The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is home to more than 1,000 animals, almost all native to Long Island Sound, its watershed and the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Even before walking up to the aquarium’s second-floor entrance, visitors encounter harbor seals swimming in a unique/indoor outdoor exhibit. Next, visitors get to see and touch live sharks and rays for a truly unique experience.
Upstairs, visitors begin their Aquarium journey at the shallow salt marsh and proceed deeper and deeper through 20 marine environments to the deep ocean waters of the Sound and the ocean beyond. Entering the salt marsh area, visitors find five tanks filled with life from this “Fragile Nursery of the Sea.” Marine life that thrives in the sheltered marshes includes seahorses and pipefish, Atlantic silversides, mummichogs, shore shrimp, scallops and a flatfish called hogchokers.
Visitors also learn about the Eastern oyster, which flourishes in the Norwalk area because of the near-perfect oyster conditions: a clean sandy bottom, protection from heavy wave action by the Norwalk Islands, and removal of loose sediment by river currents. Historically, the largest oystering operations on the East Coast have been based on the Chesapeake Bay and in Norwalk.
Leaving the salt marsh, visitors enter a river-woodlands habitat stocked with salmon and sturgeon, which share a special ability: they migrate as adults from the salty ocean up freshwater rivers to spawn. This woodlands habitat also features Belle and Lou, two playful North American river otters.
Progressing deeper into the aquarium, visitors enter the “Communities Beneath the Sound” gallery, where six tanks showcase different habitats on the Sound’s floor – and their inhabitants.
This gallery also includes one of the aquarium’s must-visits: the Intertidal Touch Tank, where children enjoy supervised hands-on encounters with sea stars, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, spider crabs, whelks and other harmless shoreline critters.
Moving deeper into the Aquarium, visitors find themselves at “The Ocean Beyond the Sound,” a 110,000-gallon habitat that is home to sand tiger sharks (the largest, at 9 feet), striped bass, bluefish, red drum, black drum, sea bass and other larger schooling fish. Feeding time is 12:45 p.m. daily.
Next is “Jellyfish Encounter,” which offers a sting-free study of one of the most mesmerizing and unusual creatures in the sea.
The aquarium passageway concludes at “Sea Turtles,” a 10,000-gallon tank featuring a loggerhead sea turtle and two young green sea turtles. Displays discuss all the endangered sea turtle species, as well as turtle migration and conservation.
Visitors are advised to allow adequate time to enjoy The Chocolate Expo and to see all the fascinating exhibits at the Maritime Aquarium, which may take longer than usual, due to the expected crowds. Also, please consider this issue if bringing young children and/or elderly visitors and plan accordingly for everyone’s comfort and enjoyment.
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