Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World

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Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World

Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World is a public aquarium in Auckland, New Zealand that was opened in 1985. It was the brainchild of New Zealand marine archeologist and diver Kelly Tarlton (1937–1985). Built in disused sewage storage tanks, the aquarium used a new form of acrylic shaping, which allowed curved tunnels rather than viewing areas with flat panels only, as in previous aquariums. The project is also one of the first to use conveyor belts to slowly move people through the viewing areas.


In 1983, Kelly Tarlton proposed building an aquarium in unused sewage tanks underground on the Auckland waterfront. Fish would be viewed through a long acrylic tunnel.

The aquarium opened in 1985 after 10 months of construction. Tarlton developed a new method of building an acrylic tunnel by taking large sheets of clear acrylic, cutting them to size and heating them in an oven until they took the shape of the mould. Some of the sheets weighed over one tonne. Because of the refraction caused by light traveling through water, and the acrylic sheets used in the creation of the tunnel, the fish appear to be one third smaller than they are.

A 110-metre (360 ft) tunnel was created in sewage storage tanks that had been unused since the 1960s. The tanks are located below the suburb of Orakei, on Tamaki Drive and overlooking the Waitemata Harbour.

Once the tunnels were in place and the tanks filled to test for leaks (none were found) a seascape of caves and reefs was created using concrete before the basins were filled in one section with a careful selection of more than 1,800 marine creatures. Another section was filled with sharks (including bronze whaler, sevengill shark, wobbegong, school shark) and stingrays. The sharks are only held for a short period of time before being released back into the area where they were caught.

In 1994 the facility was expanded to include a replica of the hut used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his tragic expedition to Antarctica, as well as a colony of Antarctic penguins in a climate controlled exhibit.

In December 2004 the aquarium opened Stingray Bay, which features a giant 350,000-litre (92,000 USgal) open topped tank that is 2.6 metres (8 ft 6.4 in) at its deepest point and constructed of crystal clear acrylic for optimum viewing.

In 2008, Village Roadshow purchased the facility, for NZD $13 million. Village Roadshow also owns Sydney Aquarium, Oceanworld Manly, Sea World Gold Coast, and other venues.


The aquarium's main features are the Antarctic Encounter and the Underwater World, but it also includes several other exhibits and several education rooms.

  • Antarctic Encounter - This exhibit was opened in 1994, and is the first exhibit encountered by visitors. Visitors can view the aquarium's penguins through glass in their temperature controlled habitat. Visitors then pass through a recreation of the hut used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott during his South Pole expedition in 1912. After this visitors take a ride on an Antarctic Snowcat, a type of vehicle, through the penguin enclosure. The aquarium has a colony of king penguins and gentoo penguins, the ride also has other features relating to Antarctica and its exploration.
  • Underwater World - The original part of the aquarium. This 110-metre (360 ft) acrylic tunnel takes visitors through two tanks which can hold up to 2000 animals. The first tank (or predator tank) is filled mainly with shark species, and holds about 1,000,000 US gallons (3,785,000 l), while the second tank has mainly schooling fish such as blue mao mao. In December 2010, Kelly Tarlton's received five new Sand Tiger Sharks from the USA.
  • Stingray Bay - Is a 350,000-litre (92,000 USgal) open topped acrylic tank. This tank contains two species of stingray and other smaller fish species including; kingfish, blue mao mao and "Phoebe" a 250 kilogram short tailed stingray with a two metre wingspan. This area of the aquarium has a refreshment kiosk.
  • NIWA Interactive Room - This room is located adjacent to Stingray Bay and aims to educate children about the marine world and Antarctica while entertaining them.
  • Sea Creatures - This area contains smaller aquariums usually filled with single species. Here you can find; two tropical marine tanks, red bellied piranha, an octopus, sea horses, moray eels, crayfish plus stonefish and pufferfish in the Poisonous and Venomous fish tank. Adjacent to this area is the gift shop which also contains the exit.

For a fee, visitors can join the fish in a shark cage encounter, a cage-less shark encounter, or a swim in the stingray tank. Experienced dive professionals act as guides during these swims, and help ensure that the experience is safe.

Building Activity

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