The Maritime Aquarium – Norwalk, Connecticut
The Maritime Aquarium
Touch jellyfish and rays, get a thrill from sharks on the prowl and come whisker-close to endearing seals during a fun adventure in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Connecticut.
This sprawling aquarium is different from most because it focuses primarily on one body of water, the Long Island Sound. This Estuary of National Significance is just outside Maritime’s doors. Despite this devotion to a single body of water, The Maritime Aquarium is the number one aquarium in all of New England, based on traveler ratings on TripAdvisor.
Norwalk’s location in southwestern Connecticut makes The Maritime Aquarium a great attraction for a day trip or a perfect stop while traveling between New York and Boston. The aquarium is conveniently located minutes off I-95 in the city’s historic, waterfront South Norwalk neighborhood. Commonly referred to as “SoNo,” this trendy area offers a wide variety of acclaimed restaurants on and near the city harbor, all within easy walking distance from the aquarium.
A visit to The Maritime Aquarium is a fascinating exploration of the Long Island Sound. As an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound is an environment rich in aquatic life — even within sight of heavily urbanized New York City. The sound’s marine population and The Maritime Aquarium’s exhibits include sharks, seals, sea turtles, jellyfish and varieties of crabs, fish and mollusks, such as delicious and historically important oysters and clams.
Guests first enter Newman’s Own Hall and encounter harbor seals swimming in a unique indoor\outdoor exhibit. The ambassador animal represented in The Maritime Aquarium’s logo, harbor seals are one of the most common seals in New England waters. Be sure to catch one of the seal-training demonstrations at 11:45 a.m., 1:45 and 3:45 p.m. daily. These public sessions are a great opportunity for visitors to ask questions of the animal-husbandry staff.
The aquarium journey through Long Island Sound starts at the edge of the sound, at a shallow salt marsh, and progresses through 20 deeper marine environments to reach the open waters of the sound and the ocean beyond. The trip concludes with the aquarium’s signature exhibit – a 110,000-gallon display featuring 8- and 9-foot sharks. The “Journey with Jellies” exhibit is close behind with its mesmerizing species of jellies. Last, but not least, is the roomy exhibit and home of large green and loggerhead sea turtles.
The Maritime Aquarium boasts one of the largest jellyfish exhibits on the East Coast with a dozen species and thousands of individual jellies on display. Every single jelly is “cultured” (or grown) in-house. That complex and delicate operation is open for guests to witness.
An additional gallery offers a detour into the sound’s critical watershed, which is home to river otters as well as migrating and endangered salmon and sturgeon. Many of the aquarium’s guests live within the sound’s large watershed (or drainage basin), and encouraging them to become active stewards for Long Island Sound is part of the aquarium’s mission.
The Maritime Aquarium’s exhibits are carefully designed to give people of all ages entertaining, educational and emotional experiences with animals. An Intertidal Touch Tank offers the chance to get a real feel (literally) for crabs, whelks, sea stars and other shoreline animals. Additionally, at the Shark & Ray Touch Pool and the Jiggle A Jelly exhibit, guests may safely touch creatures they have been told all their lives to avoid. These “touch” experiences are guided by the aquarium’s 300-plus trained volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, the aquarium’s plucky volunteer dive team plunges in among the big sharks each Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. to burst some of the myths about sharks. A communication link lets the divers talk to guests and answer questions from within the exhibit.
New to the aquarium is Just Add Water, a second-floor exhibit of habitats with increasing amounts of rain fall, amping up from arid desert to damp rain forest. This exhibit features animals adapted to those habitats such as lizards, quail, an owl, skunk, porcupine and even tamarin monkeys. Safely behind glass, the new Untouchables exhibit displays exotic species of stonefish, cone snails, anemones, squid and other creatures that could provide venomous encounters.
When visiting, factor in time for a spectacular IMAX movie, as one 45-minute film is included with admission. The Maritime Aquarium has the largest IMAX theater in Connecticut, boasting a screen that is six stories high and showing movies with 15/70mm film projection, an old-school method that film aficionados say remains the sharpest, clearest way to “experience” a movie in this digital age.
Another option for a visit is scheduling an outing onto Long Island Sound aboard The Maritime Aquarium’s unique R/V Spirit of the Sound. The 64-foot catamaran is America’s first research vessel with quiet hybrid-electric propulsion. Marine Life Encounter Cruises let participants encounter an exciting variety of animals, such as fish, crabs, mollusks and a surprise or two, as the animals are brought up out of the sound right before their eyes. These 2.5-hour cruises have a capacity of 40. Charter a morning cruise at 9 a.m. or book tickets for the regular 1:15 p.m. public departures, which are held daily in July and August and on weekends May, June, September and October.
For senior groups, fall is an excellent time to schedule a visit. The summer crowds are gone, and school field trips are yet to ramp up.
The Maritime Aquarium offers easy access from I-95, nearby bus parking, plenty of seating throughout our galleries, wide selections in the on-site cafeteria and keepsakes for everyone in a large gift shop.
A 501(c)3 not-for-profit institution, The Maritime Aquarium holds the prestigious accreditation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the body that sets the top standards for animal care and visitor safety at zoos and aquariums. Only 8 percent of the animal exhibitors in North Amercia licensed to display live animals are accredited by the AZA.
Learn more about the aquarium and plan a visit, including nearby “SoNo” restaurants and packages with area hotels, by visiting maritimeaquarium.org. To schedule a group visit, phone (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206.