Before the huge and mesmerizing Lisbon Oceanarium was build for the 1998 World Expo in Parque das Nações, a much smaller museum/exhibition hall, just outside the Lisbon suburbs, was the main point of marine wildlife attraction in the capital, the name of that museum? The Vasco da Gama Aquarium. And even though it’s much larger cousin takes all the attention now, the Aquarium is still standing and it has turned into a sort of hidden gem!
The Vasco da Gama Aquarium is located in Algés (after Belém) and is not just a smaller scaled Oceanarium. Their goals and approaches are actually much different. Both have a strong message about oceanic preservation but the Oceanarium is definitely more adamant in that subject, as for the Aquarium, it holds a more didactic and museological goal. Inside Vasco da Gama you can find records of portuguese oceanic explorations and discoveries, and also multiple small open tanks where you’re invited to touch the critters inside, whilst paying attention to the warning of course. But you don’t even need to go inside to mingle with the fishes. The entrance of the museum has a lake filled with colorful koi fish of many sizes and you can feed and touch them! And for me this is the main diference between the two places, the Oceanarium awes you with the majesty of sea life while the Aquarium invites you to interact with it.
The Vasco da Gama Aquarium is divided in two areas: the Aquarium and the Museum. The aquarium per se is where you’ll find the fish thanks. The variety of fauna is fairly limited but the tanks are beautifully decorated, and some of the species presented are beautiful (like the gentile sea horses). They also focus a lot of attention on other aspects of marine fauna and flora, like algae, mollusks, corals and other important parts of sea life, as well as a room dedicated only to reptiles and amphibians, boasting some very strange creatures.
The Museum serves also as an archive of Portuguese exploration, showing not only taxidermied animals found Portugal’s coasts, but also notes, experiments and tools used by the older generations of sea-explorers.
This Aquarium is small, and it surely has seen better days in terms of attendance, but I believe it has managed to adapt and even proudly shed some things that would have brought in more attention. They used to have two main attractions, a sea turtle and a seal! But with the years, and a new perspective on animals rights and preservation, they have since closed both pools. The seal area was deemed too small and the Aquarium vowed to never put another animal there while the proper measurements aren't met, which I applaud. As for the turtle, it was released from captivity in a wonderful twist it managed to have a full and very traveled life.
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