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America’s Best Aquariums – Revealing the World’s Aquatic Treasures

by D.J. Wilson – P.T. Barnum, creator of The Greatest Show on Earth, is known for his circus fame.  Clever and eccentric ways highlighted his character as a true showman.  He once hired the worst musicians he could find to play music from the balcony of one of his museums, believing the dreadful noise would create interest and attract customers.  Wishing to provide families with places of entertainment, his museums incorporated science, art and pop culture, with zoo and freak show elements.  He attracted massive audiences by showcasing magicians, trained bears, Siamese twins, ventriloquists and even a loom run by a dog.  He posted signs in his museum to keep folks moving through which read “This way to the egress.”  Once the patrons exited, they would have to pay another quarter to re-enter.  Barnum was intrigued by the first aquarium which opened in 1853 in London, England.  At the Fish House at ZSL London Zoo, a revolutionary idea allowed visitors to observe live fish and lower aquatic animals within walls of glass surviving in a green-house like environment.  Shortly after, in 1859, Barnum jumped at the chance to establish America’s first aquarium as part of Barnum’s American Museum in New York City.  We owe thanks to P.T. Barnum, for paving the way for our modern day facilities in the U.S. which greatly entertain and deeply uphold principles of conservation, preservation and education.

Did you know… that P.T. Barnum read his own obituary before his death in 1891?  In response to his comment that the press says nice things about people after they die, The New York Sun ran his obituary early on the front page with a headline reading “Great And Only Barnum – He Wanted to Read his Obituary – Here it is.”  Several weeks later, Barnum died in his sleep.

Though there are many more, enjoy highlights from eight much-admired aquariums in the U.S.

  • Audubon Aquarium of the Americas – Located in New Orleans, Louisiana, this aquarium features a spectacular Caribbean Reef.  For a thrill, visitors walk through an amazing underwater tunnel to observe eels, angelfish and other exotic sea creatures.  Marvel at the 400,000 gallon water tank brimming with life.  Watch stingrays, sea-turtles and sharks.   Consider getting a backstage penguin pass providing a rare and personal encounter with endangered African penguins.  See unique exhibits like Frogs Beyond Green and marvel at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
  • National Aquarium – Situated on the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, MD, this is a shark lover’s paradise.  Here, you’ll learn exciting facts about these often misunderstood predators. For an additional fee, consider an overnight adventure where guests fall asleep as sharks pass within inches of their sleeping bodies.  With regular admission, visitors observe the training, feeding and play times with the dolphins.  The aquarium features 4-D Immersion films equipped with high-definition and sensory effects which are built into the theatre seats.  This allows people to feel immersed in the environment; feeling wind, mist, snow and more.
  • Mystic Aquarium – Set in Mystic Connecticut, the Sea Lion Show is a favorite of all ages.  During the half-hour spectacle, see these amazing creatures interact with trainers and watch them demonstrate learned behaviors.  The photo gallery which captures the beauty of the artic is fascinating.  Enjoy learning about Beluga whales and watch them through a series of three 20-foot-long underwater windows.  Above water, watch them from rocky overlooks.  The aquarium is proud of its relationship with oceanographer Robert Ballard, famous for discovering wreckage from the Titanic.  Enjoy the Ocean Exploration Center Exhibit featuring Titanic – 12,450 Feet Below.   
  • Texas State Aquarium – Located in Corpus Christi, The Texas State Aquarium offers a plethora of exhibits, including Stingray Lagoon with opportunities to touch and hand-feed more than 30 stingrays.  Take a close look at Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in a 40,000 gallon saltwater exhibit.  Enjoy views from the underwater viewing room with a giant 70-foot acrylic window.  Be sure to check out the Floating Phantoms Exhibit to see stinging creatures from a safe perspective.  In this 800-gallon exhibit, there are a wide variety of species like Atlantic sea nettles and purple stripe jellies for your learning enjoyment.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium – Perched on the coastline of Monterey, California is one of America’s beloved aquariums, just minutes from Carmel and Pebble beach.  Enjoy the playful southern sea otters and watch them swim to the surface from the second floor.  Observe giant Pacific octopuses, considered mysterious creatures of complex appearance.  Watch them wondrously move through the water and learn about their ability to open jars and play with toys.  The museum boasts one of the largest collections of species of seahorses.  Learn how they grow and how the males give birth while exploring four informative and engaging multi-media galleries.
  •   Georgia Aquarium – The world’s largest aquarium is part of the Luckie Marietta District in Atlanta, Georgia.  The African penguin exhibit features more than 25 nesting areas in realistic rockwork and utilizes state-of-the art lighting systems which mimic the cycles of daytime and nighttime.  Acrylic tunnels and pop-up windows are features which allow visitors to see the penguins up close.  Boasting over 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water, and home to whales, sharks, American alligators and Piranhas, there is much to explore.  The SunTrust Georgia Explorer Gallery has touch pools full of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, stingrays and shrimp, and is an entertaining interactive experience.
  • The Florida Aquarium – Along the waterfront sits the Florida Aquarium, the pride of Tampa’s redevelopment.  The natural Coral Reef Gallery features walk through tunnels and panoramic windows where sharks and sea turtles will amaze you.  Visit the Wetlands Trail and observe river otters, alligators and a Burmese Pythons.  Enjoy the ray and starfish touch tanks and be sure to check out the 2 acre outdoor adventure zone, perfect for the little ones.  For an additional fee, complete your visit aboard the Wild Dolphin Cruise to capture the sight and spirit of the wild dolphins in their natural habitat.  Enjoy viewing endangered manatees and other species of birds during this 90 minute eco-tour of the bay.
  • The Shedd Aquarium – Chicago is home to this remarkable Aquarium which features a three level Oceanarium displaying dramatic ecosystems and an aquatic show.  Explore the Amazon’s Rising’s Flooded Forest by taking an exotic journey through the Amazon, home to a third of all living things.  Beware of anacondas, piranhas and spiders.  Search for tetras, turtles and fruit-eating tambaqui fish and learn how the animals, plants and humans adapt to the rise and fall of water.  From seascape to landscape, a visit to this aquarium is most memorable!

Despite criticism for exploiting “cheap wonders” and “phony miracles”, P.T. Barnum clearly possessed inarguable qualities as a hard-working visionary with an anomalous sense of humor and ability to entertain.  Desiring to satiate the human experience, he positively impacted society with atypical flair.  Thanks to his quest for knowledge and appetite for the unusual or lesser known; America is home to some of the most fascinating aquariums in the world.

 Author’s note:  Extending prayers to our families of readers in the Oklahoma City area and to our AMAC families nationwide. 

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Nana's my name

Thank you D.J. for your article just thinking about an aquarium puts me at peace. It is so quiet and beautiful it feels you with wonder. I am so glad Barnum started this in America. What a nice article!
Nana’s my name

Anita Schoenwald

It is excellent….a great variety of fish and animals….the penguin display is exceptional.

Anita Schoenwald

Just excellent, with a huge variety of aquatics and animals….Penguin display is exceptional

Jim North

What is your feelings on the Aquarium at Chattanooga TN ?
I was very impressed.