Ever wanted to touch a shark or stingray? How about see New England’s only white beluga whales? Discover amazing secrets of the sea at the best aquariums in the US.
A young visitor looks at a 400,000-gallon water tank filled with stingrays, sea turtles -- and 17-foot-long sharks! They’re all part of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit at the <a title="Audubon Aquarium of the Americas" href="http://www.auduboninstitute.org/visit/aquarium" target="_blank">Audubon Aquarium of the Americas</a> in New Orleans. The aquarium showcases aquatic life throughout North and South America.
There he goes! This little guy is one of 2 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins -- Shadow and Kai -- at the <a title="Texas State Aquarium" href="http://www.texasstateaquarium.org" target="_blank">Texas State Aquarium</a> in Corpus Christi, TX. Visitors can see the dolphins above water … and below, courtesy of an underwater viewing room that features a 70-foot-long window.
In the heart of the Smoky Mountains you’ll find <a title="Ripley’s Aquarium" href="http://www.ripleyaquariums.com/gatlinburg" target="_blank">Ripley’s Aquarium</a>. The facility in Gatlinburg, TN, is home to 10,000 sea creatures, representing more than 350 individual species, such as giant stingrays, snappers and some very large sharks -- as long as 13 feet!
It’s only fitting that the <a title="North Carolina Aquarium" href="http://www.ncaquariums.com" target="_blank">North Carolina Aquarium</a> at Fort Fisher should be located near … Cape Fear! You and the kids will encounter plenty of fear-factor moments: Touch a live shark, discover North Carolina’s fiercest predator and come face-to-face with an alligator … if you dare.
You’ll find these yellow tang fish at the <a title="Baltimore National Aquarium" href="http://www.travelchannel.com/destinations/baltimore/photos/best-of-baltimore" target="_blank">Baltimore National Aquarium</a>. Since it opened in 1981, the aquarium has garnered an astonishing collection of sea life: 16,500 specimens representing 660 species.
Wow, are we underwater, Dad? It’ll feel like it as you and the kids journey through this underwater tunnel at the <a title="Oregon Coast Aquarium" href="http://www.aquarium.org" target="_blank">Oregon Coast Aquarium</a>. Cool views like this help explain why the facility in Newport, OR, has been ranked one of the top 10 aquariums in North America by <i>Coastal Living</i> magazine.
This 5-acre site in Long Beach, CA, is home to the <a title="Aquarium of the Pacific" href="http://www.travelchannel.com/video/aquarium-of-the-pacific" target="_blank">Aquarium of the Pacific</a>. The little ones will enjoy plenty of interactive fun: Kids can pet sharks and stingrays, and feed nectar to parrots known as lorikeets.
Did you know that corals are animals, not plants? Your kids will learn these and other facts at <a title="Monterey Bay Aquarium" href="http://www.montereybayaquarium.org" target="_blank">Monterey Bay Aquarium</a>’s Coral Reef Kingdom. See them ooh and aww at the colorful ocean homes where these tiny animals live in colonies. Also check out the aquarium's other attractions, including stingrays, jellyfish and sea otters.
These brave kids stick their hands in the “touch tank,” as stingrays glide through the clear shallow water. Kids (and adults) can touch various species of sharks and rays at Boston's <a title="New England Aquarium" href="http://www.neaq.org/index.php" target="_blank">New England Aquarium</a>, including cownose rays, southern stingrays and coral catsharks.
Reach out and touch someone. Kids get a thrill as an underwater diver presses his hands against the glass tank at the <a title="Florida Aquarium" href="http://www.flaquarium.org" target="_blank">Florida Aquarium</a> in Tampa, FL. The large, 250-square-foot facility is home to more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals from around the world.
You’re looking at one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. The <a title="John G. Shedd Aquarium" href="http://www.sheddaquarium.org" target="_blank">John G. Shedd Aquarium</a> in Chicago houses more than 5,000,000 gallons of water in which 25,000 fish (and counting!) make their home.
How’s this for big: The <a title="Georgia Aquarium" href="http://www.georgiaaquarium.org" target="_blank">Georgia Aquarium</a> in Atlanta contains between 100,000 and 120,000 fish and other sea creatures. One of the biggest reasons to visit is to see the aquarium’s whale sharks -- it’s the only institution outside of Asia to house this particular shark species.
Come face to face with sharks at the <a title="Tennessee Aquarium" href="http://www.tnaqua.org/Home.aspx" target="_blank">Tennessee Aquarium </a> in Chattanooga, TN. The sand tiger shark (pictured here) may look menacing but it’s not usually a threat to humans. Unless, of course, you engage in some spearfishing -- fortunately, not an option at this aquarium!
Let’s shake on it! You’re looking at one of New England’s only beluga whales. Learn all about this amazing marine mammal -- which hails from the Arctic and is known for its eye-catching all-white color -- courtesy of the <a title="Mystic Aquarium" href="http://www.mysticaquarium.org" target="_blank">Mystic Aquarium</a>’s Encounter program in Mystic, CT. Don waterproof gear and wade waist-deep into the Arctic Coast exhibit with the whales and trainers.
Just what makes a fish a fish? Find out at the <a title="Waikiki Aquarium" href="http://www.waquarium.org" target="_blank">Waikiki Aquarium</a>, the third oldest aquarium in the US. At the aquarium’s very official Fish School, kids as young as 5 can learn all about the many critters of the sea and their amazing adaptations to their environment. Don’t worry, though, it’s not all learn and no play -- the class includes a scavenger hunt among the exhibits.
Sharks, sharks and more sharks! Sand tiger, sandbar, whitetip, blacktip reef and zebra -- see these intriguing shark species glide above your head in <a title="Newport Aquarium" href="http://www.newportaquarium.com" target="_blank">Newport Aquarium</a>’s underwater tunnel. Also explore the aquariums additional attractions, such as the Jellyfish Gallery, Frog Bog (home to 20 species of exotic frogs) and Gator Alley, where visitors can stare into the eyes of Tut, their Nile crocodile.
See these cute black-footed penguins at the <a title="New York Aquarium" href="http://www.nyaquarium.com" target="_blank">New York Aquarium</a>, located on Coney Island. As the oldest continually operating aquarium in the US, the aquarium holds no shortage of marine mammals and aquatic life, from sea lions, otters and walruses, to cownose rays and moray eels.
Yes, even mermaids live at the aquarium … or at least put on a good show. At <a title="Downtown Aquarium Denver" href="http://www.aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumdenver" target="_blank">Downtown Aquarium Denver</a>, see live mermaid performances in the Under the Sea exhibit. Also check out the aquarium’s exhibits spanning barrier reefs, rainforest, wharf and desert habitats.
Houston’s 6-acre <a title="Downtown Aquarium" href="http://www.aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumhouston" target="_blank">Downtown Aquarium</a> is home to a veritable who’s who of aquatic animals: Electric eels, nurse sharks and stingrays are among the 200 diverse species of underwater life found here. In between exploring exhibits like the Louisiana Swamp (yes, alligators live here) and the Rainforest, unwind at the aquarium’s Dive Lounge.