By Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246
These aquatic emporiums take landlubbers underwater to view the wetter side of nature.
Seeing an aquarium on television can’t compare with viewing it in person. Here you can learn about underwater creatures firsthand. In addition, large aquariums often include many nonaquatic critters, too. Plenty of excellent aquariums are located throughout the United States, but we can’t ignore our neighbor to the north, so we’ll start in Vancouver.
1 Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Canada’s first official public aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium is the largest in the country and one of the five largest in North America. Dolphins, beluga whales, and tropical fish from the Tropical Pacific to the Arctic are some of the nearly 60,000 animals you might encounter. They’re displayed in a variety of temperature-controlled pavilions.
2 Aquarium Of The Pacific, Long Beach, California. Experience the world’s largest and most diverse body of water, the Pacific Ocean, at the fifth-largest aquarium in the United States. The focus here is on three regions: the waters off Southern California/Baja, the North Pacific, and the Tropical Pacific. The tropical reef habitat introduces visitors to zebra sharks, blacktip reef sharks, and puffer fish, to name a few. The three-story-high Blue Cavern habitat features seals and sea lions. In the North Pacific gallery, giant Japanese spider crabs crawl, diverting your attention from the mischievous sea otters.
3 Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California. Monterey Bay offers so much to enjoy, but this aquarium should be at the top of everybody’s must-see list. More than a dozen exhibit areas intrigue visitors, including the kelp forest, sandy shoreline, rocky shore, outer bay, and the deep sea. Some areas are devoted to specific species, such as sea otters, octopuses, jellyfish, seahorses, and even sharks and rays. You’ll be very tired when you leave, but exhilarated by the experience.
4 The Florida Aquarium, Tampa, Florida. You’ll find plenty of variety at this aquarium with 10,000 aquatic plants and water creatures on view. It’s nice to see sharks without worrying about being eaten. As for other critters, alligators, river otters, leafy sea dragons, a giant Pacific octopus, and more than you can imagine call this facility home. Dive shows occur daily, including one where a human diver enters the shark tank. If this isn’t enough to sate your appetite for water-loving creatures when in Florida, head for Sea World Orlando, or the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
5 Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia. This facility is touted as the “World’s Largest and Most Engaging Aquarium.” Sound impressive? Eight million gallons of water contain aquatic life you’re sure to have seen on television. We recommend visiting the aquarium’s delightful Web site, www.georgiaaquarium.org, to help plan your trip. Weekdays are best; during weekends and holidays it’s better to arrive in the early morning, or after 3:00 p.m.
6 Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois. Strap on a make-believe mask and flippers and imagine you’re in this, the world’s largest indoor aquarium. See dozens of sharks, along with Komodo dragons and other giant lizards. The Amazon Rising section is full of surprises, such as giant turtles, poisonous frogs, and hundreds of fish. In all, you can travel to 90 different aquatic habitats “” rivers, oceans, islands, and lakes. Several times a day, divers feed the sharks, rays, and a sea turtle, while they answer visitors’ questions.
7 Audubon Aquarium Of The Americas, New Orleans, Louisiana. Among this facility’s many other exhibits, don’t miss the Penguin Colony. The waddling residents survived Hurricane Katrina and are now back home from their temporary haven at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. At the Seahorse Gallery you’ll encounter creatures that remind you of mystical sea monsters. “Spots,” a rare white alligator in the Mississippi River Gallery, was found in a nearby swamp in 1987. You can stroll through a 30-foot-long aquatic tunnel surrounded by creatures of all shapes and sizes. In the IMAX Theatre, the underwater world comes to life on a gigantic screen.
8 National Aquarium In Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland. More than 16,000 creatures and hundreds of exhibits make it tough to decide which attractions to mention. There’s much to see beyond the usual fish. Sample these: Wild Extremes, where lizards skitter across the ground and flying foxes soar through the trees. In the Frogs “” A Chorus of Colors exhibit you’ll learn how frogs have adapted to their surroundings. Some are visually stunning, many are operatic divas, and others jump high into the air.
9 Adventure Aquarium, Camden, New Jersey. It’s certainly an adventure to visit this one. Within its 200,000 square feet you’ll find hippopotamuses, crocodiles, and porcupines, while nearby you’ll see and hear more than 20 species of African birds in a free-flight aviary. More excitement comes when you enter a transparent tunnel and stroll along surrounded by sharks. Meet two Nile hippos, arguably the most dangerous animals in Africa. Their open mouths span nearly four feet wide, second only to whales. And do watch for the African porcupine “” just don’t touch.
10 New York Aquarium, Brooklyn, New York. The only aquarium in New York City has 8,000 animals on exhibit. Some hail from as far away as the coast of Africa, others from the Arctic. A few “commuters” came from the nearby Hudson River. Whether you’re seeing the drifting tentacles of the jellyfish, standing awestruck by the walruses in the Sea Cliffs exhibit, or cheering on the California sea lions in their antics, you’ll be close to amazing wildlife.
11 Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon. Nearly all the sea creatures, mammals, and birds here are native to the Oregon coastline. That includes sea otters, harbor seals, and sea lions along the rocks and in the water. You can encounter sharks, rays, and other denizens of the deep in a 200-foot clear underwater tunnel that snakes through three ocean habitats. You also will discover that some of those tales of sea dragons, seahorses, and other mysterious sea creatures are true.
12 Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Zoo now includes an aquarium of 4,000 aquatic animals. A river exhibit flows along the front of the building, where waterfalls descend into a fish pool. The two-story Open Ocean Tank combines sharks, fish, and simulated coral to represent a complete ecosystem, while the Amazon Rainforest has everything from lush plant life to piranhas. With this much to see, it certainly deserves a separate visit, rather than trying to fit it in with seeing the zoo.
13 Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi, Texas. Here you’ll visit ecosystems from the Gulf of Mexico and coastal Texas, coral reefs with sharks and barracuda, jetty systems populated by crabs and flounders, and East Texas swamps and their alligators. An underwater viewing room puts you face-to-face with dolphins behind a 70-foot-long acrylic window. Live presentations are offered daily.