Whether you are fortunate to live close to the ocean and experience the amazing creatures and beauty that it has to offer or are planning a visit, it is worth a trip to an aquarium to experience sea life up close and personal. Fortunately, there are a few places that not only give a peek into this world, but also help to conserve it.
These aquariums are doing all they can to conserve and protect our ocean ecosystems. They seek to educate, rehabilitate, research but not exploit them. So instead of heading to the theme or entertainment parks, head over to an aquarium or rehabilitation clinic and see what wildlife really does when it is allowed to be wild.
What makes a world-class Aquarium? World class achievement comes when an Aquarium begins to contribute to the study and conservation of the wild species. Many Aquariums understand the critical role they play in helping to maintain a healthier ecosystem from which their exhibited species came, and are going to great lengths to help scientists and the public understand the role we all play. Their mission statement tells it all.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Aquarium sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean along one of the most beautiful coastlines, nestled in between local shops, restaurants, and beaches. Just up the coast from Carmel and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, this aquarium has been setting the pace for excellence in conservation and rehabilitation. The Aquarium has 200 exhibits with more than 35,000 creatures representing over 550 species of sea life from around the world.
As you stroll through the Aquarium you’ll walk under life-size models of orcas, gray whales, porpoises and dolphins on your way to an open-air shorebirds aviary or the Sea Otter Exhibit. It is vibrant and serene, engaging and evolving upon every visit. I have been visiting this Aquarium for over 25 years, and it never disappoints.
Daily shows & feedings are scheduled throughout the day, but be sure to arrive early as space fills up quickly. What makes this place truly special is the exuberance of the staff and volunteers and the accommodating patrons that make room for the kids to get a front row view of the events. The schedule includes: Penguin feeding, Sea otter feeding, Open sea feeding, Luna: A Sea Otter’s Story, Kelp forest feeding at the kelp forest exhibit, Project white shark, Mysteries of the deep, and so much more.
The many exhibits are inviting, educational and sure to please every age. Kids and adults alike can touch bat rays in the Bat Ray Pool and sea stars, gumboot chitons and abalone in the Ocean’s Edge Touch Pool.
- Tentacles the amazing lives of the octopus, squid, and cuttlefish that will showcase a rotating array of two dozen species; chambered nautilus, Hawaiian bobtail squid, giant Pacific octopus, and more.
- The Jellies Experience watch graceful jellies pulse, glow and flash their colorful lights in this beautiful exhibit.
- Giant Pacific Octopus elegant and graceful creatures have one of most sophisticated camouflage system in the world. Fun fact: The females will lay 20,000 to 100,000 eggs. She will tend to the eggs for 6 to 7 months until the hatch.
- Kelp Forest three-story forest of living kelp. Be sure to swing by the kelp forest feeding shows where a diver talks with the audience through a two-way communications mask.
- Life on the Bay Watch what is happening on the Monterey Bay cam. The bay has Pacific white-sided dolphins, Southern sea otters, Humpback whales, Pelagic cormorants, and much much more.
- Mission to the Deep A 360 video projection takes you into the deep where you can see black-eyed squids, a fangtooth fish, a flapjack octopus and so much more.
- Monterey Bay Habitats watch seven gill sharks, salmon, giant sea bass and many other fish in this 90’ long, 326,000 gallon exhibit.
- Open Sea The Aquarium’s largest exhibit of ocean creatures in constant motion. Watch from different levels as the many sea creatures swim through the water.
- Rocky Shore interactive for kids, experience the force of a wave, and touch creatures from the bay.
- Sandy Shore & Aviary A taste of bird watching as the many birds among the mud and marshes or gently touch a bat ray as it swims along the bottom of one of the many interactive exhibits.
- Sea Otters the charismatic frolicking creatures are entertaining at all hours of the day.
- Splash Zone & Penguins features 45 bilingual interactive exhibits with leafy sea dragons, cuttlefish, kelp forest habitat, and touch pool.
Need a bit more hands on experience? Monterey Bay Aquarium offers behind-the-scenes tours and other Aquarium Adventures programs with sleepovers, kid’s SCUBA experience (ages 8 to 13), and special Romance tours.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is actively involved in conservation efforts. The aquarium partners with world-class researchers to advance science-based solutions for a healthier ocean ecosystem. Some of the projects they are working on are shark tagging, Sea Otter Research & conservation, Tuna Research & Conservation, and the rehabilitation of the Snowy plover which are raised at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and release into the wild at a Monterey Bay beach.
“Big Blue Live”
On August 31-September 2 of 2015, Monterey Bay Aquarium, PBS and BBC will broadcast live with Monterey Bay’s diverse sea life as the main attraction. The show will illustrate how publicly supported efforts to conserve and protect a healthy ocean ecosystem have been highly successful.
Ticket price for the Aquarium is $39.95 for adults, $24.95 for children ages 3-12, and students/seniors have a rate of $34.95. They do offer discounted package deals with hotels, the CityPass and groups.
Leading by example regarding stewardship and conservation of the animal world, the Georgia Aquarium is exploring the connection between the ocean and human health. The Aquarium not only conducts research on the animals at the aquarium, but they spend a majority of their time and funding researching species in their natural habitat to better understand the wildlife at the aquarium. Their research and conservation activities are built around their various galleries and exhibits.
Aquanaut Adventure (discovery zone for all ages with STEM related activities and exploration of fresh and marine habitats.)
Gerogia-Pacific Cold Water Quest (species showing amazing adaptation for harsh environments around the world. The beluga whale aquarium is 59° F (15°C) Arctic habitat.)
AT&T Dolphin Tales (dolphin encounter program and theatrical performance with dolphins to help educate the audience on the importance of caring for sea creatures.)
Ocean Voyager Built by The Home Depot (experience whale sharks, manta rays and schools of rainbow runners along with many other species in the largest aquatic habitat of 6.3 million gallons of the salt water.)
Southern Company River Scout (This freshwater habitat contains animals that inhabit the rivers of four continents Africa, S. America, Asia and N. America. It focuses on the importance of protecting freshwater environments)
Tropical Diver Presented by Southwest (Exhibit shows off the diversity of coral reefs with moon jellies and yellow banded sweetlips in this living Pacific barrier reef habitat.)
With 10 million gallons of water full of aquatic life, you are sure to see something amazing and unique. If your kids just can’t get enough of this place, there is Camp H2O. The program has camps every week and runs from the beginning of June through the end of July. It teaches kids about conservation, investigation, and gives them an up close and personal experience with the animals of the Aquarium.
The Aquarium has been involved in sixty-five research projects collaborating with colleagues throughout the US and Latin America to help the Aquarium improve husbandry methods, develop innovative exhibits, and contribute to the science and conservation of sea life.
Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station (GACFS) is currently involved in rescue and research of dolphins and small whales in NE Florida. They have been documenting the cause of marine mammal stranding and identification of emerging diseases in these species that will provide critical information to help not only the animals but their ecosystem and possibly human health issues. Current efforts include whale sharks, dolphins, beluga whale, loggerhead sea turtle, Antillean manatee, coastal Georgia Manatee, sea turtle in Dominica, African Penguin, and Sting Rays.
Watch Jeff Corwin team up with researchers from the Georgia Aquarium to study sea life in the wild.
Ticket price, not including tax, is $38.95 (ages 13-64), $32.95 (ages 3-12), and $34.95 (age 65+). They also offer discounts on online tickets purchased in advance and package deals.
Another world-class aquarium located along the Pacific coast, The Oregon Coast Aquarium is 39 acres of amazing sea life overlooking Yaquina Bay. With 15,000 specimens and 259 species, this aquarium is able to deliver an exceptional experience from The Seabird Aviary to Passages of the Deep. For the younger kids, The Sea & Me is an interactive exhibit that takes young visitors on a hands-on journey aboard a mini submarine to learn about deep water science, venture across a boardwalk to underwater scopes of cichlids, and experience the free-play area where children can engage and play with the many costumes and sea themed toys.
- Oregon Coast (The vast open ocean, encounter the Oregon coast in all its beauty)
- Sandy Shores (A unique freestanding pier pilings exhibit where mussels and anemone are encrusted)
- Rocky Shores (Touch Pool with sea stars, gumboot chitons and anemones)
- Coastal Waters (View the 35,000 gallon exhibit along with jellies, hagfish, salmon, and so much more)
- Giant Pacific Octopus (Venomous beak and ink, need I say more?)
- Sea Otters (All male raft of Northern and Southern Sea Otters)
- Seals & Sea Lions (Can you tell the difference between these pinnipeds?)
- Seabird Aviary (Puffins, Black Oystercatcher, rhinoceros Auklet, Common Murres, and more)
- Turkey Vulture Habitat (Come meet the intelligent and curious Ichabod and Olive)
- Passages of the Deep (Underwater walkways of the dark canyons of the Orford Reef to the Open Sea)
- Aquarium Gardens (Example of native coastal forest with ferns and the Western Red Cedar)
- Estuary Trail (experience Yaquina Bay in its natural state)
- Secrets of Shipwrecks (Part history, part mystery and capture the spirit of an archaeological adventure)
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is steeped in conservation, rehabilitation and research. They extend their knowledge and resources to better engage the public through school outreach programs, camps, annual beach clean-up with SOLVE, and volunteer programs for the young and old. The Aquarium is also collaborating with the U.S Fish & Game (USFWS) and the Nature Conservancy to help restore the silverspot butterfly habitat. Rehabilitate and release programs for birds, fur seals, Harbor seal pups, sea turtles and marine mammals are the many ways this aquarium is giving back to the environment.
Some fun interactive adventures: Octopus encounters, Behind the Scenes Tours, Dive the Aquarium, Face to Face Snorkel Program, Sleep with the Sharks, Lab Program, Aquatots Preschool Program, Edible Ocean Family Camp. Buy tickets online for admission, tours and animal encounters.
For more on what is happening at the Aquarium visit their YouTube channel
Operating as an educational and conservation aquarium out of the United Kingdom, this aquarium is hustling and bustling most of the year, especially on rainy days and holidays. Be sure to come early, doors open at 10am and this place gets busy quick. If you arrive late or on the weekends, you may encounter a queuing system.
Exhibits like the Awakening Seas explore 4 million years of ocean history from the Megalodon shark teeth to present day life. From there, head over to Lagoon of Light and experience the underwater reef of a tropical lagoon with live corals present in the Coral Wave tank. While exploring this exhibit you can get up close and personal with the smaller native animals of the British sea-shore at Dylan’s Discovery Corner. This Aquarium is vibrant and full of interactive and educational features for kids and adults.
Awakening Seas (Journey through time and see giant fossils and Megalodon teeth. See what happen as the once acidic oceans became alive with sea life.)
Lagoon of Light (Learn about the diverse and protective habitat of coral reefs.)
Endless Ocean (Green sawfish, Nurse sharks, White Tip Reef sharks, Grey Reef sharks, Zebra sharks and Spotted Wobbegong are just a few of the magnificent animals you will see in this 2.5 million liter tank. That’s roughly 660,000 gallons. Monday through Friday at 2pm, you can watch divers drop into this shark tank and hand feed the animals.)
Slime (What is it, what lives in it, and how it contributes to the ecosystem. Find out who creates this goo.)
Bug Champion (If you’re into creepy crawling creatures, this is for you. Cockroaches, stick bugs and assassin bugs..find out how they survive in their unique habitats.)
Amazon Flooded ForestCool Seas (Find out what creatures live in the deep oceans with temperatures reaching -50 ̊C)
Kingdom of Ice (visit the polar world and learn about the impact of global warming, ocean acidification and food chains of the creatures that live in the colder climates. See Gentoo penguins in their three-story home.)
Deep Blue One (features some of the world’s greatest river systems; learn about the ecosystem of each river and the particular threats they face from mining, deforestation, and overfishing.)
Want a bit more hands on experience for the kids? Try the Junior Experience Day for ages 8-11. They’ll tour the Cool Seas plant room, clean the tanks, experience the touch pool, try on the dive kit, handle a cockroach and so much more. Book ahead of time because this sells out quick.
Research projects range from their involvement with The Galapagos Conservation Trust, donating money to monitor Galapagos penguins, to working with groups like SECORE and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), researching and cleaning the coral reefs and beaches. The Deep is passionate about education, conservation and is devoted to helping restore and protect the World’s fragile ocean ecosystems and waterways.
A few other aquariums that are worth checking out: National Aquarium in Baltimore, Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, Aquarium of the Pacific in L.A., Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan, Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska
Written by Victoria Miles, illustrated by Andrea Tachiera. A tale of a mother sea otter feeding her pup from the bounty of food among the kelp forest. For young readers 2+ years
Written and edited by Fleur Star, designed by Gemma Fletcher and Sophie Pelham. Detailed illustrations on a large selection of sharks. Great for young children to learn about the world of sharks. 3+ years
Written by Karen Wallace, illustrated by Mike Rostock. The tale of a devoted mother octopus as she cares for her eggs until the finally hatch. ages 5-8 years
Written by Johnna Rizzo. The wonderful world of sea life from the coral reefs to the depths. 4+ years
Large flops that open up into amazing illustrations of the giant sea creatures of the sea with a bunch of fun facts about each animal. 4-6 years
Detailed panels of the inner workings of the dolphin. The recommended age is 8+, but our son became interested in how the body works at age 4, so we started off with this book. He still loves it.