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Adventures at the Aquarium

The aquarium experience started long before I walked through the entrance. The second I stepped out of the car, the salty ocean breeze welcomed me to the place I was ecstatic about visiting. Aquariums have always been my favorite attractions, so my expectations were high for the Roanoke Island aquarium.


​I began my journey with Caroline outside at the aquarium’s pier, stopping every few feet to take pictures of each statue and sculpture. There were fossilized shark teeth and turtle sculptures, but the main attraction was a fountain with an intricate school of fish sculpture as the centerpiece. The art led up to the water’s edge where it was easy to lose track of time watching rays of sunshine skirt around the waves. We looked out on the deep blue water at boats and bridges in the distance, and we watched as the foamy waves splashed up over the rocks at the edge of the ocean.

Much too soon, we had to leave the pier, and with a time constraint looming in the back of our minds, we rushed to the front doors.


Upon walking into the aquarium, we saw our first indoor display. Showcased in a life-size shadow box was a massive shark jaw, complete with rows of pointed teeth. The description said the fossil was from a megalodon, a prehistoric shark much bigger than the measly eight-foot-long sharks today. I looked at Caroline with excitement; I’d always found sharks fascinating. Caroline, who wasn’t nearly as giddy as me, led us to the next room.


As we walked in, our attention immediately went to a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling tank. Hundreds of fish swam behind the glass, all different sizes and colors. We watched fish three inches long as they swam alongside other species spanning three feet. Throughout the aquarium, we saw these massive tanks and the creatures in their own miniature ecosystem.

The aquarium had different kinds of exhibits; some were interactive and others were more immersive, and throughout it all, it was incredible to see the dedication to ocean conservation efforts the aquarium had. Halfway through our exploration, we were able to see those efforts in action. 


The aquarium was equipped with its own turtle sanctuary, a room overlooking the ocean with several tanks, each containing a very large turtle or tortoise, several of them decades old. We heard the stories of some of the animals and learned about how the aquarium is working to preserve the species, and after leaving the room, we walked through an immersive exhibit where we saved and rehabilitated a turtle figurine.


Afterward, we stepped into another interactive room. In the center were two tables, one filled with stingrays swimming around and the other containing a shallow pool, also full of sea creatures. Caroline challenged me to pet one of the stingrays, which the aquarium employees in the room assured us did not have their stingers. 


I was nervous at first, remembering another trip I took years ago where I chickened out on petting a stingray.


The stingrays that swam in the tank in front of me seemed friendly, and I was determined not to let my fears get in the way, so I plunged my hand into the saltwater and rubbed it on a stingray, taking it out as soon as I felt the cold and squishy surface. 


Still, the experience left me feeling bold, so I went to the next tank and looked at what I could do. I ended up petting the shell of a hermit crab as it hustled from one side of the tank to the other and a spiky sea urchin in the corner. 


Afterward, we moved on to the next exhibits, walking past snakes and lizards, snapping turtles, and a very rare albino alligator. The last section of the aquarium was reserved for other classic ocean creatures. We walked around displays of translucent and glowing jellyfish, tanks of seahorses swimming, and—my favorite—a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling tank of sharks.


By then I’d realized that every one of my expectations for the aquarium was met and more. It was a place I don’t think I’d ever have enough time for. 


And of course, as all good trips go, we ended at the gift shop. We spent our last period allotted for the aquarium commemorating it with sweatshirts and stamped pennies as I told everyone how much I loved the aquarium. We pulled out of the parking lot and back onto Highway 64, and I looked out at the road, amazed at our time in the aquarium.


Gayatri Chopra

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