There’s something fishy at the National Aquarium in Baltimore!
Over the years, the National Aquarium has changed its focus from entertainment to conservation. An emphasis on the importance of water, and the earth as a water system, is a core message throughout the exhibits.
Water isn’t just a habitat for the animals displayed. It’s integral to life on earth and the health of the planet.
Whether you dwell on the message or are there simply to explore habitats usually not experienced in central Maryland, this is core destination for visitors to Baltimore.
This is a place I’ve visited and revisited over the years, and it’s always fun. A variety of habitats are explored, from an Australian river gorge to Maryland’s streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay to a tropical rain forest. Fish and animals of all types, shapes and sizes are on exhibit. Look carefully, and you’ll see a green sea turtle, as well as sharks, jellyfish, sting rays, and clown fish.
As the aquarium’s brochure recommends, you’ll want to check out the Australia river gorge habitat first, then head over to explore the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibits on Level 2 before heading up the people mover to the Living Seashore on Level 3.
Up on the inclined people mover to Level 4 to learn about the Pacific coral reef, kelp forests and sea cliffs before entering the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, where you’ll see birds, more fish and even a sloth (if you look carefully).
Descending from the humid Rain Forest, you’ll enter the circular Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit, descending through the levels as you see fish swimming around you. At the lower levels, the sharks take center stage.
But change is coming. The dolphins will be moving to a marine sanctuary, where they will live in more natural surroundings. For more information about this change, please check out https://sanctuary.aqua.org/.
This move stems from the growing understanding of dolphins and their intelligence and needs: captivity as the tanks at the aquarium, as large as they are, are just too limiting for these magnificent creatures.
The circus-ring style dolphin show ended several years ago, although now you can watch “shows” of how the dolphins are trained and handled and cared for — a quieter show, but you do get a good understanding of the dolphins. It’s unclear what will replace the dolphins, or whether the building will be put to other uses entirely.
In the same pavilion as the dolphin exhibit are the jellyfish tanks. I could have spent HOURS there alone. I find jelly fish fascinating and cool, when they’re in a tank and not brushing up against me at the beach!
If you can’t visit yet — or you just want to get in the mood for your visit, check out these wonderful live cams, from the tanks at the National Aquarium. If you enjoy jellyfish, you might enjoy this live cam or check out this coral reef live cam!
And, when I found these, I landed on the Blacktip Shark Reef live cam, and then spent an hour watching the green sea turtle and several sting rays. Such elegant beautiful and mysterious creatures! Watching fish is oddly soothing and hypnotic.
|A capture from the Blacktip Shark Reef live-cam.
Depending on how crowded the aquarium is — and it can get very crowded on summer weekends (making weekdays and non-summer/non-holiday weekends your best time to visit) — and your dedication to reading all the explanations and information, you should plan on spending anywhere from two to four hours there. Or maybe even longer, if you simply want to linger and watch these wonderful animals. Also, arriving before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. offers a less crowded visit.
Know before you go: There are a number of public and private parking lots and garages near the Inner Harbor. You can even find free spots in Canton Park, but it’s a bit of a walk to Harbor Place. The least expensive parking garage we found was $20 per day, next to the Baltimore Regency Hyatt across the street from Harbor Place, and that’s where we usually ended up parking. However, check out Parking Locations in Baltimore for more options. Tickets pulled from both Parkway Lockwood Place or the LAZ Inner Harbor Garage can be validated for a discount to Aquarium guests.
Getting there: 501 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD 21202
Hours: Generally Monday – Thursday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Check the website for any changes in hours or special programs that may be offered.