Tarpon Springs FL - Aquarium
Tarpon Springs FL
I've enjoyed many, many Florida vacations over the years, pretty much up one side of the peninsula and down the other, along with the state’s panhandle region. But until recently, I'd never had the chance to visit Tarpon Springs. Our recent family vacation to Port Richey put us within just a few miles of Tarpon Springs, however. I had read a lot about Tarpon Springs and the sponge docks, and the Greek culture and restaurants there, and I had always wanted to visit, so I had the perfect opportunity. Johnny and I decided we needed some peace and quiet from the grandkids one day on our vacation, so we went alone. As we roamed the streets and strolled the sponge docks, we happened upon the Tarpon Springs Aquarium, a small, inexpensive attraction. We looked around for a few minutes and decided the grandkids would have a blast here. We were right! Of everything we did, the visit to the aquarium was the kids’ favorite part of our adventure in Tarpon Springs FL.
Activities For Kids
I have nine grandchildren, ranging in ages from eight months to ten years. Hubby and I have the kids a lot, so we’re always looking for activities for kids, and that includes times when we’re on family vacations. As a retired teacher, educational activities are important to me, so I often try to combine learning and fun. Aquariums fit the bill!
It’s amazing how much kids can learn at aquariums, and the Tarpon Springs Aquarium was no exception. We found the staff and owner to be knowledgeable about the animals in their keep, and the workers seemed to be genuinely interested in sharing their learning with visitors. Even better, they seemed especially eager to include learning activities for kids. The staff members were great about answering any questions we had.
After the educational activities, your family can enjoy other activities for kids at the aquarium. There’s a small merry-go-round out front, which serves as a great spot for photographs. There’s also an indoor playground, where kids can have fun just being kids. For small children, you might want to break up the learning activities with short visits to the indoor playground. Most kids learn better in short sessions. Sorry – the teacher in me is coming out.
I’ve always enjoyed aquariums, and so do the rest of my family members. I love water, and I’ve always found it fascinating and amazingly relaxing to watch fish as they swim, feed, and interact with each other. I used to have several aquariums in my home, ranging in size from small ten-gallon units to larger fifty-gallon aquariums. My grown children still have home aquariums, but now I just visit large aquariums to get my “fish fix.”
My family and I have enjoyed several aquariums over the years, including both large and small. These include the Atlanta Georgia Aquarium, the Gatlinburg Aquarium, SeaWorld Orlando, the Flint River Aquarium, the Disney World Aquarium, and small, unnamed aquariums. We’ve seen all sorts of freshwater fish, saltwater fish, and tropical fish. Of course, many aquariums have inhabitants other than fish. They might also house dolphins, killer whales, manatees, rays, turtles, snakes, frogs, iguanas, penguins, beluga whales, otters, sea urchins, anemones, seals, walruses, sea lions, or alligators.
Tarpon Springs Aquarium
Neat the end of the sponge docks, we saw the Tarpon Springs Aquarium and decided to check it out. I’ll admit, the main reason we went in was because it was cool and dark inside – the temperature that day in Tarpon Springs was close to a blistering 100 degrees. It was only $7.50 to get into the place. I think the price has now increased to $7.75 for adults now, with $7.00 for seniors. Kids under three get in free, and for kids from three to eleven, the price is $5.75. Group rates are a little cheaper.
The Tarpon Springs Aquarium is small, but it’s definitely worth the admission price. As I said, hubby and I were on our own since we’d left the rest of the family behind. Once we saw what was inside, we figured the kids would love it, so we called them, and they came. In just a few minutes, we were joined by the rest of the family at the aquarium.
The main aquarium is pretty large, holding 120,000 gallons. Living in this tank are over thirty different species of fish. It has a natural look to it, with large rocks at the bottom. From what I understand, the top of the tank is open and is constantly being refreshed with natural ocean water. Most of the aquarium fish are specimens that can be found in local waters.
Tarpon Springs Aquarium is open every day. On Monday through Saturday, the hours are 10:00 am until 5:00 pm. On Sundays, it opens at noon and closes at five. The address is 850 Dodecanese Boulevard, Tarpon Springs, Florida. You really can’t miss it when you visit the sponge docks area. In case you need to call, the phone number is 727-938-5378.
What aquarium fish can you view at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium? When you first enter the building, there’s a huge tank with many aquarium fish species, including nurse sharks, bonnethead sharks, tarpon, snook, damsel fish, pork fish, cobia, a giant stingray, jack crevalle, and the star of the show, Gilligan.
The living reef is especially interesting. It includes living sponges, live coral, sea anemones, and tropical fish like clownfish and lionfish. Other aquarium fish you’ll get the chance to see include puffers, crabs, eels, octopus, and lobsters.
One of the most interesting critters at the aquarium isn’t a fish at all. It’s a giant alligator snapping turtle named “Shrek.” Shrek tips the scales at 150 pounds, but these turtles get much larger. In fact, these guys are among the largest freshwater turtles in the world. They’ve been reported to reach weights of 400 pounds, but the largest size ever verified was a 250-pound individual at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. Alligator snapping turtles are native to our home area, and we’ve caught them while fishing for catfish. We’ve never landed one as large as Shrek, however. Still, seeing Shrek made me think about swimming in our local lakes and ponds.
You’re probably familiar with grouper, as its served in many restaurants and sold in many fish markets. There are several types of grouper, though, and the goliath grouper is the granddaddy of them all. Also known as “jewfish,” Goliath Grouper attain massive sizes. A friend of mine, a charter boat captain in Southwest Florida, recently hooked a 500-pound jewfish, but they can grow even larger – up to 800 pounds and sixteen feet long. Don’t even think about how many tasty fillets that would be. Goliath grouper are endangered and are protected in most of the world.
Gilligan is a goliath grouper that was caught off the shore of Tarpon Springs a couple of years ago. At the time, he weighed in at 250 pounds. I’m pretty sure he’s packed on a few pounds since then. In fact, one aquarium worker told me the old boy is probably close to 300 pounds now. You might not appreciate the size of the fish unless you get it to come close to the glass and compare it to the size of a human.
Gilligan is huge! He was nice enough to come right up to the glass and visit with us for a while, so we were able to get some good photos of him. I’ve often heard stories of goliath grouper swallowing divers, and after seeing Gilligan and knowing that goliath grouper get even larger, I started to see how this might be possible. Gilligan’s mouth was enormous.
Feed The Fish
We were lucky enough to be at the aquarium for feeding time. A scuba diver got into the large tank – the one with fairly large sharks – to feed the fish by hand. It was neat to be able to see the fish eating their dinner. I took a couple of photos, but they didn’t turn out well.
The diver-feeder is good about moving around the tank, enabling all members of the audience to get a good view. He fed the sharks – I believe they were nurse sharks – with their bellies against the glass, so we had a great look at how the sharks ate. Some of the sharks in the tank are pretty large, and I found myself holding my breath at times. I certainly wouldn’t want to be swimming with such large sharks!
You’ll probably want to schedule your time at the aquarium to take advantage of the fish feeding. There are four sessions each day, at 11:30 am, 1:00 pm, 2:30 pm, and 4:00 pm. You might also be interested in watching the alligator feedings. They take place twice a day, at 12:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon.
In a separate room are a couple of touch tanks. The kids really enjoyed the touch tanks, and petting and feeding are encouraged. They got to “pet” turtles, stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and sharks. They also got to feed the stingrays, which they really enjoyed. Later, they even got to touch an alligator!
The touch tank where the sharks reside is covered with a wire mesh in order to protect human fingers. You can still feed them, though, with a stick. The stingrays are fed by hand, and it’s an enjoyable experience to feel their mouths “tickling” your hand.
The sharks and rays in the touch tanks are pretty small, so the kids didn’t find the experience scary at all. In fact, I think it might have been their favorite part of the visit to the Tarpon Springs Aquarium. We do a lot of saltwater fishing, and the grandkids have caught numerous sharks and stingrays on hook and line, but they weren’t very “touchable.” They were angry and flopping, trying to get back into the water as soon as possible. The critters I the touch tanks were totally different. They were calm, relaxed, and looking for a free meal, so they weren’t at all threatening.
Baby Nurse Sharks:
I found a nice place at the end of a hall, with a bench in front of a saltwater tank that contained living coral and reef fish, including a moray eel. The grandkids were thrilled at seeing Nemo – a clown fish. There were also other colorful tropical fish in the reef aquarium tank.
This turned out to be my favorite spot. It was extremely soothing to observe the gently swaying tentacles and the small fish as they darted in and out of crevices. “Finding Nemo” was a totally relaxing experience! This was actually my favorite part of the entire experience not exactly exciting, but calming. I think I could have sat there all day. And actually, that would have been possible. The aquarium wasn't crowded on any of our visits, so I never felt rushed or like I was in someone else's way.
The Tarpon Springs Aquarium also has several snakes, including a couple of really large ones. The snakes are held in clear glass aquariums, but they’re removed from their enclosures several times during the day. If you go at certain times of the day, you can pet the snakes. The pythons were impressive. One of the most interesting snakes at the aquarium, in my opinion, is an albino specimen. It’s almost completely white, with tan markings.
You might also want to stick around to see the snakes being fed. We didn’t witness the snake feedings, but from what I understood, they involved live prey. Since pythons are constrictors, I didn’t particularly want to see the snakes squeeze the life out of some small mammal. Yes, I know it’s all part of nature, but I don’t have to see it firsthand in order to understand and appreciate the food chain.
On display along the walls of the aquarium were various displays of seashells and fossilized sharks’ teeth. Some of the sharks' teeth were among the largest I had ever seen. Ancient fossils like trilobites were also on display. Each shell was labeled, so I found this part of the self-guided tour to be educational, and since I enjoy shelling, I also found it interesting.
Viewing and explaining the fossils provided more learning activities. The grandkids had found small sharks’ teeth on the beach, so they already knew a little about them. Of course, they’d never found shark teeth anywhere near the size of the ones the aquarium. They were mesmerized when it was explained how large the sharks were that once held these teeth in their jaws!
Next door to the Tarpon Springs Aquarium is an indoor playground for kids. It’s free with paid admission to the aquarium. In the play area are bridges, tunnels, slides, a ball pit, and a bouncy house. There’s also a snack bar and seating, so parents can relax while the little ones play.
This provides a wonderful break for the kids amid your visit to the sponge docks and your shopping spree in the stores and shops. The little ones can burn off some of their energy, while the parents and grandparents rest. Since the admission price is for all day, you can come and go as you please. Browse the aquarium, then go exploring the streets and docks of Tarpon Springs. Return to the aquarium to cool off, then go to lunch.
Tarpon Springs Aquarium – a great deal
If you’re visiting Tarpon Springs, stop in at this attraction. The Tarpon Springs Aquarium, as I said, is small. If you’re accustomed to large, fancy aquariums, you’ll be disappointed. But for the admission fee, it’s a great deal. When you pay, your hand will be stamped, so you return as many times as you wish during the day. It’s a wonderful place for taking a break from touring the sidewalks and shops of Tarpon Springs. Heck, it’s worth the ticket price just to have a cool place to sit down! And there’s a restroom inside, which makes it even more convenient. The aquarium is within walking distance to the rest of the sponge docks area, so we used it as our meeting place. If you plan to spend a day or an afternoon at the Tarpon Springs sponge docks, the aquarium is a great place to start. Behind the Aquarium is free parking, too, so don't pay to park while you're in the Tarpon Springs sponge docks area.
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