Underwater World Singapore closes: So long, and thanks for all the fish

Left: Visitors taking snaps and selfies in the attraction's underwater tunnel. Below: All in, about 8,500 residents and tourists thronged the 25-year-old attraction in Sentosa yesterday - more than five times the average daily visitorship.
Visitors taking snaps and selfies in the attraction's underwater tunnel.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
Left: Visitors taking snaps and selfies in the attraction's underwater tunnel. Below: All in, about 8,500 residents and tourists thronged the 25-year-old attraction in Sentosa yesterday - more than five times the average daily visitorship.
All in, about 8,500 residents and tourists thronged the 25-year-old attraction in Sentosa yesterday - more than five times the average daily visitorship.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

Thousands pack veteran attraction on its last day to take advantage of low entry fees or just to say goodbye

As the strains of Auld Lang Syne played over the speakers at Underwater World Singapore, thousands of people braved the crowds to take their last selfies and videos with the marine life at the oceanarium before it closed for good yesterday.

Around 8,500 residents and tourists thronged the 25-year-old attraction in Sentosa yesterday, which is more than five times the average daily visitorship, said Haw Par Corporation, which runs Underwater World.

Some came to bid adieu to a place that held fond memories from their younger days, while others took advantage of the slashed admission prices to visit the facility for the first - and last - time.

"It's been almost 16 years since I last came here. I used to visit at least once a year," said Madam Christina Lim, 53, a bus captain who was riding the travellator that snaked through Underwater World's iconic 83m underwater tunnel.

Pointing at the giant groupers and sharks swimming overhead, she said: "I would watch the fish grow bigger and bigger. When I heard it's closing, I thought, I must visit it one last time."

At the touch pools, children and adults alike squeezed their way to the edges for a chance to stroke the fish, starfishes and stingrays.

Malaysian housewife Vivian Tsang was with her son, 22, and daughter, 11. "My daughter was two when we last visited. We took photos with two kissing crabs then, and she remembers them," said the 44-year-old from Sabah. "Sadly, we couldn't see the dolphins today."

Earlier this month, Haw Par announced that it was closing the attraction as the lease on its premises expires in less than two years. The early closure is to facilitate the transfer of the animals to their new homes.

The attraction's pink dolphins, fur seals and otters have been moved to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, China, one of the largest marine parks in the world.

As for the rest, a spokesman said: "After the closure, 10 of our staff will stay on to operate and maintain the aquarium's life support system and to care for the animals till suitable homes are found for them."

When Underwater World opened in May 1991, it was the largest tropical fish oceanarium in Asia. Built at a cost of more than $20 million, it was a big draw for tourists.

But in recent years, it faced competition from newer attractions on the resort island, such as the Marine Life Park and Universal Studios theme park.

In its last month, the oceanarium lowered ticket prices to its 1991 opening prices - $9 per adult and $5 per child - against the usual prices of $29.90 for adults and $20.90 for children.

This prompted Mr Gary Lim, 50, to make a trip down for the first time yesterday with his wife and two children. "It was very expensive previously," said Mr Lim, a cost controller.

While he found the underwater tunnel interesting, he said: "It was very crowded, so I didn't have the chance to just stand there and watch the fish."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'So long, and thanks for all the fish'. Print Edition | Subscribe