If DaVinci Science Center builds a 500,000-gallon saltwater tank at its proposed Science City in Easton, it would be the biggest public aquarium in Pennsylvania, far eclipsing the only other major aquarium in the state — Pittsburgh Zoo’s 100,000-gallon PPG Aquarium.
The $130 million project, an expansion of the Da Vinci Science Center in west Allentown, however will not be as big as regional aquariums such as Adventure Aquarium in Camden and the National Aquarium in Baltimore, both of which feature more than 2 million gallons of tanks.
The Jersey Shore has two smaller aquariums and New York has aquariums at Coney Island and on Long Island.
Aquariums attract families and anyone fascinated by marine life. Since most people don’t have the opportunity to explore the ocean, aquariums provide visitors with a glimpse into a world that is home to an amazing number of sea creatures in all shapes and sizes.
Not only can visitors observe what life is like underwater in massive saltwater and freshwater tanks, they also can put their hand on creatures such as sharks and rays in special touch tanks and watch natural behaviors such as feeding.
So until Da Vinci’s aquarium opens, here are where fish fans can go within a few hours on the East Coast (Pittsburgh and Baltimore will take a little longer.)
The aquarium, which opened in 1992 on the bank of the Delaware River in Camden, N.J. with an expansive view of Philadelphia, is the largest aquarium near the Lehigh Valley and fifth largest in the country. Its largest tank is 760,000 gallons.
The aquarium has the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast and is home to 11 varieties, including the only great hammerhead shark on exhibit in the United States, as well as two rare scalloped hammerhead sharks.
Recently the aquarium opened an 81-foot-long V-shaped rope suspension bridge so visitors can walk just feet above the aquarium’s Shark Realm exhibit. It’s home to 26 sharks, including sand tiger, sandbar and nurse sharks, as well as stingrays and more than 20 species of fish.
The aquarium also has a 40-foot glass tunnel, with sharks passing within inches over visitors’ heads.
The aquarium has a Touch a Shark exhibit, where visitors can stroke white-spotted and brown-banded bamboo sharks, coral cat sharks and zebra bullhead sharks as they glide by in a shallow pool. There also is a stingray touch pool where visitors can lightly touch a variety of small rays.
With more than 200,000 square feet on two floors, the aquarium also features other animals, and is the only aquarium in the world to exhibit hippos, and one of only six facilities in the U.S. to have little blue penguins on permanent exhibit.
Opened in 1981, this huge aquarium on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has more than 17,000 specimens representing 750 species of plant and animal in its than 2.2 million gallons of tanks, the largest of which is 1.3 million gallons.
The sprawling five-level building has a variety of exhibits, ranging from marine life from local water to a multi-story Atlantic coral reef. The aquarium has an open ocean shark tank, simulated rainforest ecosystem and a marine mammal pavilion that holds eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, six of which were born at the aquarium.
Its newest exhibit, “Australia: Wild Extremes,” won the Best Exhibit award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008.
Atlantic City Aquarium
Located in Atlantic City, N.J., the small aquarium is at Gardner’s Basin in Absecon inlet overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. A rooftop viewing platform affords spectacular views.
The three-story aquarium opened in 1999, and focuses on native marine life from the Atlantic Ocean. Black sea bass swim with loggerhead sea turtles in a 25,000-gallon Mid-Atlantic Ocean tank.
There are interactive tanks where visitors can pet or feed small stingrays as they glide through the water. There also is a show featuring exotic land animals such as bearded dragons, tarantulas and snakes.
The aquarium is part of Jenkinson’s boardwalk in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.
Opened in 1991, the aquarium features a 58,000-gallon tank with exhibits of both Atlantic and Pacific sharks, coral reefs and sea turtles, as well as habitats for African penguins and Atlantic and Pacific harbor seals.
The aquarium also has a rainforest exhibit with birds and monkeys as well as eels, snakes, frogs, crabs, alligators and toads. There is a touch tank that allows the kids to get close to sea creatures, including sea stars and rays.
Long Island Aquarium
Long Island Aquarium opened in 2000 on Long Island. It’s part of a complex that includes an exhibition center and hotel.
One of its biggest attractions is a 20,000-gallon coral reef display tank, which is one of the largest all-living coral displays in the Western Hemisphere. Exhibits include sharks, clown fish, Moray eels, piranhas, seahorses and other creatures in saltwater tanks as well as a tidal march and touch tank. Outdoors is an otter habitat, penguin pavilion, sea lions and seals and a ray bay.
Interactive experiences include a submarine simulator, a chance to get a photo kissing a sea lion and a chance to dive with sharks.
New York Aquarium
The aquarium on Coney Island is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Because of damage from Hurricane Sandy, the aquarium is partially open.
An aquatheater features sea lion shows, weather permitting, and Conservation Hall features Glover’s reef, an exhibit of colorful marine life. Visitors can see penguins, otters and seals in the outdoor Sea Cliffs exhibit, although the underwater viewing area remains closed due to hurricane damage.
A new shark habitat is under construction and the sharks, rays and turtles are housed in a temporary exhibit.
PPG Aquarium at Pittsburgh Zoo
Pittsburgh became home to one of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States when it opened its first aquarium called AquaZoo in 1967.
In 2000, the aquarium was renovated to a 45,000-square-foot, two-story attraction that was renamed PPG Aquarium.
The aquarium’s theme is the “Diversity of Water,” and exhibits portray different marine ecosystems, including a tropical rainforest inhabited by tamarins and piranha; a Pennsylvania exhibit, which includes native fish and aquatic wildlife of the Allegheny River, such as the brook trout; a penguin exhibit, which has three species of Antarctic penguins; a coral reef; and an open ocean exhibit.
Water’s Edge is the newest section and is designed to resemble a coastal fishing village, showing how people interact with marine wildlife in coastal areas. A long walk-through tunnel runs through three large water tanks containing polar bears, sea otters and an elephant seal.
Adventure Aquarium: 1 Riverside Drive, Camden, Admission: $25.95; $18.95, ages 2-12. www.adventureaquarium.com, 856-365-3300
National Aquarium: 501 E. Pratt St., Baltimore, Md. Admission: $39.95, adults; $34.95, seniors; $24.95, ages 3-11. aqua.org, 410-576-3800
Atlantic City Aquarium: 800 N. New Hampshire Ave., Atlantic City, N.J. Admisison: $10, ages 13 and up; $7, seniors; $6, ages 4-12. www.acaquarium.com, 609-348-2880
Jenkinson’s Aquarium: 300 Ocean Ave., Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. Admission: $12, adults; $7, seniors and ages 3-12. jenkinsons.com/aquarium, 732-892-0600
New York Aquarium: 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, N.Y. Admission: $11.95, ages 3 and up. www.nyaquarium.com, 718-265-FISH
Long Island Aquarium: 431 E. Main St., Riverhead, N.Y. Admission: $29, ages 13 and up; $25, seniors; $22, ages 3-12. www.longislandaquarium.com, 631-208-9200
Pittsburgh Zoo: 7340 Butler St., Pittsburgh. Admission: $15, adults; $14, seniors; $13, ages 2-13; free, under 2. www.pittsburghzoo.org.
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