Aquariums entertain visitors with exhibits of unusual fish, tropical birds and hands-on activities for children. The best aquariums play an important role in education, in preserving species and taking part in animal rescue efforts. They ensure that their buildings and practices are eco-friendly. The aquariums in the United States combine entertainment and education with their scientific mission.
Baltimore’s National Aquarium, winner of the Maryland Green Registry Award in 2011 for its commitment to sustainable practices, features open areas where visitors interact directly with animals. Spectators at the dolphin shows learn the hand signals trainers use, and touch tanks allow kids and adults to feel the skin of the aquarium’s residents. Set amid the tourist attractions of the city’s Inner Harbor, the aquarium houses more than 16,000 creatures including puffins, two-toed sloths and sharks. Ranked No. 1 by Coastal Living and No. 10 by “Parents,” the facility offers a 4-D theatre and uses sustainable products in its four cafes.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Named the top aquarium in the United States for kids by “Parents” magazine in 2007, California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium offers 550 different species in more than 100 tanks. Parents praised the aquarium’s Splash Zone for its kid-friendly features for children younger than 9, and interactive exhibits including touch pools, underwater cameras and child-sized microscopes. Coastal Living placed the aquarium in the No. 2 spot on its top 10 list for its concentration on local sea life in exhibits such as the three-story kelp forest the first in the country and a million-gallon tank housing tuna and sharks.
The Georgia Aquarium, No. 2 on the top 10 list of “Parents,” is the largest in the world. The 550,000-square foot facility includes an award-winning dolphin exhibit featuring an underwater viewing window and a theatrical performance with human and animal performers. Twenty-five percent of the aquarium’s exhibit space, dubbed the Learning Loop, is devoted to educational programs. The 4-D Theater combines digital projection, special effects and 3-D film to create the sensation of being underwater with the animals. The only whale sharks on display in the United States share the Ocean Voyager area with 60,000 animals.