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June 16, 2009

America’s Best Aquariums

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Filed under : General Green
Coming face-to-face with sharks, wandering through oceanic gardens teeming with coral and watching stingrays glide beneath your feet may lead you to believe you’re underwater.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, Calif.

Hammerhead sharks, jellyfish, sea turtles and bluefin tuna: the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium has it all. The million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit boasts the largest community of open-ocean animals in any aquarium. Monterey Bay’s research program is geared toward protecting endangered animals such as sea otters and tracking the migration of sharks and whales.

John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Ill.

Twenty different habitats and 500 species of animals are featured in the Wild Reef exhibit at Chicago’s gargantuan John G. Shedd Aquarium. Green sea turtles, Atlantic tarpons and bonnethead sharks can be found swimming around the Caribbean Reef exhibit, while the Waters of the World exhibit features marine life native to their respective ocean, river, and lake waters. Shedd’s Oceanarium exhibit is closed for renovation through June 2009.

National Aquarium, Baltimore, Md.

Want to gawk at Australian crocodiles while you’re in Baltimore? No problem. Stop by the National Aquarium, which houses one of the nation’s most spectacular exhibits: Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes. The 65,400 square-foot exhibit houses highly adaptive species from Australia such as the zebra finch, pig-nosed turtle, and grey-headed flying fox. For a more traditional aquarium experience, visitors can check out “Play!”—a bottlenose dolphin show.

SeaWorld Adventure Parks, Orlando, Fla., San Antonio, Texas, San Diego, Calif.

Home of Shamu the killer whale, SeaWorld holds its own as one of America’s best aquariums for its sheer delight factor, particularly among children. The adventure park offers everything from shark exhibits to lagoons where SeaWorld rehabilitates rescued sea turtles. Park educators are on site at SeaWorld San Diego’s Tide Pool exhibit, where visitors can learn about starfish and other tidal creatures. The main event here, of course, is the Shamu Show, where killer whales perform set pieces with animal trainers.

Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Ore.

All of the classic marine life standbys such as sharks, seals and sea lions can be found at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, but the most uniquely rendered exhibits are often those that change. The Aquarium’s current Odd Water exhibit showcases unusual creatures like sting rays and lion fish swimming in a habitat that includes blown glass and life-sized murals of other oceanic creatures. The Aquarium also contains a Sea Bird Aviary exhibiting birds like tufted puffins, black oystercatchers and rhinoceros auklets native to Oregon’s coast.

The Florida Aquarium, Tampa, Fla.

While African black-footed penguins are on exhibit at the Florida Aquarium, the diverse aquatic habitats and ecosystems of Florida are the main feature here. Ideal for children, the Aquarium offers everything from a Caribbean-themed outdoor water exhibit where kids can play to a shark-diving activity that allows certified SCUBA divers (at least 15 years of age) to swim with live sharks. Equally inspiring is the Aquarium’s Coral Reef Gallery, which simulates a 60-foot dive from shallow-water reefs to deeper waters teeming with eels, squirrelfish, angelfish, and blue tang.

Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, Calif.

The Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest and most diverse body of water, and the Aquarium of the Pacific exposes viewers to its magic. From Southern California to Baja, the Northern Pacific and the Tropical Pacific, the Aquarium houses 19 different habitats and 32 “focus” exhibits. The Shark Lagoon is ideal for viewing 150 species sharks, from those you can touch to those you most certainly cannot. The Aquarium’s Gulf of California exhibit offers a glimpse into the mesmerizing habitat of garden eels, rainbow wrasses, Mexican lookdowns, and yellowtail surgeonfish, among other species.

Dallas World Aquarium, Dallas, Texas

Right in the heart of Texas, the Dallas World Aquarium offers travelers a chance to encounter the underwater worlds of Southern Australia, Indonesia, Japan and Fiji. Unlike aquariums that focus on their native surroundings, the Dallas World Aquarium represents the aquatic life of four continents, three oceans, and various seas and rivers. Mixing cultural education with amusement, the Aquarium’s Mundo Maya immersion exhibit transports visitors to Yucatan’s gulf coast as well as highland rainforests, and recently featured a Mayan Performance Troup.

New York Aquarium, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Home of the oldest known aquarium-born seal, 43-year-old “Spook,” the New York Aquarium is full of surprises. As part of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Aquarium’s mission is to save wildlife around the globe, and exhibits reflect the organization’s educational and conservation efforts. Along with Spook, an adorable walrus calf can be found at the Aquarium, along with “Squirt,” a Giant Pacific octopus.

New England Aquarium, Boston, Mass.

African penguins, Atlantic Harbor seals and American lobsters are among the species exhibited at the New England Aquarium, located on Boston’s waterfront. The Giant Ocean Tank, the Aquarium’s four-story coral reef exhibit, is comprised of 200,000 gallons of salt water and houses Myrtle the green sea turtle—who has lived at the Aquarium since its opening in 1969. The six Gulf of Maine exhibits on the third level of the Aquarium are among the most exciting, featuring an impressive variety of New England’s underwater habitats.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Ga.

By obtaining a permit from the State of Oregon and sending biologists to venture into the Pacific Ocean, the Georgia Aquarium attained north of 150 Pacific sea nettles—jellyfish abundant on the Oregon Coast—to exhibit. The Aquarium bills itself as the world’s largest, with five different galleries depicting distinct habitats and its whale shark habitat, the only exhibit of its kind outside of Asia, holding 6.3 million gallons of water. The Aquarium acquired its whale sharks through negotiations with Taiwan, where the vulnerable species are fished for consumption.

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Believe it or not, there are more fish in Ripley’s aquarium than there are people living in the town of Gatlinburg, making this the area’s premier attraction. Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg has more to offer than adventure-themed rides and childlike pleasures, although the adventure-heavy themes are clearly designed for young ones. The outstanding feature of Ripley’s is an acrylic tunnel submerged in a million gallons of water—the world’s longest underwater aquarium tunnel—where guests travel along a 340-foot moving walkway.

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