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Title: The Nordsømuseet - The North Sea Aquarium

Summary: Coming back strong from a destrucive fire in 2003, the Nordsømuseet boasts Northern Europe's largest Aquarium "tank" (at over 1 million gallons) and a pair of rarely kept Sunfish (Mola mola).
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Date first published: September 2007
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The Nordsømuseet - The North Sea Aquarium

By Aquarticles Editor

Original to Aquarticles


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The Nordsømuseet (North Sea Museum-Aquarium) is located in Hirtshals, (North Jutland), Denmark 
It is about 3-4 hours by car from Copenhagen (København)


I am not sure why the North Sea Museum is called a "museum" since it is really an Aquarium - a very, very BIG aquarium. The site houses the largest single aquarium tank in northern Europe at over 4.5 million liters (one million gallons), the view of which alone justifies the admission price. In addition to this giant oceanarium, you will also find several dozen other aquarium tanks, ranging in size from a few liters to 120,000 liters (a few gallons to30,000 gallons). In addition, there is an outdoor seal pond of 800,000 liters (200,000 gallons). All the aquariums focus on the ocean life of the North Sea. The aquariums are either smaller species tanks, larger theme tanks, or finally the very large tanks or "oceanariums".

I have visited the North sea Museum several times with my family and would highly recommend it as a star attraction to visit in Denmark. In addition to the aquariums, there is also a top-rate scientific display area, a wonderful touch tank, fantastic indoor and outdoor play areas for children, multi-media displays, and a pleasant cafeteria. A visit is easily worth a whole afternoon. What follows is a photographic tour of the aquarium complex along with some commentary about specific exhibits.


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Entrance to the Aquarium


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Admission prices as of August 2007

A visit to the North Sea Museum will probably follow a predictable path. First you'll pass by several dozen species tanks. Here you'll find many of the smaller fish on display.


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On entering the North Sea Museum you'll encounter a large species tank
surrounded by information panels about the fish it contains.


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An example of a species tank (eels, gobys, bottom foreground)


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              Common goby (Pomatoschistus minutus)                               Deep-snouted pipefish (Syngnathus typhle)


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A trio of sole (Solea solea)


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A fearsome-looking angler or monkfish (Lophius piscatorius)


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                  Lemon sole (Microstomus kitt)                                                            Dab (Limanda limanda)


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Lemon sole (Microstomus kitt)


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              Lesser spotted dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula)                                       Roker (Raja clavata)

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          A Skate (Raja batis) bobbing at surface                                   Dead men's fingers (Alcyonium digitatum)


Next you'll encounter 10 theme tanks titled:

      Shallow waters by the jetties
      Calm waters in a fjord or harbour
      By the old shipwreck
      Large areas with sand and gravel
      Stone reefs near the coast
      Around the oil pipeline
      Sandstone reef
      The muddy floor of hte Skagerrak
      The bubbling reef.

Each of these tanks faithfully reproduces a unique biotope found in Danish coastal waters.

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A shipwreck displayed off to one side of the Oceanarium tank is a stunning theme-tank site

Following the hallway eventually takes you to the large Center Tank, which at 120,000 liters was the largest free-standing display in Europe in 1984.


Cod, saithe, turbot and sea-bass are found in the large Center Tank
Photo courtesy Nørdsømuseet


Go up the stairs to the left and you emerge in a dark and massively cavernous room holding the giant Oceanarium.


Daily hand-feeding sessions in the Oceanarium, conducted by a scuba diver
  with a two-way radio are a sure crowd pleaser. Photo courtesy Nørdsømuseet


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A scuba diver surrounded by schools of herring, mackerel and garfish. Other Pelagic or "open ocean" fish
found here include four species of shark. Finally, as of August 2007, there were two resident sunfish (Mola mola)


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Feeding time


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After feeding, the fish revert to their species-specifc schooling pattern

For me the highlite of the Oceanarium tank was the sunfish (Mola mola) kept there! Though common in tropical and sub-tropical waters, these fish are rarely seen in cooler climates. I remember seeing one once off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada and have always wanted to know more about them. As with Canada, Denmark sometimes sees the sunfish in its waters during warm spells in the summer. It is theorized that the warm water geotrophic eddies or currents bring them north. In 1999 the Nordsømuseet received a sunfish from a local Danish fisherman who had caught it in his net. The fish thrived in the Oceanarium tank until it died due to a devestating fire in 2003 that damaged much of the aquarium complex. In July 2007 a new pair of sunfish were imported from Spain where they are quite common. Of the two fish, one was looking very healthy during my visit in August. The other smaller fish was looking much less healthy. I also detected what looked like sea-lice on parts of its body. The North Sea Museum has set up an online blog to allow people to follow the progress of these fish at: Sunfish Blog  


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Above: a series of photos capturing the strange grace of this ungainly creature


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This is the smaller and less healthy looking sunfish (note the
ragged fins and slight infection to bottom right of the dorsal fin)


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A portal to the Oceanarium makes for a good photo shoot


Continuing on past the Oceanarium takes you down a corridor filled with life-size models of fish and wildlife. Whale and basking shark models are prominently displayed hanging from the ceiling.


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High caliber aesthetic design is everywhere - but then this is the land of "Danish Design"!


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Above photos: Lifesize models of whales and sharks


You will next come to a scientific display area filled with such hands-on exhibits as a large touch tank, preserved shark jaws, microscope displays, and more diaramas and oversize sea-life models.


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Children will love the large touch-tank stocked with crab, sea urchins and small bottom fish

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              The staff are very friendly and knowledgable                     All creatures here are found in Danish waters


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Microscope displays and hands-on artifacts                                Small breeding tanks are set up


The jaws of colder-water shark species on left, a Tiger shark jaw on right

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I've rarely seen so many high quality hands-on exhibits in other public aquariums I have visited
(Above: Requiem shark head)


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                  Another quality educational display                                                 Large models of starfish and sea urchin                                                 


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There are many contemporary multi-media exhibits

Stairs or an elevator will take you to the second floor where you can overlook the Oceanarium through large windows.


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View atop the  million gallon Oceanarium

Children will enjoy the well-planned play area, which as with most family friendly sites in Denmnark has a number of picnic tables. Otherwise food can be had at the cafeteria. Large picture windows nearby overlook the seal pools outside, with a fantastic playground in the background.


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A mock set up of a fishing boat bridge


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Puzzles, games, computers, and videos in the children's play area


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A cafeteria and indoor picnic area


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View from second floor of the seal pool below and playground in distance


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A close up of some seals


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Underwater viewing windows to watch seals glide by


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A wonderful tunnel of glass travels below the seal pool!


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A cool place to be on a hot day


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A seating area surrounds the seal pool for spectators to watch the regular feeding program


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Some happy kids enjoying the seals


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Outdoor picnic area and cafeteria


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A wonderfully stocked playground for kids


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Inflatable bouncy floor and obsticle course


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And finally, the obligatory gift shop found at the exit to the North Sea Museum

The North Sea Museum is located in Hirtsals, a smaller Danish town accesible by ferry from Norway and Sweden. This is also summer house country for many Germans. Thus, in summer and during holidays you will encounter many tourists. Unlike other high traffic public aquariums I have been to, however, this one retains a fresh and spruced up image. There is little sign of wear and all of the exhibits and aquarium displays have a new and modern feel to them. Of course this is largely due to the destructive fire they suffered here in 2003. Thankfully the aquarium center emerged Phoenix-like from misfortune and is now better than ever. I look forward to visiting again.

Note: Further information can be found by visiting the Nordsømuseet website.