Things to Do on Long Island in the Winter - Riverhead Aquarium & Foundation Seal Cruises
It was a sunny, cold winter day and I found myself at the crowded Long Island Aquarium and exhibition center in, Riverhead, NY where there was plenty to do, see and interact with on this cold weekend day. You wouldn’t think that an indoor/outdoor aquarium is the place to visit in the middle of the winter season but it’s actually a great time to see all the exhibits with less crowds and the animals native to colder environments feel more like home. Towards the end of the winter in March and April, the foundation that works within the aquarium hosts seal cruises.
You can start your time at the aquarium by making your way to either the Touch Tank to your left or by walking over the wooden bridge under the Sand Shark Lagoon to your right from the entrance. Looking to either side of the lagoon, you’ll see a mini panorama of Long Island from the bluffs and rocky beaches of the north shore to the dunes and salt marshes of the South. The bridge is the walkway that leads to the rest of the aquarium, after crossing it you make your way to the indoor view tanks. Here, you’ll see electric eels, piranhas, puffer fish, seahorses and tropical schooling fish.
Turn the corner to reach the centerpiece of this tank room, the Shark Tank designed after the ruins of the Lost City of Atlantis. Ominous looking Sand Tiger Sharks, bottom-dwelling Nurse Sharks and a massive Queensland grouper all reside here. You’ll also find “Jaws,” a 300-lb. loggerhead sea turtle as well as those visitors brave enough to jump in the shark tank cage. This extreme adventure shark dive puts you face to face with the shark species in their 120,000-gallon tank. For a fee, they provide all the necessary diving gear along with a shark lesson and photograph of your dive.
We knew it was time to brave the cold weather and head outside for the outdoor exhibits. You’ll find the outdoor animals in their natural environment in this cold climate, finding Snow Monkeys, Sea Otters and Penguins feeling right at home. Even though most regular outdoor activities are closed, such as the snorkeling adventure and Koi pond, the aquarium still kept to the scheduled feeding times for the Sea Lions in their sea lion stadium-seating pavilion. It was a shorter show than their regular warm weather 45-minute Sea Lion Show, with just a few feeding tricks and jumps from the intelligent and playful California Sean Lions.
Head over to the Ancient Reptile Ruins to find crocodiles, turtles and green iguanas in this small exhibit building separate from the main room. Around the corner in the Lost Temple of Atlantis is the Japanese Snow Monkeys, which is native to the mountain forests of Japan. They can survive freezing temperatures, are highly intelligent and you can find them soaking in the “natural” hot springs in this exhibition area.
You can get up close and personal at the Penguin exhibit where those short enough to crawl down into the 360 degree viewing bubble, can find themselves surrounded by the African penguin on all sides of you. If you get hungry, have a snack at their cafeteria for some various fried food options.
The rescue center at the aquarium is home to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, an educational center where those interested in the rescue efforts taking place on Long Island for its resident animals and sea life can learn about it. The foundation is a not-for-profit dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of seals, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and porpoises, all endangered species facing the threat of extinction. You can donate, adopt a seal or just learn about these efforts at the center.
The Riverhead Foundation also hosts annual seal cruises towards the end of the inter season in March and April. They sail from Freeport, Long Island to view winter harbor seal populations throughout Hempstead Bay. They try to make the winter trek as comfortable as possible for the travelers with a heated cabin and warm beverages available.
Even though it’s the middle of winter doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the shores, animals and wildlife of Long Island. Put on those gloves, scarf and winter hat and head out east for a great day out.
Photos above were taking during my visit.
For more information on the aquarium and the Riverhead foundation, please visit Long Island Aquarium- Riverhead, NY, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation
More in Nature, Animals & Conservation