Don’t swim with the fishes this summer - but definitely check them out.

There are at least five aquariums within driving distance of Onslow County, and all have something to offer for that young aspiring marine biologist, or anyone curious about the population of the deep blue sea.

All three campuses of the North Carolina Aquarium system, the North Carolina Estuarium and The Walter L. Stasavich Science and Nature Center are located within a three-hour drive of Jacksonville. These aquariums offer interactive ways to explore the many species that live in our oceans, rivers and lakes. They are a fun way to learn about the importance of conservation, too.

“Aquariums offer a place for people to connect with nature and wildlife and each other,” Robin Nalepa, communications manager at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, said. “If someone connects with nature, then they’re more likely to take care of it.”

At Fort Fisher, the conservation focus is on Carolina gopher frogs, sea turtles and sharks. Shark populations are in decline around the world, according to Nalepa, and the team is especially concerned with teaching aquarium-goers that these predators of the sea are not as scary as they appear on the silver screen.

“People talk about being afraid of sharks, but really sharks have a lot more to fear than the other way around,” Nalepa said.

She said there are several different species of sharks to see at the aquarium, such as sand sharks and tiger sharks, and that visitors can even touch a shark.

“Having that way that people can connect with sharks gives them a way to better understand sharks,” Nalepa added.

Visitors to the North Carolina Estuarium can see juvenile alligators, snakes, a variety of fish from both fresh and brackish water, reptiles, amphibians and blue crabs.

North Carolina is home to the second largest estuary in the United States, second only to Chesapeake Bay. The estuarium is known for its river roving program, which takes visitors out crabbing using crab pots on the Pamlico River.

“We have the second largest blue crab fishery in the country right here on the sound,” Russ Chesson, education and programming specialist at the estuarium, said.

The estuarium also offers boat rides that describe the history and ecology of the Pamlico and Tarr Rivers, a theme that runs through their various exhibits.

“Each room is about the nature and ecology in the area,” Chesson said. “We have a room about cultural history. We have one dedicated to climate science.”

The North Carolina Aquarium system, which includes, along with Fort Fisher, campuses in Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island, is featuring a dinosaur exhibit this summer. Each location has different species of animatronic dinosaurs that not only move but also growl, roar and even spit.

The Fort Fisher location, for example, is currently home to species such as dilophosaurus, brachiosaurus, diabloceratops and stegosaurus. All of the locations will have a T-Rex model as well.

Dinosaurs may not seem like the most obvious go-to for an aquarium, because they mostly lived on land. But they draw a crowd and they do represent something important in terms of conservation.

“Obviously dinosaurs are fun. Folks come to the aquarium and they want to have fun,” Nalepa said. “It's a great way to talk about species survival, because dinosaurs didn't survive.”

 

Reporter Maxim Tamarov can be reached at 910-219-8439 or mtamarov@jdnews.com