Fort Fisher Aquariums
Located in the middle of the North Carolina coastline is the Crystal Coast. The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is located here, just north of Emerald Isle in Pine Knoll Shores. At the front of the aquarium is a bronze sculpture of a school of fish playing in the seaweed. They will be happy to pose with you for your family photo, or you can have an aquarium staff member take your picture in front of this beautiful backdrop. The first gallery in this aquarium is the "Mountains Gallery," with its wonderful waterfall. This waterfall represents the waterfalls in North Carolina - nearly 300 of them throughout the state! Stroll past displays of live fish from different creeks in the mountain section of North Carolina. One of two different display boards in this gallery gives information about the snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, toads and salamanders that make their home in the mountains. The other display board has a list of endangered species that call our great state home. Don't miss the large rainbow trout swimming around in this gallery.
Next, you will meander through the "Piedmont Gallery." About 65% of the residents of the state of North Carolina live in the Piedmont region of the state. They have a large influence on everything from the wildlife to the water supply. The stars of this gallery are the two river otters that live there. They have a wonderful habitat where they can play and swim and will definitely provide entertainment. (Stay and watch for a while, but don't forget there is much more to see!)
Because much of this aquarium is enclosed and dark, it is nice when you enter the "Coastal Plains Gallery" and can go outside. There is a boardwalk that will take you out to the marsh, where fiddler crabs run across the mud and different birds look for their next meal. Look carefully and you might catch a glimpse of a heron or egret hiding in the long grass trying to spear a fish. Down the path is the snake house where you can see native snakes. Upon re-entering the building, you will be able to observe small alligators in one showcase and then touch a replica of one. This replica statue of an alligator was made from one that was caught locally. It is over 10 feet long, which for Carolina alligators is considered quite big. If you want to see bigger alligators, the Fort Fisher Aquarium is where you will want to visit next.
The next gallery is the "Tidal Waters Gallery." In here, there is a ray tank where you can touch the sting rays as they swim past you. Also, you can touch a horseshoe crab in another tank. One interesting fact that you can learn in this section is exactly what causes that "marsh smell" that you often hear people referring to - the smell is caused by tiny bacteria in the mud that emit hydrogen sulfide gas. Another display in this gallery is a large loggerhead turtle skeleton in a glass case - you can actually see the bones in its flippers and how the upper and lower plates of its shell fit together. Right beside this display there is a "turtle nursery." The aquarium rehabilitates three baby sea turtles every two years, which are hatchlings that probably would not have made it to the sea when leaving the nest. The aquarium keeps them in tanks, each separate so they don't hurt each other, and then when they are about 2 years old, they release them into the Gulf Stream.
The final gallery in the The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is the "Ocean Gallery." Here, you will learn much about the shipwrecks off the coast. North Carolina is one of the world's top wreck diving locations. The waters are clear and warm throughout most of the year and there are many sunken ships from various time periods on the ocean bottom. One map shows the multitude of wrecks and where they are located. It is amazing to see so many spots marked for sunken vessels. The most amazing display in this gallery and probably the whole aquarium is the "Living Shipwreck," which is a display that contains a 3/4 size replica of a sunken U-boat made out of fiberglass. The wreck is in 306,000 gallons of water that is 16 feet deep and weighs 2.5 million pounds. The windows are 65 feet long, 10 feet high and 8.25 inches thick. They are made out of acrylic that was made in Colorado and shipped here. The water for this is pumped in from the Bogue Sound, which is located behind the aquarium. So as not to spoil any more of the details about the concrete pillars that are under this to hold it up, you can read more facts about this display when you visit the aquarium. The inhabitants of this display range from a loggerhead turtle to nurse sharks. The fish are incredible in size and eat 100 pounds of food each week. After you have finished gazing at this enormous tank, turn your attention to the smaller tank in the middle of the room. It holds venomous lionfish. These fish were native to the Indo-Pacific waters but in 2000, were found in the Gulf Stream between New York and Florida. No need to worry if they will hurt you when you are swimming, as they like to be in at least 80 feet of water. Scientists are still wondering how they got to this part of the world. The theory is that they either came in ballast water of ocean liners or from releases of aquarium hobbyists. Since they seem to be thriving, they are now being studied to see what impact they will have on the pre-existing inhabitants of the area.
When you are finished enjoying the fish inside, take yourself out onto the porch, sit in the sun and admire the nice landscape of the aquarium. You will then want to go back inside and visit the gift shop for a souvenir to remind you of your visit.
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher