaa such as the Festival des Images de Mer (Festival of Images of the Sea), an event held every Easter where scientists are invited to the venue to talk to visitors.
There are 7six sea lions at Nausicaa. There’s a daily show and the sea lions have physical and mental training which makes them happy. They learn to jump and run to recreate what they would do in the wild and Nausicaa has embarked on an award winning medical training programme. This aims to teach the sea lions to understand and trust their trainers better and to be comfortable with human touch so that when they need medical help they can accept it and try to avoid being anaesthetised which is a risky business for these sensitive animals.
There are a pair of male and female giant tortoises. At ten years old they are just babies in the giant tortoise world, these creatures often live for more than 100 years and it’s hoped that when this pair are old enough and ready they will have babies of their own at Nauiscaa.
Information about visiting Nausicaa
We’d highly recommend buying tickets online at Nausicaa’s website (below French/English) – there is always a queue to get in!
Feeding times are popular at Nausicaa and designed so that visitors can catch one or more of the sessions whether they visit in the morning or afternoon – check the website for details.
Allow 2-3 hours per visit.
Audio visual aids available in 5 languages
TV Nausicaa was created in 2006 to make programmes in the Nausicaa studios that visitors can participate in. Scientists and keepers give talks or specialist lectures from round the world are invited (details on the Nausicaa website)
Each year a new exhibition is unveiled – this year it is an island exhibition featuring the Seychelles with fish, film and photographs from the area.
There are three restaurants catering from snacks to a gourmet meal. We were particularly impressed with the offer of three oysters and a glass of beer for €5.50 in the Tropical Lagoon Bar (you don’t need to enter the exhibition to access the Nausicaa Restaurant).
You can book a backstage visit for a supplement – work with a keeper to feed and understand the animals better (in French).
Nausicaa website: French language – English language.