The National Aquarium, a Magical Undersea World
Sometimes I return from a trip or experience and can’t wait to relive it again through my photographs. I feel that way about my visit to the National Aquarium earlier this week in Baltimore, Maryland. I am so enamored with this place, and I want to share it with you!
The National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a National Treasure
Located in the heart of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium was known as the Baltimore Aquarium several years ago, until the two facilities merged into one mega-museum featuring life in and around the earth’s oceans and waterways. The Aquarium helped contribute to the renaissance of downtown Baltimore, and the goal of the facility is to inspire conservation and love for the world’s aquatic treasures. If this place can’t do that, I don’t what else can. Kids LOVE this place, and so do grownups!
The National Aquarium takes up more than a city block and consists of two main buildings—Pier 4 for the dolphins and jellyfish, the Glass Pavilion, and the original building called Blue Wonders with exhibits showcasing the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, Maryland Mountains to the Sea, and my favorite, the magnificent Blacktip Reef. There are events and happenings, so before you go, check the daily schedule to plan your day.
The Aquarium’s many fascinating Animal Encounters (located at the Harbor Overlook near the Information Station) offer an opportunity to learn about different animals and their importance in our world. In Living Seashore’s shallow tanks, people can literally touch some of the sea animals (they have a nearby washing station). While the Educator Talks teach visitors about the sea life in the exhibits.
The Immersion Tours, like “Behind the Scenes” provide expert tour guides who share insider information about the Aquarium and the unique ways they care for these critters. During the tour, you will see techniques used to clean the aquariums, how animals are cared for when they’re sick, and learn why they’re growing an actual coral reef. It’s truly amazing, and that is not a word I like to overuse.
Hanging out by the Blacktip Reef was an epic experience for me. The replica of the coral reefs found in the South Pacific look incredibly real, and it’s almost as good as going snorkeling in the Caribbean. The depths of the clear blue water range from 6 feet to 15 feet, providing the tropical sea creatures with lots of room to dive and move around. You’ll enjoy watching schools of colorful fish move together and the stealthy sharks and stingrays cruising about.
If you time it right (10 am, 11 am and 2 pm) you’ll get to see the divers feed the Aquarium’s breathtaking diva, Calypso, a giant green turtle who has lived in captivity since 2000. She was found injured and the size of a dinner plate, but take a look at her now! Here she is having her favorite meal, romaine lettuce, courtesy of the divers who set up her salad bar everyday. See kids, if you eat your veggies, you’ll grow up big and strong!
Australia Wild Extremes is encased in a glass pavilion that would be very nice to visit on a cold day. It’s filled with boulders and waterfalls and native animals from this remote and lush continent. It was fun watching as one of the staff members treated leaping fish to delectable grasshoppers on a stick.The balmy Upland Tropical Rainforest is mostly a collection of native plants from places like the Amazon. They have some lovely birds, but the most interesting part for me was seeing REAL piranhas! They don’t look that ferocious, but I don’t recommend putting your hand in the tank to test them.
Check out Shark Alley, a 225,000-gallon, ring-shaped exhibit, where visitors can watch these legendary creatures get some exercise. The sharks hang out with a giant sawfish and stingrays, and it’s mesmerizing to watch them pace around the tank. Yes, it’s #sharkweek every week at the National Aquarium.
The Maryland Experience features sea life found around the Atlantic seaboard. You’ll see blue crabs, frogs, terrapins and native striped bass. Above that, on Level three, is the Living Seashore, with more than 150 animals.
Here, guides explain to visitors how to gently touch an Atlantic stingray and pulsing moon jelly in two large touchpools. This is a very popular place to take kids and helps them understand the delicate balance needed to protect sea life along our coastal shoreline. On level four, you’ll see the kelp forests and Pacific reef critters.
Don’t miss seeing Pier 4’s Dolphin Discovery, where playful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins show off their speed, agility and adorable smiles. In the same area is the wondrous Jellies Invasion. You thought you knew about jellyfish from swimming at the beach or the Chesapeake Bay. These will really impress.
The National Aquarium is a half to all day outing for people who love to learn. Set aside time to relax, and have a bite to eat. There are multiple eateries in the museum, including a full service cafeteria, a popcorn and pizza stand, as well as a hot pretzel & snack stand with panoramic views of the Baltimore Harbor and all its attractions.
There’s also a 4-D movie immersion theater which can be a bit intimidating to small children, but the big kids love it. The National Aquarium is one of Maryland’s finest institutions, and we are so fortunate to have it in our own backyard. But don’t take my word for it, look at the pictures.
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.
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