National Aquarium in Baltimore
501 E. Pratt St., 410/576-3800,
HOURS: Mon.–Thurs. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m.–8 p.m.,
Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; longer summer hours
COST: $21.95 adult, $12.95 child, $20.95 senior
When the National Aquarium in Baltimore opened in 1981, it was one of the nation’s first mega-aquariums, built after then–Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer visited the New England Aquarium in Boston. Baltimore’s National Aquarium was the cornerstone of the Inner Harbor’s redevelopment plan, meant to lure both residents and, hopefully, tourists to the waterfront. In the decades since that opening, the aquarium has expanded to keep up with crowds both increasingly large and increasingly difficult to impress.
Start your visit at the main aquarium building, which is home to a vast collection of exotic fish and environments, from Amazon river forest to a North Atlantic seacoast (home to some terribly cute puffins). There’s an impressive, if slightly fearsome, collection of sharks, which glide around their own massive 225,000-gallon circular tank. And there’s an even larger tropical reef tank with dozens of brightly colored and oddly shaped residents.
If the sharks are too creepy for you, check out the much more cuddly frogs exhibit, or sit down and hang on at the new 4-D Immersion Theater, where high-definition, 3-D nature films are paired with “you-are-there” effects like sounds, smells, sea spray, and vibrations. Atop the main building is a living, walk-through tropical rainforest—if you’ve arrived early, head here first, as the birds and reptiles that scurry and flitter all around you are most active in the morning.
The marine mammal pavilion is home to Play! The Dolphin Show, where you can watch the aquarium’s Atlantic bottlenose dolphins perform impressive leaps and show off their balance skills. You’ll also learn about these intelligent, curious animals, and maybe even get the chance to give them some hand signals to spur their performances.
The newest major permanent attraction is Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes, a glass-enclosed mini-Australia, complete with a 35-foot waterfall and a variety of habitats found along a river gorge. As you wander through the gorge, you’ll see all sorts of fish, birds, and reptiles, ranging from the laughing kookaburra bird to the not-half-as-funny snake known as the death adder.
If you’re in town for a while, check out some of the Aquarium’s immersive tours, which include behind-the-scenes exploration of the inner workings of the facility. You can walk the narrow, wooden walkway above the huge shark tank, feed the dolphins breakfast, or (for kids) spend the night in the rainforest, the Australia exhibit, or outside the shark tank.
© Geoff Brown from Moon Baltimore, 1st Edition