As part of our homeschool Water Unit Study, we went on a family outing to Ripley’s Aquarium at Gatlinburg Tennessee. What an adventure!
Gatlinburg sits in the middle of the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains. It is about a two hour drive from Hendersonville and Asheville, NC. It is a tourist town and can compete with the best of tourism towns in the country for modern conveniences and accommodations. But it is a mountain town too, and if you go out on the outskirts of town you will find all the mom and pop shops and crafts. A very special town with a rich history to explore!
The aquarium is a huge building with exhibits from the oceans of the world, and also from rivers like the Amazon and fresh water lakes. You could easily spend all day or even a week at this aquarium learning all there is to learn there, but our family only stays a couple of hours. It is very family friendly and you can push a stroller though the whole place. This is our second trip here to learn and we hope to return again and again.
When you first enter the aquarium, there are huge models of aquatic dinosaur creatures hanging from the ceiling.
Then you enter a fresh water area of the museum with water falls, huge trees, and fresh water aquariums.
There are river catfish bigger than a grown man well over six feet long. The resemblance to sharks is very clear at this amazing size.
There are many fresh water fish featured, but we especially liked the huge exhibits of piranha from the Amazon. There are some lizards and poison frogs from there too. The variety of colors of these frogs was incredible, almost fluorescent blues, yellows, oranges, pinks, blacks, and purple. Have you ever seen a pink frog?
As you wind around you come to a huge ocean aquarium and you enter a tunnel that goes through the inside of it. You are surrounded by thousands of fish on all sides of you. The tunnel is quite long and it takes a good while to go through it. There is an escalator you can ride on for the tour or you can walk it yourself. It takes about 20 minutes or so to wind around on the escalator, but you could literally spend hours inside there observing if you chose too. We saw huge sea turtles and fish of all kinds. The aquarium looks like a ship graveyard where old ships sank long ago. The fish swim and live all around these big ships. I don’t remember how deep this tank is but I think it is well over 20 feet deep and the fish just zoom everywhere. You really feel like you are in the ocean with them.
The main feature is clearly the sharks. We counted at least a dozen different varieties of sharks and they are huge, many over 8 feet long. From this vantage point, you are literally inches from them. You can see every area of their bodies. It is especially frightening to look inside their mouths and see their many rows of teeth. There were some interesting variety of sharks too like the spotted guitar and the saw nose. There was easily over a hundred sharks of various kinds and sizes to see.
There are hand on learning areas with science facts and things to touch and maneuver. There was also a live exhibits of horse shoe crabs and a worker there help the children pet them and learn about them. They look very prehistoric. In another area there was also a worker helping people touch sting rays but the area was to crowded and we did not participate in that activity.
There was a very funny exhibits of Japanese Spider Crabs. These fellows are huge. They move very slowly and these guys were locked into this slow motion dance the whole time we observed them.
There are exhibits of huge shrimp, sea dragons, sea horse, coral reefs, moray eels, barracudas, octopus, jelly fish, squid, and ocean fish of every color, shape and size, and even ones that glow in the dark. The kids learned how different fish camouflage them self in the sand, or near coral, or in sea weed and how they catch prey.
We saw a scuba diver feeding a head of lettuce to very colorful ocean fish in one tank and an instructor was teaching the crowd about the coral reefs as we watched the diver.
There is a tank full of hundreds of huge sting rays of many different varieties. You could literally sit for hours and watch them fly so gracefully through the water.
There is also an indoor and out door penguin exhibits. It too has a tunnel and the children can literally crawl into the area with the penguins protected by glass, but feel as if they are right in there with them.
Another great feature about the aquarium is an exhibits of how the water in the aquarium is cycled through the different tanks and kept clean and the right volume and pressure is maintained for the creatures to live there. There are glass windows over looking the control rooms and electronic control boards. There are big cranks attached to pipes over looking the maintanance rooms for the children to turn and practice their skills as a worker at the aquarium.
If you would like to learn more about the aquarium at Gatlinburg, and plan a trip for your family, here is a link for more information: