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About AquaFacts: AquaFacts are a resource for students who are looking for information on the animals at the Aquarium or other Aquarium-related topics. Here, we’ve compiled some of the most frequently asked questions that we’ve received about the Amazon. The answers come from our biologists and from reputable sources that we reference at the end of this page. If you have a question about the Amazon that’s not addressed in this page or the references below, please feel free to email our librarian.


Questions & Answers

Why is there a rainforest display in the Graham Amazon Gallery at the Vancouver Aquarium?

The Graham Amazon Gallery invites visitors to experience the extraordinary diversity and interdependence of aquatic and terrestrial life in the Amazon as they walk through a re-creation of South America’s tropical rainforest.


How many species live in the Amazon?

The Amazon is the most species-rich area of the world. There are ten times as many freshwater fishes in the Amazon as there are in all of Canada. More than 3,000 species of fishes are known to inhabit the Amazon, where scientists estimate that half of that number remains undiscovered. The Amazon is also home to 50,000 species of higher plants, and one fifth of the world’s bird species. Many of the animals and plants in the Amazon are in danger of extinction. The rainforest is being logged at an ever-increasing rate, and we are losing species before we can identify them. Many of these plants and animals could be of great value in identifying new medicines.

Why is the rainforest being cleared?

Land is cleared to create soybean farms, some over 1000 hectares, for lumber and to make way for human development.

What happens to the land once the forest is cleared?

To illustrate the effect this has on the ecosystem, a one hectare tract of rainforest may support 750 tree species, 125 mammal species, 400 bird species, 150 butterfly species and 100 reptile species. These animals are lost or must move when the forest is cleared.

How much rain does the Amazon Basin receive?

The annual rainfall in the Amazon is 250-1,000 cm, the heaviest in the world. Compare this with White Rock and North Vancouver, which annually receive 110 and 185 cm respectively.

How much water does the Amazon River carry?

More than 1,100 tributaries flow into the Amazon. When flooded the river may rise 16 metres. The Amazon dumps enough fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean each second to fill 2,000,000 bathtubs.

How has the Aquarium increased realism in the Graham Amazon Gallery?

The temperature is maintained at 27°C during the day and 22°C at night. Spray misters keep the humidity near 75 percent. Lights in the habitat turn on and off gradually, simulating dawn and dusk in the Amazon.

Where do we get the animals that we display in the Graham Amazon Gallery?

The Aquarium buys captive-bred fishes from tropical fish dealers in Vancouver and wild-caught fishes from sustainable fisheries. Animals not available through the pet dealers or sustainable fisheries are traded between AZA accredited zoos and aquariums. Some animals are bred here at the Aquarium or at other aquariums and zoos.

Are piranhas dangerous?

The danger posed by piranhas is exaggerated, but these fishes can be a threat to humans under certain conditions. During the rainy season, people swim in piranha-inhabited waters. At this time of year piranhas have lots of fishes to feed on and do not recognize people as food. As water levels fall in the dry season, piranhas can become concentrated in isolated pools. When they have eaten all the prey in these small bodies of water, they must search for other food sources. Starving piranhas can be very dangerous.


What do we feed the piranhas?

The piranhas at the Aquarium are carnivores and eat fishes. Other piranhas eat the scales and fins of other fishes, and still others eat fruits and nuts. To discover the feeding strategy of a particular piranha species, look at the shape of its teeth. The shape of their teeth varies for tearing, grinding or crushing foods.

What prevents the piranhas from eating the fishes in their display?

Piranhas are fed well at the Aquarium. The small fishes, which share the exhibit, are too small and fast to fall prey to the much larger piranhas.

Besides piranhas, what other dangerous fishes inhabit the Amazon?

Freshwater stingrays are very dangerous. They do not attack people, but their venomous spines can cause injury to anyone who steps on them in the often opaque waters of the Amazon. Look for stingrays beside the piranha exhibit. The electric eel is another potentially dangerous fish. Long electric eels can kill by discharging between 400 and 600 volts of electricity. The longer they are, the more power they have.


How large do fishes grow in the Amazon?

At 4.5 m, the arapaima is the largest fish in the Amazon. 

Why do the arapaima’s gulp air at the water's surface?

Arapaima are air-breathing fish. In the Amazon this is an advantage because the river tends to have low oxygen levels.

How old is the anaconda, and how big will he grow?

In 2010, the male turned 15 years old. He is approximately 3.5 metres long.

What do sloths eat?

Sloths eat vegetables. Because of their slow metabolism, sloths can take more than a week to digest a meal.

How do we make sure the animals stay within the rainforest habitat?

The birds and sloths are much more comfortable in the forested areas away from visitors. In the evening the doors are closed at the entrance and exit of the rainforest habitat. This prevents the birds and other animals from wandering away from the gallery overnight.


  1. Goulding, Michael. 1989. Amazon: The Flooded Forest. London: BBC Books.
  2. Newman, Murray A., and Stefani Hewlett. 1987. “The Graham Amazon Gallery at the Vancouver Public Aquarium.” In International Zoo Yearbook. 26: pp. 81-90

Permission is granted by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre for classroom teachers to make copies for non-commercial use. This permission does not extend to copying for promotional purposes, creating new collective works, or resale. 


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