Geeky States of America: Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, Connecticut

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I’ve been to many of the aquariums in the United States, including the ones in Boston, Baltimore, and Sea World in Orlando, Florida.

Mystic Aquarium remains my favorite.

That’s no doubt due to the exhibit that is just off the gate entrance: the three beluga whales.  The belugas swim in a “one-acre outdoor habitat” that ” features three interconnected pools holding more than 750,000 gallons of water,” according to the aquarium’s website. What the website doesn’t say is that the belugas seems to genuinely enjoy being the center of attention.

It’s absolutely incredible to watch these creatures swim. But what’s more incredible is that you can view them underwater, from several areas around the tank. The whales seem to welcome their onlookers, frequently turning around in the water to look back at them. On my last visit, I put my hand flat on the outside of the tank and a beluga not only bumped where my hand was on his side of the tank, he followed my hand as I moved it downward, as a cat might follow a string.

Then there’s the clicking. The whales can often be seen staring at people and clicking, perhaps at them. (I suppose it’s also possible they’re clicking to the other whales, saying the equivalent of, “Can you believe how bad that hairstyle is on that person?” But I like thinking they’re communicating to people in their own way.) For $150, aquarium visitors can arrange a whale encounter as well but I’ve never done that. This maybe because watching seems less obtrusive, which I suppose is silly given they’re already contained in a tank.

Once visitors spend time with the whales, one of two directions await. Inside, to the interior exhibits of sea animals or outside along a path that leads to areas with seals, seal lions, penguins, an outdoor marsh, and sometimes animals being rehabilitated for rescue. My kids always insist on spending time outside with the penguins, especially if we can catch their feeding times. And sometimes, there are  the rehabilitated sea creatures. On our last visit, a little seal with a missing flipper was in a tank, learning to swim again.

Inside, exhibits are the usual sea and fresh water creatures in various tanks, representing coastal and ocean areas. There’s  also an open shallow tank where anyone could touch and hold creatures like sea stars and crabs. My favorite tanks are the ones holding the incredible rays and the sharks, which look so very menacing swimming with their mouths open. There’s a very nicely lit display with jellyfish, quite possibly the strangest creature in the ocean. There is a sea lion theater, where three lions perform multiple times each day with their trainers. We see that every time we go.

There’s also usually a ray touch pool open each day on the outside. Warning: make sure your kids really roll up their sleeves. Even older kids can get so excited they stick in their arms in all the way to their shoulders.

The aquarium, long associated with the discovery of the Titanic by an expedition led by Robert Ballard, is currently running a “Titanic: 12,450 feet Below” experience in their Ocean Exploration Center. It recreates the engine room of the doomed vessel, has mock-ups of the iceberg and models of the bow of the great ship. Though my kids have all seen Titanic and other documentaries on the subject, this exhibit still excited them as it’s meant to put you there, as part of what it might have been like on that fateful night.

Admission for the day is $34.95 for adults and $27.95 for children ages 2-17. Kids two and under are free. We’ve paid full admission a couple of times but we’ve also gotten in free via passes provided by our local library in Connecticut. If you’re a Connecticut resident, this is definitely the way to go. Everything can be seen in one visit without too much rushing but the whales always bring us back, at least once a year.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.