Whether its in Seoul, South Korea, or in Vancouver, B.C., visiting an aquarium is the next best thing to diving deep to experience underwater life.

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IF YOU can’t dive into the deep blue sea to see underwater life, visiting an aquarium is the next best thing. And there’s one almost anywhere in the world.

At the Coex Aquarium in Seoul, South Korea, above, a swarm of shimmering sardines darts after a turtle. Schoolkids and tourists swarm through the aquarium, too, tucked incongruously into a giant underground shopping mall.

More evocative, and closer to home for travelers, are some North American aquariums in more natural surroundings.

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The Vancouver Aquarium nestles amid the firs of Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C., a (long) stone’s throw from the park’s seashore. It showcases more than 50,000 creatures, from dolphins spinning in pools and beluga whales to fish, snakes and sloths from South America’s Amazon rain forest.

Or, heading south along the Pacific Coast, the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport celebrates Northwest coastal creatures, from the giant Pacific octopus to sea otters, sea lions and sea birds.

In California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the nation’s most beloved, perched over the rich waters of Monterey Bay. Exhibits range from a bevy of jellyfish glowing in translucent red, blue and green to divers hand-feeding sharks and fish in a tank of wavering kelp.

It’s the next best thing to scuba-diving into your own close encounters with sea life.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.

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