These days, we cannot seem to avoid all the sad news: the Coronavirus rearing its ugly head worldwide; wildfires wrecking havoc on the West Coast; hurricanes inundating Gulf towns. We yearn to escape for a day. What can we do, or where can we go? I have the answer for you: visit the New York Aquarium. You will be transported to a stunning, peaceful undersea world where hundreds of colorful creatures, big and small, go about their life.
The New York Aquarium, the oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States, opened in 1896 at a small location in the Castle Clinton in Downtown Manhattan where it stayed until 1941. It was first moved to the Bronx Zoo and then to Coney Island, where it opened at its current location on the Coney Island Boardwalk on June 6, 1957.
Today, the Aquarium houses over 350 species of marine wildlife and thousands of specimens over 14 acres.
Conservation Hall and Glover’s Reef
The first exhibit is the Glover’s Reef, a replicate of a coral reef system in Belize. A marine paradise, it includes eels, Atlantic rays, French angels, and Cuban hogfish.
The Conservation Hall consists of three habitats: The Pacific Ocean’s Coral Triangle, Africa’s Great Lakes, and Brazil’s Flooded Forest. The spacious viewing areas offer a close look at some of the most beautiful fish native to these regions of the world: piranhas, stingrays, angelfish, black pacus, and many more, including the beautiful black Eclipse freshwater stingray covered with white spots, native to the Amazon.
Outside, the Sea Cliffs exhibits awaited me. Two playful California sea otters kept chasing each other or were resting on their backs. It was amazing to watch one of them swimming on its back at a good speed, getting very close to tall, imposing rocks without touching them, as if it had 360-degree vision. Did you know that sea otters have an extraordinarily thick fur? About one million hairs per square inch!
It was so much fun standing there and watching their antics. But the deep sonorous bark of male California sea lions compelled me to go looking for them. Luckily, I got there at feeding time. California sea lions are intelligent and playful; it was delightful to watch them with their large flippers, diving, jumping up on the platform, down again, all at a tremendous speed, never missing a fish thrown by the attendant.
Across from the Sea Cliffs is the Aquatheater with shows several times a day. The acrobatic sea lions perform following hand signals from their trainer. They clearly enjoy being center stage and bask in the applause of the public. Of course, a fish reward is always welcome.
Retracing my steps past the sea otters, I came to an exhibit of small black-footed penguins, whose home is off the South African coast. One was standing on an elevated site as if standing guard.
But I could not stay long, as just behind, the large white letters SHARKS! on the blue façade of a round building attracted me like a magnet.
Some 57,000 square feet, containing nine galleries, are dedicated to bringing to our attention how these fierce-looking creatures are indispensable to the health and well-being of ocean life, and, therefore, should be protected.
The huge tank, recreating the actual marine Hudson Canyon, is impressive. The Hudson Canyon starts at the mouth of the Hudson River and extends hundreds of miles offshore. It is said to resemble the Grand Canyon in size and depth. Many of the creatures we see here live just across the Aquarium in the waters off Coney Island. Large sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, zebra, and blacktip sharks emerge from the dark background and elegantly cruise around, while nurse sharks prefer to rest on the ground, close to the foreground. Six different rays, a loggerhead turtle and a variety of fish, including a large grouper, add to this ecosystem diversity. Seating is available for visitors who wish to spend more time observing this fascinating marine wildlife.
40 ft. Coral Reef Tunnel
The Coral Reef Tunnel is a marvelous walk-through place. Both sides of the tunnel are interconnected and teem with large and small colorful fish swimming among corals reefs in all imaginable shapes and shades, from green to golden to blue to orange. Sharks represented here are blackfin, whitefin, and zebra sharks. There is also a Spotted Wobbegong carpet shark that blends in so well that I could not spot it. It was fantastic to look up and see a zebra shark swimming above my head; I almost felt I could touch it.
Gorgeous lighting, resembling sunlight illuminating a beautiful undersea world, make the Coral Reef Tunnel an exceptional experience.
Leaving the Sharks! Tank, I immersed myself in a completely different world in the Spineless exhibit. It is a world of delicate, colorful species that will make you smile with so many unusual creatures to discover.
The Pacific Octopus is a highly intelligent, shy creature that tends to hide during the day. I was lucky and amazed to see him, sporting a red color. Octopuses are known to change colors and shapes instantaneously, either to adapt to their surroundings or to escape predators. Alas, he didn’t want to pose for a photograph. The octopus shares his home with sea anemones; one was adhered to the glass, giving me an unusual sight of its smooth bottom—usually, one only sees them from above with their thin tentacles swaying in the currents.
At least a dozen or more small yellow jellyfish danced around in their cubicle to the sound of a silent symphony, trailing their long thin tentacles.
I admired clawless spiny lobsters and giant spider crabs. Did you know that the largest is the Japanese Spider Crab? According to Smithsonian Ocean, “With a leg span of 13 feet (4 meters) and an average weight of around 40 pounds (16-20 kg), it claims the title of largest crab. It may also have the longest lifespan of any crab, living to be 100 years old.”
A big attraction is the cuttlefish exhibit. As the cuttlefish look at you with big dazzling eyes, one wonders what they think. As per Smithsonian Ocean, “You can tell the difference between a cuttlefish and its relatives the octopus and squid by looking at the eye. A cuttlefish has a signature ‘w’ shaped pupil while an octopus has a rectangular pupil and a squid, a circular one.”
I had an exciting, relaxing, and instructive visit, and will certainly be back again. I want to learn so much more about the wonders of the sea world and its inhabitants, small and large. I do hope that your experience will be just as good or even better.
The New York Aquarium is committed to providing a safe environment for visitors and employees alike. As things might change on short notice, it is recommended you check their website ahead of time to Plan Your Visit.
All visitors must purchase a date/time specific ticket online. Click “Buy Tickets” on the website mentioned above.
Show and feeding times: New York Aquarium Schedule.
All visitors age three and up must wear a mask.
Walking around is easy. Just follow the sequence of funny steps on the ground.
Food is available at an outdoor cafe and some food stalls.