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I could watch sea otters swim all day but, apparently, there are other fish in the sea, so to speak. For those who would like to get a bird’s eye view of life in the ocean, TravelAge West has suggested some of the best aquariums in North America. For an extra treat, we teamed up with leading biologists Dr. Dennis Higgs and Dr. Kirsten Poling of the University of Windsor Biological Sciences department for their favorite exhibits in these facilities.
Monterey Bay AquariumAs I mentioned, I love sea otters, and there is no better place to see them, apart from their natural habitat in the Monterey Bay, than at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As part of its Sea Otter Research and Conservation program, Abby, Kit and Rosa serve as surrogate mothers to stranded sea otters and, at the aquarium, you can watch them romp and frolic on two levels. Visitors can also view sea otter feedings at scheduled times throughout the day.
Visitors to the aquarium can select from a variety of other tours as well, including the new Jellies Tour, and kids can enjoy sleepovers, couples can plan a romantic evening and more.
Dr. Poling says: “Watching fish swim through the kelp forest is a real treat. And keep an eye out for one of its inhabitants, the wolf eel, who recently became a YouTube sensation by spending some time with one of the divers.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuGa8tMAaAg
Monterey Bay Aquariumwww.montereybayaquarium.org
National Aquarium BaltimoreShark sleepovers, 4-D immersion films, dolphin discovery and behind-the-scenes tours are just a few of the options you have when visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore. There are more than 660 animal species to explore and more than 16,000 animals to visit, including sharks, birds, frogs, turtles, dolphins, jellyfish and more.
One of the most unique experiences is the Sleepover with the Sharks. The overnight adventures features hands-on activities in the Shark Discovery Lab and crafts station. Visitors also take a nocturnal prowl through the aquarium’s behind-the-scenes areas, including a visit to the food prep area to learn how the aquarium cares for and feeds its sharks, and walk across the catwalk as the sharks swim below.
Dr. Higgs says: “You thought aquaria were only about fish? Make sure to visit the Tropical Rainforest Display where you can walk with free-ranging birds, frogs, and sloths.”
National Aquarium Baltimorewww.aqua.org
Audubon Aquarium of the AmericasHave you ever wanted to touch a penguin? You can at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. The new Backstage Penguin Pass allows visitors to get up close with the endangered African penguin. The new program offers an opportunity for an intimate, hands-on experience in the Audubon’s newly designed private penguin encounter.
Penguins aren’t the only birds that are front and center at the aquarium — visitors can also head to the new Parakeet Pointe, an 800-square-foot outdoor environment offering a memorable, interactive experience for aquarium guests who stroll through the exhibit space among hundreds of brightly colored parakeets. For an even closer experience, guests may purchase seed sticks and feed the birds as they walk through the free-flight exhibit.
Other exhibits of the under-the-sea variety at the aquarium include the Amazon rainforest, a Caribbean reef, a coral garden and the Gulf of Mexico Exhibit, the aquarium’s largest tank with 400,000 gallons of water.
Dr. Poling says: “Make sure you see the Mississippi River exhibit for local flavor, including massive paddlefish and sturgeon and a white alligator.”
Audubon Aquarium of the Americaswww.auduboninstitute.org
Georgia AquariumThe new Dolphin Encounter at the Georgia Aquarium allows for poolside animal interaction with the dolphins. Visitors go backstage inside the dolphin theater to meet, touch and feed one of the dolphin stars of the AT&T “Dolphin Tales” show. Visitors can see up-close many of the ways that the aquarium cares for its dolphins, participate in a training session and touch a dolphin during a poolside encounter. In addition to the Dolphin Encounter, visitors will soon be able to experience a sea otter encounter and a penguin encounter.
The dolphins aren’t the only ones who star in a show at the Georgia Aquarium, visitors can also participate in the Beluga & Friends interactive program, watch the manta rays and whale sharks, check out an alligator, get their hands wet in the touch pools and more.
Dr. Higgs says: “Whale Sharks? Did you say Whale Sharks? That’s right, this aquarium is one of the few in the world where you can see this example of the largest fish in existence.”
Vancouver AquariumThis summer, a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium will be highlighted by its new exhibit, Jelly Invasion. The aquarium will have more than 15 different species of jellyfish on display, including the lion’s mane jelly with tentacles that can grow more than 100 feet long. The exhibit is scheduled to run May 16 to Nov. 12.
Not to be missed at the aquarium is the Treasures of the B.C. Coast exhibit, as well as the Graham Amazon Gallery. The kids can clown around like Nemo at the Clownfish Cove as well as experience up-close animal encounters, sleepovers and a treasure hunt.
Dr. Higgs says: “I bet when you think of the Arctic, you just think of polar bears and ice. Come see the Vancouver exhibit on Canada’s Arctic and see what else lives under all that ice. You may be surprised to see what fish can survive in almost frozen waters, not to mention the beluga whales!