Sea Pavilion

By Appointment Only with the BIO Tour Guides, Open May through August 9:00am-4:00pm

The BIO Sea Pavilion and its touch tank displays opened in 1998 to provide the public with the opportunity to meet, up close, some of the various marine animals that inhabit Nova Scotia’s coastal waters.

Presently there are four large display tanks containing a variety of "touchable" animals such as starfish, sea cucumbers and lobsters. The following is a brief overview of some of the marine animals that currently call the Sea Pavilion home.


About a year after mating a female lobster extrudes her eggs and carries them under her tail until her eggs hatch. It may take between 10 and 11 months for hatching to occur. Once a young lobster has moulted 3 times and attained a length of 8mm, it takes on the form of a fully developed lobster. Despite its mature form, it takes a long time to grow. It takes about 7 years for a lobster to reach minimum legal size when it will weigh about 450 gm. An adult lobster can be up to 90 cm long and occasionally reach weights up to 15 kg. The largest ever landed (in a net) that we are aware of was 19.96 kg (44lbs).

Even though lobsters can be found just about anywhere along the Scotian shelf, the preferred areas to fish for them are ocean depths greater than 3m. Larger lobsters, called "jumbos", are normally found near the edge of the continental shelf although they also occur near shore.


Both lobsters and crabs are crustaceans. These species are able to regenerate limbs that have been lost or severely damaged. Crabs attain most of their nutrients by scavenging, however some crab are known to catch worms and small fish. You will see a variety of specimens, from small hermit and green crabs right up to the commercially valued snow and rock crabs.


The waters off of Nova Scotia are home to a variety of starfish. Starfish with up to twelve appendages are common, and some members of the genus may contain up to twenty-five arms. Starfish can be found with a startling array of colours including purple, pink and yellow. Starfish are also able to regenerate lost limbs. Interestingly enough, if a starfish is cut equally into the number of its limbs, with each piece having an equal amount of the stomach, the same number of starfish will regenerate as there are limbs.

Sand Dollars

The white disk-like objects are commonly found in gift shops and are more than just ornamental shells. They are actually the remnants of a once living organism. When alive, sand dollars have a burgundy coloration and the tiny spines covering their bodies create a star like pattern on their upper surface. Sand dollars are filter feeders, and spend much of their existence under the sand. They collect nutrients by filtering them from the water.

Sea Urchins

Sea urchins are echinoderms, a term signifying "spiny skin". Starfish, sea cucumbers and sand dollars, all fit into this classification. The spines on their dome-like body are actually mobile. Between these spines are found five rows of tube feet. These tube feet are effectively suction cups that can be utilised in climbing or grasping for kelp, their main source of food.

Sea Cucumbers

Though its' shape is highly variable, a sea cucumber's form is true to its name. These creatures have a distinguishable mouth and anus. The ring of retractable tentacles that are found in the mouth, are used for filter feeding. Like sea urchins, sea cucumbers also have five rows of tube feet that are used in locomotion. Sea cucumbers have a very unique defence mechanism. In situations where they are exposed to an attack, they will eject their internal organs. These organs will regenerate.


Found at water depths of about 3.6-180 m, scallops can attain a size of up to 20 cm in diameter. The eyes of a scallop can be clearly located along the rim of the upper and lower shell. Depending upon the species, the eyes are either blue or black and are only used to perceive light. Scallops are one of the few bivalve molluscs that are able to move rapidly. Motion is achieved by repeatedly opening and closing the shells, forcing water out the sides of the scallop, and propelling it forward. Scallops obtain their food by filter feeding.


Snails are molluscs known as gastropods. The term gastropod signifies "digestive foot". Their particular method of feeding is true to their name, as snails digest everything from shellfish to other snails using their foot. Snails release their eggs all at once in thick mucus. As the mucus hardens, the eggs become more protected. At the Sea Pavilion, visitors can see moon snails and dog whelks. Dog whelks are particularly affected by chemical run off and dumping. It has been noted that an exceeding majority of young develop into females. Many chemicals act as hormones, causing the majority of juveniles to become females. This trend is obviously detrimental to the gender balance of these snails.

Sea Anemones

Sea anemones are cylindrical in form with tentacles extending off the anterior end of the organism. As a defence mechanism, they will release large quantities of nematocysts. These "sting cells" are able to deter most of the sea anemone’s predators, yet pose a benign threat to humans. Locomotion is achieved by gliding along the sea floor. Sea anemones feed on plankton and small fish. They are particularly interesting reproductively. They are able to reproduce by mating sexually, but are also able of creating exact genetic copies of themselves by asexual budding.

Eastern Oysters

The shell of an oyster is rough, irregular and dome shaped. Unlike the scallop, oysters don’t move once they have secured themselves to the seabed bottom. They can attain a diameter of about 25 cm (centimetre). Oysters are susceptible to disease and predation. The species owes its existence to the sheer number of eggs that the female lays. A single female may lay up to 100,000,000 eggs a year. Oysters are particularly susceptible to predatory attack from sea stars, drills, green crabs, flatworms, fish, rays, sea ducks and man.

Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic salmon is a descendent of the trout. At some point, groups of trout were forced to adapt to the ocean. This evolution resulted in the speciation of the salmon. Salmon have silver coloration with black spots close to their spines. Salmon are diadromous, meaning that they migrate between salt and fresh water. In the spring, salmon travel upstream rivers to spawn. During the voyage, salmon face huge obstacles including waterfalls which they are forced to climb in order to reach their final destinations. Once salmon find an area with gravel sediment, the female proceeds to dig a hole where she can lay her eggs. Once the eggs have been laid, the male salmon covers them in milt (sperm). The eggs are then covered with rocks to keep them from washing away and to protect them from predators. While its historic spawning grounds once encompassed more than 40 rivers and streams in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic salmon populations have declined by 90 percent or more in recent years − putting this fish at risk of extinction. They are now listed under the Species at Risk Act as endangered.


Hakes, rattails and brotulas are all close relatives of the codfish. One of the most distinguishable characteristics of a cod is the presence of a whisker barbell, which protrudes from the chin. Cod have soft-rayed fins that lack spines. Their fin structure is composed of three dorsal fins and two anal fins. They have a speckled-blue coloration. They can weigh up to 50 kg and attain a length of up to 2 m long. Cod usually spawn between the months of January and March and a 37 kg female can lay up to 9,000,000 eggs. Cod are considered groundfish and are most commonly found near the bottom of the ocean. Considered one of the oldest fisheries in the world, the cod fishery was at one time the most profitable.


Skates are closely related to rays and sharks. Their bodies are cartilaginous and contain no real bone. Skates are relatively flat and have wide specialized pectoral fins that allow graceful movement by flapping up and down, like wings. The tail of a skate is specialized and contains two anal fins. Unlike the stingray, the tail of a skate contains no nerve toxin. The highest concentration of skates in Canada can be found just off the Grand Banks. Skates are found in water as warm as 10°C and as frigid and 0°C. They are most commonly found in 50-70 m depths. After her eggs have been fertilised, the female will drop two at a time, each contained in specialized egg cases, every five to seven days, until all the eggs have been laid. Skate larva stay in the eggs for a minimum of six months. These egg cases are commonly known as mermaid’s purses.


Pollock, sometimes marketed as Boston blue fish, are a dark blue fish with a protruding lower jaw. They have a luminescent yellow-green stripe down their side and exhibit particularly nervous behaviour. They are susceptible to predation from seals and humans. Pollock is the ingredient of choice when manufacturing artificial crab. The pollock fishery is a large one.


When a flounder hatches, it is no different from any other fish, but within the first few days of its life, it turns on to one side of its body. The eye that would be facing down migrates to the upper side. Flounders eyes never match up and they have a slightly skewed look. The mouth of a flounder remains as it was in the immediate post-natal stage and appears to be sideways. There are both left and right handed flounders depending on which side is the upper side. Flounders are also groundfish. Two species of flounder that can be seen at the BIO Sea Pavilion: yellow-tailed flounder and the winter flounder.

Most of these marine animals can be viewed at the Sea Pavilion at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Different species are introduced to our tanks as they become available.