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Fish Tales

Fish tanks have been around for ages, but it used to be impossible for a land-locked aquarium to recreate an undersea environment. Then in 1930, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium developed a custom-built Pullman train car to transport millions of gallons from the Atlantic Ocean off Florida, becoming the first inland home for saltwater creatures. Today, easy recipes for seawater and innovative materials like 6-inch-thick acrylic walls allow visitors to literally walk underwater in many U.S. cities. And as aquariums upgrade to flashy waterfalls and dolphin amphitheaters, kid-friendly touches are changing, too.


New England Aquarium, Boston, MA

The trademark 4-story, see-through cylinder is packed with Technicolor corals and sponges. That’s just the backdrop for tropical fishes, sea turtles, barracudas and sharks. Kids can play ER marine doc as they watch staff veterinarians treat a rescued sea turtle for frostbite or minister to the aquarium’s 20,000

Adventure Aquarium, Camden, NJ

A $45 million renovation transformed this unspectacular science museum, adding a 2-story-high waterfall and shark tunnel. The most dangerous animals here are Button and Genny, 3,000-pound Nile hippos that can crush prey in their 4-foot-wide jaws. For a little predator relief, check out the underwater penguin derby.

National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

Frenetic with flying foxes, rainbow lorikeets and a galloping freshwater crocodile, this facility’s Australian-themed river exhibit brings a little Outback to the Maryland shore. Other highlights include hand-fed stingrays and a rainforest with pygmy marmosets and poison-dart frogs.


Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA

This 8-million-gallon, 9-acre showcase became the world’s largest aquarium when it opened in 2005. More than 100,000 creatures inhabit its 6 global ecosystems. Don’t forget to check in on the Cadillac-size Beluga whales, which can be seen pirouetting in slow motion to a soundtrack of their own baritone moans.

Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, TN

If you can get past the alarmingly huge blue catfish—two of which weigh more than your average fashion model—in Nickajack Lake, you can travel from Appalachian rivers to the Gulf of Mexico in the “Mountain to Sea” habitat. At feeding time, watch Pacific octopi open jars with their tentacles to retrieve morsels of crab.


Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL

Massive bronze doors open to the Greek temple-style entrance of this 1930 National Park historic landmark on Lake Michigan. The 4-level, 3-million-gallon Oceanarium houses Rockhopper penguins, Pacific white-sided dolphins and Alaskan sea otters. See “Granddad,” an Australian lungfish that has called the aquarium home since 1933.

Underwater Adventures Aquarium, Bloomington, MN

One of the best shark centers in the country is located underneath the Mall of America. The star attraction is a 300-foot transparent tunnel where hundreds of shark shadows pass over visitors. Certified scuba divers can swim in the tanks and kids can have weekend slumber parties in the shark tunnel.


Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA

Look for So-Cal natives like garibaldi, spined sea stars and scorpionfish poking around the sea kelp, then head north to watch puffins and auklets zigzag in the Northern Pacific gallery. The Pacific gallery houses porcupine puffers, zebra sharks and blacktip reef sharks. Just keep your eye on the kids while they pet the sharks in the touch pool.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA

Seawater is pumped right from the Pacific for this aquarium, which incorporates parts of a historic fish cannery. Leopard sharks and wolf eels weave between fronds in a giant kelp forest that grows 4 inches a day. The world’s largest jellyfish collection has egg-yolk jellies, sea nettles and comb jellyfish, which pulse bands of rainbow light as they swim.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.