Birmingham’s Sea Life Centre is already home to many stars of the ocean.
Now, following the launch of its new Sea Stars attraction, it is home to even more!
An eye-catching array of starfish from across the world’s oceans are now on show at the aquarium, just in time for the Easter holidays.
But before you get to meet these colourful creatures there are many more sights to see.
The first of these are the Gentoo penguins, who arrived at the centre a year ago and have become firm favourites with visitors since.
What’s great here is that you can see the penguins close-up in and out of the water, something my youngest son, aged two, found especially fascinating.
Being able to see the colony of birds swim past your nose with only a piece of thick glass in between was one of the highlights of his day!
After dragging yourself away from the Gentoos you make your way up to the next floor, past a glass tower full of colourful sea life including an eel, where you will find the rock pool where you can find out what starfish feel like to touch.
Other attractions on the way to the starfish include the large pool which is home to many species of rays, and where you can hear talks and see them being fed twice a day.
As with the penguins, the fact you can get so close to the creatures holds the attention of children and really brings the visit to life.
Clownfish (instantly recognisable thanks to the film Finding Nemo), coral reefs and seahorses can also be enjoyed before you come to the aquarium’s newest arrivals – the starfish.
Not knowing a great deal about these creatures I was interested to find so may different types here, such as the Brittle Star, Chocolate Knobbed, Common Starfish, Red Knobbed and Sun-Star, which can have up to 12 arms!
A lot of thought has clearly gone into the displays, which include child-sized recesses where smaller visitors can stand and pop their heads up into clear plastic domes to see the starfish up close.
A word of warning though – if they forget to duck on the way back out a sore head may be the result.
The most surprising sight for me was the giant starfish which must have been at least a metre wide from the tip of one tentacle to another – I had no idea they could be so big!
Once you’ve had your fill of starfish facts (they’ve been around for more than 450 million years and can regenerate lost limbs) there’s still more sea life to see, such as the jellyfish (which we discovered have a calming effect on over-excited children), the otters (if you’re lucky – this was our second visit to the centre and they’ve remained hidden both times) and various creature in the mangrove swamp display.
To add another dimension to your day there is a 4D cinema which shows a short film starring the penguins from Happy Feet (younger viewers may find the sealion chase a bit scary though).
But in my opinion the best experience has been saved until last with the ocean tunnel, where you can walk ‘under’ the water as sharks and a giant sea turtle swim over your head.
It really is a privilege to be able to get so close to such magnificent creatures and, as the various conservation messages in the centre spell out, it makes you realise we should do all we can to support those who work to conserve nature.
The National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham is open from 10am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays and 10am to 6pm at weekends.
Its address is The Waters Edge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HL and its website can be found here.