Aquariums put us face to fin with aquatic life from the world's oceans, lakes and waterways in a fun and educational setting. The best aquariums also play a vital role in animal conservation by taking part in rescue efforts and advocating for the environmental health of our oceans.
To find the best aquariums
, we asked USA TODAY 10Best readers to vote for the top 10 spots in the United States, and these are the results.
No. 10: Mystic Aquarium – Mystic, Connecticut.
The most popular residents at the Mystic Aquarium are New England's only beluga whales; guests can observe these gentle giants from above and below the surface. Animal interaction is the name of the game at Discovery Lab, while Shark Lagoon features one of the ocean's most misunderstood animals. African penguins, bearded dragons, American alligators, seals, sea lions and more than 30 species of frogs also call the aquarium home.
No. 9: Adventure Aquarium – Camden, New Jersey.
Many surprises await visitors at the Adventure Aquarium
in Camden. Among the aquarium's 15,000 aquatic critters in two million gallons of water are hippos, the world’s smallest species of penguin and the world’s largest species of hammerhead shark. Guests can reach out and touch sharks, sting rays, sea stars and horseshoe crabs. Live diver presentations and keeper interactions with sea turtles and hippos enhance the visitor experience.
No. 8: Tennessee Aquarium – Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga trace the journey of water from the mountains through the Appalachian Cove Forest, into the Ohio River where it joins with the Mississippi that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A broad array of wildlife highlights ecosystems along the way, including alligators, otters, snapping turtles, catfish and sunfish. Featured habitats – delta swamp, tropical rain forest, spiny forest and reefs – provide homes for frogs, penguins, sharks, jellyfish, cuttlefish and lemurs, while professional keepers and divers happily share their expertise with visiting guests.
No. 7: Newport Aquarium – Newport, Kentucky.
Encompassing a million gallons of water and thousands of animals from around the world, the Newport Aquarium operates the first shark ray breeding program in the world. The Amazon Tunnel allows visitors to walk along the floor of the Amazon River during its flooded season, while the Dangerous & Deadly exhibit showcases some of the world’s most lethal aquatic creatures. Eight species of crocodiles from four different continents can be seen at Gator Alley – one of the most diverse crocodilian collections in the country.
No. 6: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas – New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
in New Orleans
take guests below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and deep into the Amazon rainforest. The 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit features sharks, rays and tarpons in a stunning setting; other guest favorites include sea otters, penguins, sea turtles and even owls.
No. 5: Texas State Aquarium – Corpus Christi, Texas.
The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, the largest aquarium in Texas, offers a journey through land and sea, including encounters with the fascinating wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Notable exhibits include a spacious jungle featuring flamingos, flying birds and sloths, and a 400,000-gallon deep sea habitat, where visitors can get up close and personal with sharks prowling among a sunken shipwreck. Additional exhibits give guests a captivating look at sea turtles, dolphins, otters and other amazing animals, while stingray touch pools and a 4D theater provide even more interactive educational experiences.
No. 4: North Carolina Aquariums – Multiple locations. This foursome of aquariums – Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher, and Jennette's Pier – each offer a unique experience. Walk through a sunken ship or explore wetland wildlife on Roanoke Island, learn about loggerhead turtles at Pine Knoll Shores, come nose to nose with an albino alligator at Fort Fisher and get interactive at Jennette's Pier.
No. 3: The Florida Aquarium – Tampa, Florida. One of the top aquariums in the South, the Florida Aquarium displays some 8,000 plants and animals from a range of fresh and saltwater environments, including alligators, sharks, seahorses, river otters and free-flying birds. The Florida Wetlands Trail highlights regional life in a recreated mangrove forest, while the Journey to Madagascar takes visitors across the globe to observe a host of interesting animals – ring-tailed lemurs, hissing cockroaches and colorful chameleons. At Stingray Beach, visitors are invited to touch stingrays and sharks.
No. 2: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies – Gatlinburg, Tennessee. More than 350 species are represented among Ripley's 10,000 aquatic residents. Shark Lagoon, with its moving walkways through underwater tunnels, is the aquarium's biggest and most popular attraction.Kids love the interactive Penguin Playhouse, where they can come nose to beak with endangered African penguins, both above and below the water.
No. 1: Wonders of Wildlife – Springfield, Missouri. Founded by Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops, Springfield's Wonders of Wildlife celebrates hunting, fishing and stewardship of the land and water through 1.5 miles of immersive galleries, featuring 4D dioramas and a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium. Some 35,000 animals representing over 800 species are on display, including zebra sharks, sea turtles and freshwater sport fish. Unique to the aquarium is its collection of historic boats used by fishing legends and celebrities, like Jimmy Buffet, Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey.