But at Rarotonga’s Whale and Wildlife Centre, getting up close and personal with the exhibits is not only allowed, but encouraged
You can spray the crabs with sea water, touch the whale bones, try on diving gear, and even pet the fairy tern chicks. The centre encourages visitors to experience first-hand many aspects of the ocean environment.
“Coming to the Whale and Wildlife exhibit centre means that you are going to learn about the whales and all the wildlife in the Cook Islands, covering marine creatures and land creatures, and all the biodiversity of the country,” centre manager Sheryl John said.
Local whale researcher Nan Hauser built the Whale Education Centre in 2000 and seven years ago Sheryl and her husband Huw joined Hauser to create the Wildlife Centre – a world of exhibits that showcase the incredible biodiversity of the Cook Islands.
Proceeds from the entry fee go to help the whale research conducted by Hauser. The centre has a wide array of intriguing exhibits as well as a cinema, a café and a shop,
“So if people want souvenirs or things to take home, we are the only place in Rarotonga that stocks these things,” John said pointing to a big blue-eyed whale toy.
With eight aquariums and a ‘touch pool’ that people can gently explore, John says the centre is great for those who may be too old or too young to go snorkelling or diving – and those who aren’t keen on either activity.
“It is nice for them to be able to feel things that aren’t hurt by being touched and won’t hurt them either.”
As well as showcasing the wonderful creatures that roam both the land and water surrounding the Cook Islands the centre focuses on promoting conservation of the environment.
“We have a lot of things in the centre to help educate people and make them think twice (about the environment),” John said.
She still gets genuine encouragement from people’s reaction to the centre’s displays.
“Many people do leave quite emotional, especially if they have watched some of our videos. They depict fishing, whaling, and plastic litter in the ocean. It’s not all about wonderful stuff when you walk through, but that’s just reality.”
John said everything visitors learn at the Whale and Wildlife centre is factual, from the true nature of sharks, to the small ways in which people can limit their use of plastic.
The Cook Islands Whale and Wildlife Centre is open from 10am to 4pm Sunday to Friday.
Entry is $12 for adults and $6 for children, which gives you a year-long pass. This means families can come back every few weeks and see the new exhibits and the latest creatures the centre has acquired.
It’s located on the back road at Atupa. For more information see www.whaleresearch.org.