Children press their faces against the glass of a trio of two-story cylindrical tanks to catch a glimpse of fish, crabs, and other sea life from faraway oceans. Native tidal-zone fish swim inside the first tank; in the second, fish from Africa mingle with those from South America; and in the third, tropical fish from throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans create a colorful tapestry. At the waterfront Pier Aquarium, these three tanks stand among 14 aquariums, an interactive exhibit with ocean sounds broadcast by hydrophone from underneath the pier, and wall murals that showcase aquatic life from each of the world’s oceans. Visitors explore fish and plant life using lighted microscopes, magnified viewing boxes, and plastic replicas of sea stars and horseshoe crabs—and they can touch and hold biofacts such as shells and spines.
Educational staffers divulge facts and embarrassing secrets about creatures living in four main tanks on the second floor. They show visitors how to handle crabs, sea urchins, and flounder at the Tampa Bay touch tank, and point out exotic clownfish, anemones, lionfish, and eels in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Coral, and Pacific Ocean tanks. They also help visitors identify spineless animals in the Invertebrates aquarium or enlist their help in feeding and caring for sharks and lobsters, just as car mechanics enlist the help of customers when feeding air fresheners to their cars.
Visitors further explore facts about marine life in the museum shop, where staffers display shelves of aquatic toys, puzzles, games, books, and apparel. They can also stroll down the pier, where a Water Walk display offers information about local Tampa Bay waters, and down to the beach, where researchers and marine scientists show visitors how to study aquatic denizens in a hands-on outdoor marine lab.