If you’ve ever wanted to see a shark or a stingray, but are afraid of getting eaten, stung or seasick, a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md., might be your solution. With more than 16,500 specimens and 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, there’s plenty to keep a curious visitor satisfied.
The aquarium is in a well-kept area on the Inner Harbor of Chesapeake Bay. It’s flanked by other exhibits, including a World War II submarine and an ironclad sailing ship.
The first thing I noticed on my visit was a huge tank filled with rays and small sharks. This is the Wings in the Water exhibit. The aquarium’s layout gives great overhead views of the tank on the main floor. You can also catch a side view by descending a level. All around the tank, you can find descriptions of the Wings in the Water exhibit’s residents. If your timing is right, you can watch some of the aquarium’s staff members hand-feeding the rays and sharks.
During my visit, the aquarium had a special exhibit called Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes. It’s an eye-catching exhibit under a large glass and steel bubble. It does a nice job of showcasing Australia’s flora, fauna and terrain. But it would probably make an Aussie smirk: The exhibit is dotted with warning signs cautioning people of the inherent dangers of the escalators, staircases, wet floors and doorways – an amusing contrast with the far-less litigious Australian culture.
Other special exhibits include Jellies Invasion: Oceans out of Balance and Our Ocean Planet, The New Dolphin Show. Both require and extra fee over the $29.95 general admission fee. And they require good timing – my visit was a bit rushed, otherwise I likely would’ve spent a bit extra for the Jellies Invasion; they’re fascinating creatures and mesmerizing to watch.
The rest of the aquarium has everything from pinky toe-sized frogs to caymans. There’s quite a bit of gloomy text warning of the dangers of global warming, pollution, dumping and other societal ills. I expect some of that when visiting an aquarium – as a species, we definitely could improve on how we treat the planet. However, it can get a bit excessive.
Aside from the Wings in the Water portion, my other favorite part was a central four-story series of aquariums filled with enough fish that I lost count of the types and species. On the higher levels outside the central tank, be sure to check out the octopus and electric eel.