It was a sunny, hot May day, a nice reprieve from the cool, damp days we had been experiencing. The pools of water looked refreshing but were not for us to swim in. Donning the life jackets and emptying our pockets of anything that could fall out the excitement level increased as we got ready to meet some the aquarium residents in Mystic CT. As we walked out to the pool the trainers that were accompanying us explained that we would be able to not only learn and use basic hand commands we would also be able to touch the sleek looking animals we had been waiting for weeks to meet. Finally, we were introduced to the seals!
Starting off with a short discussion on how they train them using shapes and then food as rewards we learned how to use motions to get them to dance, wave, and spin in the water. Then came the reward (watching my wife, who hates slimy things, feed a raw squid our new aquatic friends was a highlight for me) the seals gobbled up the treats we offered them. While doing the “seal kneel”, a way of approaching them that is non-threatening, we got to pat the well-padded creatures. I have always had the thought they would be sleek and rubbery feeling but discovered they have short fur that feels akin to a short, shaved dog. This was part of our tour of the Mystic Aquarium.
Open year round and only a 3 and 1/2-hour drive from Concord this is a great one or two-day get away with or without kids. As you walk into the ultra-clean facility you first see a crowd favorite – the beluga whales. Just a few weeks before we arrived the aquarium welcomed five new whales, they rescued from Canada who were in a separate holding tank. Not only did the visitors enjoy watching their antics but the other whales were also interested and swam around the gate and windows to welcome and become acquainted the new arrivals. Each whale had a separate personality, some playful, some curious and some just content to swim in the tank You can watch them swim around not only from the surface, but the underwater windows allow you close views as they swim, dive and frolic in their tank. The aquarium is the only local facility in the New England area to have belugas. The whales, it seems, are not attached to family pods but are known to attach to other pods in the wild. The tank itself is 750,000 gallons and is completely filtered every 72 hours.
Next up was the seal/sea lion viewing tank. Again, this facility is the only one in the lower 48 states to house Stellar Sea Lions, the only other is in Alaska. Several different species of seals also inhabit the tank. You can spend quite a bit of time here watching the sleek animals gliding thru the water or just resting on the rocks. Volunteers located throughout the park are quite knowledgeable and very friendly are not only able to answer most of your questions, but they also monitor the well-being of their animal charges.
Continuing the tour, you come across South African penguins. While I always thought penguins were only found in Antarctica, African penguins live in colonies along the Western coast and the islands between South Africa and Namibia. They waddle on land but are great swimmers and can dive up to 400 ft. to gather food. An endangered species they are fun to watch as they plunge in and out of the tank.
Circling around to a large fresh-water pond. Homes to turtles, frogs, ducks, and other local and migratory birds that just stop by to rest, you can sit a spell and relax. It was here we talked with our guide who explained to us that the aquarium is a premier research facility as well as a state-of-the-art rescue center. Wildlife officials as well as regular people can call if they find a wounded or sick animal and the center will respond, assess and if necessary, bring them to the facility to be treated. The medical facility has a tank big enough to hold small species of whales and the vets on staff as well as the research workers and volunteers take care of the 10,000 or so species on the premises.
Inside the main gallery you will find a large selection of fresh and saltwater fish and animals. A ray and shark tank are hands on allowing everyone to touch these ocean dwellers. Moray eels, jellyfish and all sorts of colorful ocean life are housed in several rooms while another room contained a tank of residents of the Long Island Sound. It is a great opportunity to take your time and explore each tank and enjoy the tranquil, graceful fish.
Kids of all ages will enjoy the Jurassic Giants exhibit. Jurassic Giants takes guests back in time to encounter clawing, roaring dinosaurs that seemingly come to life! Visitors can explore the age of dinosaurs featuring giant animatronic dinosaurs, enjoy two 4D theaters, and visit with frogs and reptiles!
Wrap up your adventure with a souvenir from the gift shop, a treat or meal at the café or have your picture taken. Their website is a wealth of information and features things for kids to do. As of this writing tickets must be purchased ahead of time (make sure you add an experience if you can – getting the up close and personal experience is something you and the kids will not forget) and best of all, parking is free.
Start your adventure by clicking here Mystic Aquarium | Connecticut's Premier Aquarium and have a great time!