No matter how old you are, there are few experiences more exhilarating than watching a black-tip shark swim above you. Even if you’re standing on dry land, it’s the kind of moment that can get your heart pumping and your jaw to drop, and it’s the kind of encounter you and your family get within a few minutes of visiting SEA LIFE Aquarium.
With nine locations throughout America, SEA LIFE Aquariums are one of the best ways to see fish, amphibians, and other fascinating creatures up close. To learn more about them, we talked to John Sullwold at SEA LIFE Aquarium, who helped us nail down these nine things you should try to do during your next visit:
The big attraction that all SEA LIFEs have is its ocean tunnel, where it’ll feel like you’re walking at the bottom of a vast sea, with all kinds of aquatic creatures swimming past you.
“If you look around, it’s basically a 360-degree of fish going above you, next to you,” Sullwold says. “Some SEA LIFEs have an area below you as well.”
There will be plenty of great photo ops throughout SEA LIFE, but the tunnel experience is easily one of the best. Get your camera ready, and if you time it just right, you could take a selfie with a stingray, a colorful clown fish, or even a shark—it’s a photo you’ll want to share on social media as soon as you take it.
“A lot of guests that come here, whether they’re with their families or not, just enjoy seeing something new that they’ve never seen before, or learning something amazing, and having that ‘wow moment’ of being up close to a shark, or a sea turtle, or a seahorse, or even a jellyfish,” Sullwold says.
Ocean Tunnel exhibit is available at all SEA LIFE Aquariums in the USA.
“Some of the best parts of SEA LIFE are where you don’t just get to see the creatures, but that you get to be almost in the tanks with them,” Sullwold says. “You can touch a sea creature in each of SEA LIFE’s touch tanks, which is a really unique experience for guests to get their hands in the water.”
Kids especially love these interactive touch pools, where they get to feel the unusual textures of animals they may have never seen before. Shake each arm of a leather sea star, or brave yourself and touch the soft tentacles of a fish-eating sea anemone.
Touch pools (also called rockpools) are available at all SEA LIFE Aquariums in the USA.
It’s no surprise that some of the most-popular attractions at any SEA LIFE Aquarium are the sharks. And at the aforementioned tunnel exhibit, kids and adults alike can get this close to them as they glide by. But while you might only be familiar with the great white, SEA LIFEs have all types of different sharks in all sort of sizes and colors.
“We have blacktip sharks, whitetip sharks, wobbegongs,” Sullwold says. “Guests who might think there’s only one kind of shark are mistaken when they come to SEA LIFE and they see the variety of sharks and learn about them as well.”
Various types of sharks can be seen at all SEA LIFE Aquariums in the USA.
Select SEA LIFE Aquariums offer a special behind-the-scenes experience that shows guests the amount of work that goes into feeding and caring for all of the aquarium’s inhabitants. You might visit the kitchen where food for the creatures are prepared, or the lab where research is done. Each tour is a little different, but all of them will show you animals from an entirely new perspective, as Sullwold explains:
“You actually get to go above those tanks and get to see those creatures up close and personal. You’re coming within inches of sharks and sea turtles and stingrays, and it’s an opportunity to get one-on-one time with the SEA LIFE staff.”
The Behind-the-Scenes tour is available for purchase at SEA LIFE Aquariums in Grapevine, Minnesota, Orlando, Charlotte, Michigan, and San Antonio.
While sharks are awe-inspiring but a little menacing, sea turtles give a more laid-back, happy-go-lucky vibe. Nearly every SEA LIFE has at least one sea turtle: SEA LIFE Minnesota has Seemore, who was taken in and assisted by staff after a boat damaged her shell. SEA LIFE Kansas City rescued Gertrude, who was nursed back to health after a fishing line damaged her flippers. And there’s a special sea-turtle center at SEA LIFE Grapevine.
“At SEA LIFE Grapevine, they have a new sea turtle rescue hospital, which is all about rescuing sea turtles from the ocean,” Sullwold says. “You can see SEA LIFE employees helping sea turtles rehab so they can be sent back to the ocean, which is really unique.”
Sea turtles can be seen at SEA LIFE Aquariums in Arizona, Grapevine, Kansas City, Minnesota, Orlando, Charlotte, Michigan, and San Antonio.
They have no blood, no bones, and no heart—just a gelatinous collection of nerves, making jellyfish some of the most hypnotic creatures to see in person. And Sullwold says a lot of the people that come to see them find themselves chilling out.
“Guests are just really fascinated by them, how they move, and the tanks that we put in at SEA LIFE Aquarium are really breathtaking, from large cylinders that go floor to ceiling, to really wide tanks that are almost like 90-inch TV screens with jellyfish filled in it.” Sullwold says. “It just looks really, really amazing, and guests are calmed by it, amazed by it.”
Some SEA LIFE Aquariums add some interactivity to their jellyfish exhibit, allowing guests to change the colors of the tanks, which in turn changes the colors of the jellyfish as its insides reflect that light.
Jellyfish can be seen at all SEA LIFE Aquariums.
Even if you’ve never seen a stingray before, you can probably guess that they’re fascinating to look at, with a dramatically flattened body and a long tail. But Sullwold says a lot of guests see another side to the stingray: they’re kinda cute.
“They’re really playful, unique creatures that are really fun to watch,” Sullwold says. “What people don’t realize until they go into our tunnel exhibit is that the bottom of the stingray is where the mouth is, and it almost looks like it’s smiling back at you ... I think guests are surprised at how cute these stingrays actually are.”
Stingrays can be seen at all SEA LIFE Aquariums in the USA.
While they all share some similarities, many SEA LIFE Aquariums have their own special exhibits, and at SEA LIFE Aquarium at Mall of America that includes the upcoming “Brave the Rainforest” exhibit, scheduled to open in Spring 2019. Here, guests can become acquainted with snakes and blue-tongue skinks, and climb up a pop-up bubble so that they’ll be up close and personal with scaly, toothy caiman crocodiles. And that’s not even the most eye-popping attraction...
“We also have SEA LIFE’s largest pop-up tank, which is going to be filled with many, many hundreds of cockroaches, just surrounding you,” Sullwold says. “It’s going to be really, really fun, a very unique experience. It’s going to be the ultimate area for fun selfies with your family or with your date.”
“Brave the Rainforest” opens in the Spring of 2019 at SEA LIFE Aquarium at Mall of America.
“Many [SEA LIFEs] are going to be getting mermaids at their attractions, which is going to be really fun,” Sullwold says. “Guests can actually meet a mermaid, whether it’s underwater, or in person, on land, where you can get a picture with them.”
You heard right—mermaids! Your family won’t believe their eyes as they watch mermaids dive into tanks to swim alongside stingrays and sea turtles. Be sure to check your local SEA LIFE Aquarium’s website for more info on when the mermaids will be there.
Meet a Mermaid at the SEA LIFE Aquariums in Arizona, Dallas, Kansas City, Michigan, Minnesota, and Orlando.