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SeaTREK At Sea Life Manchester

David Blake goes swimming with the fishes... and Ernie

Written by . Published on June 3rd 2013.

SeaTREK At Sea Life Manchester

I HATE sharks.

Not particularly odd but they fall into the top three category of animals I never want to come across, the other two being snakes and crocs. Anything underwater and bitey can go whistle as far as I’m concerned. In fact, I once ordered a whopping great shark steak at a beachside restaurant in Thailand just so that I could tuck in and smugly look out to sea. Yeah, who’s eating who now.

Still if one came within swinging distance it was getting a jab in its beady eye, I’m taking no chances.

So when I was asked to go along to experience SeaTREK, Europe’s first ever sea bed walk at Trafford Centre’s brand-spanking new Sea Life Centre (due to open 6 June) - I dived at the chance… that was until I found out about the sharks.

Sizing up the sharksSizing up the sharks

First question: What kind of sharks? Black tip reef sharks (but they can grow up to 5.2ft you cry), well these are baby ones and are only around 2ft in length – thank foot for that. Still if one came within swinging distance it was getting a jab in its beady eye, I’m taking no chances.

This Sea Life Centre will be the fourteenth opened in the UK and is located on a 36,000sq ft site next door to Legoland in the Trafford Centre’s Barton Square, also home of the most crudely over-the-top faux Coliseum in all of Manchester. Probably the only crudely over-the-top faux Coliseum in all of Manchester. It looks like the entrance to a waterpark in Florida that really doesn't care what you think because it doesn't think you are clever enough to think. Quite a sight to behold - as Jonathan Schofield wrote about concerning another piece of TC kitsch.

Barton SquareBarton Square

The most handy aspect of the whole SeaTREK experience is that it’s a bit of an in-and-out job. No cumbersome oxygen tanks, no diving certificates needed and most disappointingly, no Victorian atmospheric diving suits. With just a wet-suit to squeeze into and a fully-waterproof helmet to pop on, it’s almost too easy. Even my contact lenses were safe, as was my make-up.

The ocean tank into which you descend is the largest in the new aquarium, at over eleven and a half feet deep and filled with 480,000 litres of water, the tank is home to over 1000 creatures of 35 different species, including rays (not sting), sharks (not big) and king of the tank himself, the giant sea turtle Ernie. Who, one of the dive leaders informed me, had been rescued from the Cayman Isles just before becoming turtle soup (quite a muddy taste apparently – but the twenty-seventh President of the US William Howard Taft’s supper of choice – he also enjoyed a turtle neck and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

William Howard Taft: Turtle fanWilliam Howard Taft: Turtle fan

Once we had been briefed by Dive Leader Myke (not Mike) on various elements of diving etiquette (confusingly a thumbs up is bad) and wet-suited up, we headed through to the surface of the tank. But not before I could mistakenly draw everyone’s attention to my crotch area with a misplaced comment – not advisable when wearing neoprene and surrounded by four young women. If this is your intention, take some filler.

The tank glows an ethereal blue as you stand peering down into its depths (the relief sets in as you size up the sharks). Now and then King Ernie breaks the surface to let out a little splutter and guffaw before bombing back down again. You are guided to back on to the stepladder and submerge yourself to shoulder level while they position the 30kg oxygen helmet on your head. This does initially sound quite weighty, especially as SeaTREKkers can be as young as eight, but this 30kg is only the surface weight. Underwater the helmet weighs around 6kg, so it’s manageable.

Making the descentMaking the descent

With a tidgy pop of the ears and a careful descent of the ladders you’re at the bottom of the tank. Waiting for the rest of the party to assemble (parties can be up to five people) you realise how surprisingly tepid it is down there, well above 20ºC. We were then lead on a ten-minute bob around the tanks central glowing green Buddha head, reportedly recovered from Atlantis itself. Or a jumble sale at Turner Street’s Buddhist Centre. I can’t remember which.

With a brilliantly radiant array of tropical fish clambering around our group whilst Ernie and the rays (the best Lounge Quartet Manchester have never seen) majestically glided overhead the whole experience was enchanting.

Reaching out to the little fishies was an almost therapeutic experience. Even through the constant hiss of oxygen being pumped in to the helmet, it was the closest that I had come to any form of meditation. I could have stood there for hours and just gazed.

The Ministry of Silly WalksThe Ministry of Silly Walks

Walking across the front of the spectator window also gives you the opportunity to show off a tad, performing a walk that’s half Abbey Road half Space Odyssey, it’s a funny walk anyway (Monty Python would concur).

The only problem is where to put your hands, It’s one of those situations in which you’re just not entirely sure where to put your hands. There are no pockets in a wetsuit you see, because it wouldn’t work. It’d be a wet wet wet suit, favoured by Marti Pellow.

The only downside to the whole experience was that it was over too soon. For the £60 price tag (regardless of age but inclusive of entry to the aquarium) you’d possibly expect a bit more bang for your buck, or at least a little longer in the tank. Don’t get me wrong, swimming with the fishes, the rays, the sharks and King Ernie was certainly one that’ll stay with you for a long time, but for £240 for a family of four, it’s also one that may wash out your wallet.

Follow David Blake on Twitter.

The SeaTREK experience costs £60 per person (including admission) and is available to guests aged 8 and over.  The experience will last for approximately one hour with 10 minutes under the water.  A maximum of five people can be in the tank at one time and they will be accompanied by support divers at all times.

The Centre will be open from 10am seven days a week, remaining open until 7pm daily, with the last admission at 5pm.  Tickets are available online now beginning at £12 per person.

More information here.



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Beast from WeasteMay 30th 2013.

Is that Joey Barton descending into the tank :)

AnonymousMay 30th 2013.

This is probably the only review of an aquarium that has ever made me laugh, great article

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