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Mystic Aquarium

Mystic, Connecticut

screenprint of mystic aquarium article

Like many of Connecticut's residents, l was introduced the Mystic Aquarium through school field trips, and my love for the Aquarium has continued into my adult life. Visitors can see whales without getting wet or seasick on a boat, laugh at the antics of penguins, view sharks and octopus and clown fish up close, and eyen interact with rays directly at the touch tank. Behind the scenes, the Aquarium also works with stranded and injured sea life, and finds ancientship wrecks.

The Mystic Aquarium is a well-laid out park. An outside loop takes visitors past the Alaska Coast exhibit of beluga whales. These small white whales, the only ones in New England, cruise by the many viewing areas (both above and below the water line) to the delight of all watching. The path continues past two tanks of endangered Steller sea lions. The first tank contains several female sea lions and one northern fur seal; the second tank just a single enormous male sea lion. This Steller sea lion, Kodiak, is one of only six in captivity. He weighs 1750 pounds and is still growing. Concrete bleachers allow for great pictures of feeding time.

The penguin exhibit is small, but the penguins are adorable, as are all penguins. Visitors approach the African penguin exhibit at water level and then exit through a penguin-themed gift shop behind and under the tank. Penguins swim underwater next to the round windows in the shop, giving everyone a close-up look. Every penguin wears a bracelet of colored beads on its flipper, which identify it precisely to its keepers—each bead's color and placement has a different meaning.

Finally, the loop winds through a New England marsh, complete with frogs, turtles, tadpoles, ducks, and other types of native wildlife and plants. This section of the outdoor walk is a wooden deck over a large pond. The plants are clearly labeled, and signs along the wooden walkway explain the different animals that can be seen. On the way into the main building, the path passes by the seal rescue clinic, and sometimes the rehabilitating seals are visible.

A round tank of clear jellyfish, alone in a room, is the first exhibit upon entering the inside section of the aquarium from the marsh walk. These slow-moving alien creatures are mesmerizing to watch—you almost forget there's a whole aquarium still to visit!

A shallow tide pool tank stretches across the center of the main room. In it, brightly-color sea anemones, starfish and other tidal creatures are exposed to view.

The newest exhibit inside the main room is the Hidden Amazon. We found it rather disappointing. The nighttime exhibit, which featured a large glass cage of bats, was too dark. We couldn't see the bats, and the exhibit was narrow, crowded and not conducive to browsing. The other half of the Amazon exhibit had poison dart frogs, tarantulas, electric eels, a variety of fish (including the requisite tank of piranha), and eyen a few lizards. Many of the fish are available in pet stores—corydoras, tetras, plecostomus. I have been to many aquariums and similar exhibits, and usually if there are "common" fish they are of great size. These were the same size as one might have in a household tank, and the tanks were about the size of a household tank.

A huge round reef tank, with seating all around, dominates the center of the building. Schools of huge fish circle endlessly, and the benches allow parents to take a breather.

Behind the reef tank is the shark tank and another tank of manta rays, which are related to sharks. These tanks also have viewing benches for those with tired feet.

In the walls around this main room are smaller tanks with seahorses, reef fish, lobsters, an octopus and more. They are set at various heights so be prepared to bend down. You can also see the bottom of the sea lions‘ show tank and enjoy the sea lions‘ underwater antics.

Photo op stations include getting your picture taken with a small alligator, a parrot, or inside a giant shark jaw. These professional photos cost extra.

Outside, children (and adults) can get up close and personal with some cownose rays in the touch tank before heading up to the arena for the "Lions of the Sea" sea lion show. This rather short program focuses on education more than entertainment. Part of the show is a Navy film explaining how trained sea lions retrieve underwater equipment. The trainers then demonstrate that ability, and many others, in their sea lions. They also explain the difference between sea lions and seals.

The Mystic Aquarium is now home to the Institute for Exploration, headed by Dr Robert Ballard (who found the Titanic). The Challenge of the Deep building focuses on various discoveries, including Titanic, President Kennedy's PT-1 U9 (sunk in 1943), ancient Phoenician shipwrecks, and more. Each exhibit contains artifacts, photos, reconstructions, explanations and more. The floor of the Phoenician shipwreck area is a life-size photo of the amphorae as found in the ship. An actual submersible vehicle hangs aboye a pool outside the Institute, and an ancient bathysphere is housed inside.

On the other side of the building is the XD Motion Theater ride experience (included with admission). This is a 3D movie with moving seats. Contact the Aquarium for the current title; riders must be 40" tall.

The Waterfront Cafe and the gift shop across from the Institute will send visitors home with full bellies and great souvenirs. The gift shop truly has something for everyone and every age, from books and crystal figurines to baby t-shirts, sippy cups, rubber sharks (my childhood favorite) and wooden snakes.

Keep in mind that the whales, penguins, sea lions and seal exhibits are all outside and dress for the weather. For an extra cost, the Mystic Aquarium also offers beluga and penguin contact programs.

(c) 2006. Some information may be out of date.

All material on this site is copyright (c) by Gevera Bert Piedmont except where noted. All rights reserved. Contact me for permission to republish. Information on this site is for entertainment purposes only. Enjoy! })i({

Page created: 19-Kankin 8-Imix (6 January 2014)
Page modified: 19-Kankin 8-Imix (6 January 2014)