What Magellan and Elcano Didn't See: The Americas and Beyond

Journey through the ocean depths on this themed tour of the Seville Aquarium.

By Seville City Council

Seville Aquarium

Magellan's Voyage at Seville AquariumOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

Since opening in 2014, Seville Aquarium has had a special connection with the adventures of Magellan and Elcano; its whole exhibition experience has been designed around the route of the first circumnavigation of the earth.

It is the same universe they traveled through, but one they won't have seen, other than observed species like sharks, whales, flying fish, and dolphins, and those chronicled by Antonio Pigafetta in his extraordinary journal of the voyage.

Magellan's Voyage at Seville AquariumOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

This exhibition takes the visitor on a tour of the Guadalquivir River, the Atlantic Ocean, the tropical rainforest, the Pacific Ocean, and the Indo-Pacific. Just like Magellan and Elcano 500 years ago.

The second part of the journey is the focus now, from when the expedition reached the Americas, onto the Moluccas and the return journey.

JungleOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

Tropical Rainforest

The rainforests of South America and their abundance of reptiles and amphibians.

JungleOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The expedition reached South America on 29th November after two months crossing the Atlantic.

On December 13th, they reached present-day Rio de Janeiro, the South American tropics at the mouth of the Amazon River. The expedition came across one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.

Here, some of the most characteristic reptile and amphibian species of the tropical south american rainforest can be seen. These include green anacondas, lizards, green basilisks, poison dart frogs, iguanas, and crocodiles.

Golden FrogOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The Amazonian ecosystem is characterized by high levels of rainfall and an average temperature of around 77ºF (25ºC), meaning it has a considerably high humidity.

The poison dart frog is one of the species found in this habitat. Brilliantly colored in adulthood, their skin is impregnated with one of the strongest poisons found in the animal kingdom.

Blue FrogOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

Indigenous people in the area would use this poison, which blocks neural connections to the muscles, to coat the tips of their hunting arrows.

In captivity they are not poisonous, so it is possible they become venomous by ingesting insects that contain an active toxic substance.

Moon JellyfishOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla


After the great storm, the expedition captained by Magellan found calm in the depths of the sea.

Upside-down JellyfishOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The expedition was sailing round the South American coast in search of a route to the Southern Sea, now known as the Pacific Ocean.

On October 21st, 1520, they found a strait and began to ply its deep waters and fjords through huge glacial storms. It was the Strait of Magellan.

And after the storm … there was calm and the Pacific Ocean. A place that was full of light, color, and movement, where jellyfish moved like beating hearts.

White-spotted JellyfishOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The jellyfish tanks take visitors to the depths of the ocean to experience nature's most enigmatic creatures up close.

The bell of the white-spotted jellyfish can reach up to almost 20 inches (50 cm) in diameter.

Jellyfish TankOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The Pacific sea nettle jellyfish has a distinctive golden-brown bell with a reddish tint.

The Coral TankOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The Indo-Pacífic

The expedition reached the other side of the world, where the Pacific and Indian oceans join, a place of astonishing biodiversity.

ClownfishOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

After entering the Pacific, it would be two months before the expedition captained by Magellan saw land again. This was when they reached the tropical waters that lap the shores of the so-called Spice Islands.

The biodiversity in these waters is amazing. Ecosystems like mangrove swamps and coral reefs in particular are home to very colorful species.

LionfishOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The lionfish—or scorpionfish—in the picture has an astonishing appearance. Its whitish coloring with brown or maroon-red stripes along the length of its body serve as great camouflage.

MangrovesOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

On November 7th, 1521, the expedition finally arrived at the Molucca Islands in modern-day Indonesia. Two years and three months had passed since they left the port of Seville.

The Molucca Islands have a natural ecosystem of mangrove swamps. This is a very special ecosystem where freshwater and seawater mix. Lots of species of tropical fish and rays can be found there.

The mangrove (meaning twisted tree) is part of this ecosystem and protects coastal areas from storm erosion. It is also a great ally in the fight against climate change as it is able to store large amounts of CO2.

Lots of fish use the roots of this tree as shelter and as a nursery area.

The Coral TankOriginal Source: Acuario de Sevilla

The visit ends at the coral reef tank. An explosion of color, typical of these tropical ecosystems that shelter a quarter of all ocean species.

Species like blue tang, angel fish, butterflyfish, and tangs live in these warm waters.

Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold) (2019)Seville City Council

On December 18th, 1521, with the two ships loaded up with cloves, the expedition set out to return to Spain. But that day Trinidad began to leak, so Victoria set off alone toward the West.

The Nao Victoria arrived in Seville on September 8th, 1522 with Elcano as captain. The voyage took three years, and of the 237 who set out, only 18 returned. The Victoria was the only one of the five boats to return.

Credits: Story

An exhibition commissioned by Seville Aquarium.

Content and photos: Communications Department, Seville Aquarium.

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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