Put Me In The Zoo Review: New England Aquarium Review Date of visit: June 21, 2016 Does this zoo satisfy the reviewer’s Inner-3-Year-Old by featuring his lifelong favorite animals, giraffes and elephants? It’s an aquarium, so no. The giraffes live down the freeway at the Franklin Park Zoo. The New England Aquarium is a large saltwater aquarium on Boston’s waterfront. It is a major attraction for the city and was intended as such when it was built in 1969. Boston was a couple decades ahead of the trend of building aquariums as magnets for tourism and development in waterfront and harbor areas; they in fact helped create the trend that now has occurred in Monterey, Baltimore, Tennessee, Long Beach, New Orleans, and many other places in the United States and around the world. The design of the aquarium apparently was groundbreaking also in that it was built around a large central exhibit area with a massive Caribbean reef tank. It helped create the vision for massive exhibits that define the look and feel of an aquarium like the Ocean Explorer tank at the Georgia Aquarium and the kelp forest tank at Monterey. I knew that this aquarium was an older institution and really did not know what to expect; I guess I thought that it might be a dated and fading institution. I was delighted to find a vibrant institution that I really enjoyed very much. The Caribbean reef tank dominates the aquarium. It is four stories tall and a ramp winds its way around the tank. The tank is full of Caribbean reef fish including bonnethead sharks, barracudas, and dozens of other species. There are also loggerhead and green sea turtles, including Murtle the Turtle who has been at the aquarium for 46 years (since it opened in 1969) as is now roughly the size of a VW Bug. The outer walls of the aquarium are filled with exhibit galleries from salt water and freshwater habitats from around the world. Most of them tell a story about the habitat like mangrove forests or some aspect of aquatic life, like fish evolution or cephalopod intelligence. Does this zoo have any animals and/or exhibits that would excite a zoo aficionado? The New England Aquarium has the best exhibit for weedy and leafy sea dragons that I’ve seen anywhere. The tank is large and round and there was a steady stream of entranced dragon watchers viewing them regally and magically blend in with the seaweed around them. Penguin aficionados are well served at this aquarium as the bottom floor of the aquarium features three interlocking exhibits for African, little blue, and rockhopper penguins at the base of the Caribbean reef exhibit. An exhibit of red octopus contains several individuals and showcases their amazing ability to compress themselves into small spaces by giving them little bottles to squeeze into. The interpretation and education programs at this aquarium were very impressive. Underlying everything is the aquarium’s mission to get people interested and involved in saving “The Blue Planet”, by which of course they mean the oceans, rivers, wetlands, and other aquatic ecosystems of Earth. There is a wall-to-wall schedule of live programs for several of the exhibits, there are education carts all over the aquarium with education staff with artifacts and animals to explore up close, and many interactive interpretive exhibits. The interpretation for most of the exhibits tells stories about the habitats or life cycles or evolution or some other aspect of natural history of the animals. These are told in engaging language with colorful graphics. I was especially taken with the memorable signs telling the stories of the life cycles of Atlantic salmon and American lobsters, stars of New England history and culture. There are living examples of the various life stages of these species to illustrate the story of their dynamic lifecycles Does this zoo have any exhibits that should be bulldozed? The only really disappointing things to me about the aquarium were the pinniped exhibits. There is an exhibit for harbor seals at the aquarium entrance that anyone outside the aquarium can see. This exhibit has underwater viewing but is extremely narrow and small. The sea lions and northern fur seals have an exhibit that literally looks like an aquatic center at a college or a YMCA. It is a swimming pool. Maybe it is adequate for them, but in an era of immersive sea lion exhibits it is a really weird aesthetic and operational choice. The exhibit is only a few years old and apparently cost more than 10 million dollars, so it isn’t going away soon or ever probably. Does this zoo have any elements that make it particularly family friendly? The aquarium has a play area with colorful, finely detailed enlarged models of ocean life that kids can touch and climb. The penguin and coral reef talks that I saw were geared for all ages with meaningful scientific and conservation details presented in a relatable context. There is a permanent shark and ray touch tank that is large and well maintained and monitored by aquarium personnel. The aquarium has a facility for rehabilitating sea turtles off site. At the aquarium they have a room of interpretives where people can use technology to virtually diagnose sea turtle digestive ailments, heart aliments, and try to get them to eat in simulations of actual sea turtle medicine. Kids and adults were gleefully playing sea turtle veterinarians. Does this zoo have any interesting plans for the future? The aquarium was heavily advertising their emphasis on “Tentacles” with temporary exhibits highlighting jellies and octopi. Would a zoo aficionado like this zoo enough to go out of his or her way to visit it? The New England Aquarium is a world-class establishment. It is advertised as a major cultural attraction for the city and is clearly well supported by the community. If you are interested in the major aquariums of North America, the New England Aquarium is one of them. The aquarium offers whale watching in the summer. There is a major whale feeding ground off the coast from Boston where humpback, fin, minke, and northern right whales gather to eat krill and fish. I did not go on the whale watch, but it looked like a fun, well-run program. The aquarium is involved in whale research and conservation.