New York City may not have the largest aquarium, but it’s an aquarium with history, heart, and a mission. The New York Aquarium has been situated next to the Coney Island boardwalk since the 1950s, but it actually traces its roots back to the nineteenth century, when it originally opened in 1896 in Battery Park‘s Castle Clinton. According to the New York City Park website, the New York Aquarium is actually the “oldest continually operating aquarium in the United States.”
I knew that the New York Aquarium had sustained significant damage during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, resulting in it being closed to the public for several months for repairs. (Thankfully, because of aquarium staff members’ efforts, 90 percent of the aquarium animals were saved during the storm.) I was eager to see how the aquarium had recovered from the damage.
As you enter the aquarium, the first thing you will see are the interior tanks. There’s a great variety of fish in the tanks, educating visitors about ocean diversity, differences in ocean climates and geography, and at-risk species. Unsurprising, there were also a lot of children making references from Finding Nemo!
I was interested to learn that the aquarium grows its own coral. There was an exhibit explaining a little about the growing process, including a frame on which a variety of coral samples were growing.
After exploring the interior aquarium exhibits, I then headed outside. First up: the Aquatheater, for a demonstration of sea lion training and care.
From the outside of the aquarium building, you can see back into the shark exhibition, which is entirely behind glass. This was my least favorite part of the aquarium, as the area was extremely crowded, and the exhibit was dark with smudged glass.
Visitors won’t see this version of the shark exhibition too much longer though – the aquarium is in the midst of an expansion plan, and, as the nearby sign on the construction wall informed me, a new, more “immersive” shark experience is coming.
There are more sea lions, as well as walruses, California sea otters, and penguins. On the day I visited, the sea otters were the most engaging, swimming around and seemingly posing for our cameras.
Over the years, the aquarium has moved beyond solely entertaining and educating visitors to research and promotion of ocean conservation. As you approach the aquarium from the street side, you may notice the Osborn Laboratories of Marine Sciences, the large building right next to the aquarium entrance.
Interested in visiting the New York Aquarium yourself? For those who are driving, there is a parking lot next to the Aquarium, although I had the sense that it fills up quickly when the weather is good and people are heading to the beach. If you are traveling by train, take the F or Q train to the 8th Avenue – NY Aquarium stop. The aquarium is located just a short walk from the station.
You can also access the aquarium entrance from the Coney Island boardwalk. Near the museum’s boardwalk entrance, there is this great mural.
The sign on the corner of the mural states that the concept and design were by VSA Partners, New York, and it was produced by Colossal Media. More than 100 volunteers helped to paint the mural, which includes both ocean and Coney Island themes.