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Dive into Local Aquariums for Family Fun Estuary Explorations Archive from Tampa Bay Estuary Program

Dive Into Local Aquariums for Family Fun and Learning

No need to board a boat or don a dive suit to get up close and personal with Tampa Bay's amazing marine life. A number of outstanding aquariums allow you to get within inches of a goliath grouper, share magic moments with manatees or visit the world's most famous dolphin - Winter! These aquariums should top your bucket list of must-visit attractions. They are open year-round and make a great family excursion.

Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Drive
Tampa, FL 33602
(813) 273-4000
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Top your list with a visit to The Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa, ranked one of the top 10 aquariums in the country by The Florida Aquarium tells Florida's water story as it follows a "drop" of water from its underground source (the Floridan Aquifer) to the open sea.

Start in the Wetlands exhibit with its aviary, alligators and river otters, then progress to the Coral Reef with its endangered sea turtles, moray eels and sharks. Bays and Beaches offers an up-close look at aquatic plants and animals that live as our neighbors in and around Tampa Bay; kids will love the critter touch tanks. Finally in the Ocean exhibit, you'll get a close encounter with sea creatures from around the world, including the amazing Sea Dragons from Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Explore A Shore, the aquarium's 2-acre outdoor water adventure zone, is a playground for kids of all ages. Get out on the bay with a Wild Dolphin Cruise, a 90-minute ecotour offered daily, weather permitting.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium
2249 Windward Passage
Clearwater, FL 33767
(727) 441-1790
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Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

If you've seen or heard about "A Dolphin Tale," the Hollywood movie about Winter the dolphin, a visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium might interest you. The once-struggling rescue and rehab aquarium just minutes from Clearwater Beach is now attracting visitors from around the world who come to see the real Winter, who resides here along with an array of dolphins, otters, and sea turtles who are receiving TLC from the caring aquarium staff.

Visitors can watch Winter and other rescued dolphins in their daily sessions with trainers, learn about the aquarium's top-notch sea turtle nesting and rescue program along Pinellas beaches, or take an interactive eco-cruise aboard the Sea Life Safari boat. This guided tour takes you to a nearby shell island where aquarium staff provides hands-on explanations of sea critters collected in a net.

Lots of educational exhibits (don't miss the Estuaries one!), plus special programs, films and the chance to see a real working marine wildlife hospital make Clearwater Marine Aquarium a must-see attraction.

Mote Marine Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy.
Sarasota, FL 34236
(941) 388-4441
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Mote Marine Aquarium

Mote Marine Aquarium

An hour south of Tampa Bay in Sarasota is Mote Marine Aquarium. At Mote, you can explore the secrets of the sea through touch pools, viewable working labs and interactive exhibits that showcase the world-renowned research of Mote Marine Laboratory, which first opened its doors in 1955. See sharks, manatees and sea turtles, along with more than 100 other species of marine life. Mote is home to two manatees, Hugh and Buffett, who are considered the world's most highly trained sea cows (and eat 72 heads of lettuce a day).

As an ocean research laboratory and sea turtle rescue and rehab facility, visitors can become immersed in marine science at Mote. Watch live shark training sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; a special Sea Lion exhibit is on view through May 2013.

Mote has been rehabbing injured and stranded dolphins and whales since 1992. Caleb is the first Kemp's ridley turtle - considered the most endangered sea turtle species on Earth - to become a permanent resident in Mote's exhibit, "Sea Turtles: Ancient Survivors." The exhibit also houses loggerhead and green turtles that could not be released, has a hospital for hatchling sea turtles and features educational displays about Mote's sea turtle conservation and research.

Mote offers an eco-tour boat which departs daily in search of dolphins, manatees and other sea life in Sarasota Bay.

Parker Manatee Aquarium at South Florida Museum
201 10th Street West
Bradenton FL 34205
(941) 746-4131
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Parker Manatee Aquarium at South Florida Museum

Parker Manatee Aquarium at South Florida Museum

Although not as large or comprehensive as the other aquariums, South Florida Museum's Parker Manatee Aquarium deserves a mention as the home of the world's oldest known living manatee, Snooty. Each year the congenial Snooty is honored with a birthday celebration - 2013 marks his 65th birthday. Throughout the years, this manatee rehab facility has housed some 24 rescued sea cows as they await release back into the wild. Snooty, however, is a permanent resident so you can always be assured of a manatee encounter. Feedings and programs take place throughout the day.

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