The Florida Aquarium has everything you would expect a large aquarium to have: fish, sea turtles, fish, sea cucumbers, fish, anemones, fish, spiny lobsters, fish, coral, fish, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, clams, fish, fish, fish, fish, and even fish.
There was a tank of garden eels where I could watch them pop their heads in and out of their holes. Every time someone would approach the tank they went down, and every time the person walked away they came up. There was an entire hallway devoted to pipefish, seahorses, and seadragons. Flash photography is prohibited because the light stresses them out. At least two tanks contained octopi, though there were usually hiding. Another tank had walking batfish. Those are the strangest-looking things ever to walk the seafloor – and my sister has walked the seafloor. The aquarium has a resident grouper weighing over three hundred pounds. One supersized tank extends past several large windows through which one can see an artificial reef of countless caverns and crevices hiding eels and countless other fish. Rays were everywhere. They slowly swooped upwards against the acrylic window showing off their mouth and gills. Sharks continually circle the tank. I just sat for a while and watched them go by. I find the movement of fish relaxing and the variety of life was satisfying. The aquarium makes full use of its space. There are even windows in the floor and ceilings of the hallways allowing views of tanks above and below. It seems they have attempted to create an immersive experience by giving several parts of the building walls resembling coral or cave rocks.
All this I expected from an aquarium. I did not expect them to also have three petting tanks. One tank held only starfish and large, non-stinging anemones. The anemones were so soft they seemed to be almost like wet tissue paper. Another tank held stingrays. They move so fast it is hard to get a good feel of them while being gentile and avoiding their sensitive areas – when you can get to them at all. I thought their fins were stiff and slightly slimy. Close to the entrance is a shallow tank of Indonesian bamboo sharks. They felt like rough cloth and were surprisingly squishy.
I also did not expect the extensive wetlands exhibit. Open tanks containing not only ponds and streams, but also dry land complete with trees and other plants completely surrounded me. Ducks, roseate spoonbills, and other birds flew free around the room and I was able to get right up next to them while they went about their business. Their business often included “doing their business.” You want to stay out of the way when that happens. In the various sections kept separate from each other were turtles, snakes, alligators, otters, and large fish. I even saw a blue crab.
701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida
Written by Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com