Located in Baltimore, Marlyand's Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is not to be mistaken with the National Aquarium which is located in the basement of the US Department of Commerce Building in Washington, DC. The aquarium in Washington was founded in 1873 and boasts to be the oldest in the nation, while the National Aquarium in Baltimore is a relative infant with its 1981 opening.
However, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is a much better experience.
The NAIB as it is known locally, features seven levels of exhibits and a separate marine mammal pavillion. Plus, its location on Pier 3 of Baltimore's Inner Harbor gives it a much more nautical feel than its older cousin to the south.
Main Aquarium Exhibits
Containing more than 10,000 species, the aquarium's exhibits attempt to depict the creatures in their native habitats. The self-guided tour of the main aquarium starts in the main lobby and takes about two hours to complete. Parents of small children should think twice before bringing along their little ones - it's a long day for children under 2 and strollers are not permitted inside the aquarium, though rental backpacks are available.
- Seal Pool - It is hard to miss the seals located outside the main aquarium on Pier 3. Their barking and splashing always seem to draw a crowd, especially at feeding times. These grey seals and harbour seals have been rescued but cannot be returned to nature due to their injuries.
- Ray Exhibit - The 265,000 gallon stingray pool is one of the first things you'll see upon entering the main aquarium and as you ascend up the ramps to the other exhibits, you are provided different views of the tank. The pool contains dozens of stingrays and a couple of small sharks.
- Maryland: Mountains to the Sea Exhibit - This exhibit displays the aquatic life from a freshwater pond in the mountains of western Maryland through the ocean waters along the continental shelf. Included are tidal marshes displaying Maryland's famous blue crabs.
- Surviving Through Adaptation Exhibit - This cool exhibit features some of the more bizare aquatic species, including an electric eel display which lights up to show the voltage being generated by the eels.
- Seahorses Exhibit - The surprising variety of seahorses is displayed in this exhibit, ranging from Australia to the Americas, the different shapes of seahorses and their ability to blend into their surroundings is fascinating to see.
- Atlantic Coral Reef Exhibit - Contained in a 335,000 gallon tank, the amazing colours of literally hundreds of tropical fish are practically overwhelming. Try to find out when one of the several daily feedings take place and watch as the staff divers are surrounded by hungry fish.
- Sharks: The Open Ocean Exhibit - This 225,000 gallon tank completely surrounds you as you descend from the top of the facility. Always popular with kids and men, several large species of sharks are swim behind the glass at eye level.
Marine Mammal Pavilion Exhibits
Located on Inner Harbor's Pier 4, this part of the NAIB is connected to the lobby of the main aquarium by an enclosed bridge. The pavilion is also home to the NAIB food court where you can get a variety of junky snacks from ice cream to pizza to rather costly cans of domestic beer.
- Dolphin Show - Featuring a pretty standard dolphin show with splashing and tricks, the NAIB also includes an educational element to the performances which run several times daily. This always draws a crowd so try to find your seats at least 10-15 minutes before show time.
- Humpback Whale Exhibit -It's hard not to be impressed by the life-sized model of a humpback whale that dominates the food court area of the pavilion. On the walkways leading from the bridge to the groud floor are several displays to educate you about whales. There are also several booths which attempt to put the sheer size of whales into human perspective.
- Children's Discovery Cove - This hands-on exhibit allows kids and adults to touch and handle some of the sea life of the mid-Atlantic coast. Watching some of the younger kids react to touching a horseshoe crab is almost worth the price of admission in itself.
- Underwater Dolphin Viewing Area - Often overlooked by the crowds (even on busy days), this area allows you to look into the dolphin tank for a below the surface view. It is especially cool to watch the dolphin show 'underwater' as it really gives you a good perspective of the power and agility of these sea mammals.
The price of admision at the time of writing was $15 for adults and $8.50 for kids 3-11. Children under 3 are admitted free, but we don't recommend taking them.
NAIB hours vary be season, with the longest hours in the summer months of July and August (9am - 8pm). During the warmer school months hours are from 9am - 5pm and during the winter hours are from 10am - 5 pm. We advise you to arrive before 11am to ensure that you see everything you want and get the most out of your tour.
The NAIB website is at http://www.aqua.org.