Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Things to Do: Waikiki Aquarium

The Waikiki Aquarium isn't the biggest aquarium, nor does it have fancy displays, or dolphins, or great white sharks.  However if you have little kids, and many do, and they are driving you crazy, the Waikiki Aquarium will keep them occupied for a few hours so you can regain your sanity.  Best of all, if you're staying in Waikiki, it's a short walk or trolley ride away.  

The Aquarium is conveniently located at the end of Waikiki past the Zoo and before the Natatorium at 2777 Kalakaua Ave.  For those of you staying in Waikiki, it's a short walk by beach towards Diamond Head.  The Aquarium is open from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, building closes at 5:00 pm every day, except it's not open on Christmas Day and during the Honolulu Marathon.  Admission for adults are $9, teenagers are $4, kids are $2, and babies (1-4 years old) are free but must be accompanied by an adult.

The Waikiki Aquarium opened on March 19th, 1904 and is the third oldest aquarium in the United States.  Considered state of the art at that time, the Aquarium highlighted the fish and sea animals that lived in the coral reefs native to the Hawaiian Islands.  During the early years, the admissions went to the State General Fund and not to the Aquarium.  Subsequently, the Aquarium's facilities deteriorated from neglect.  That changed in the 1990's when the Waikiki Aquarium underwent major renovation, an increased budget, a bigger permanent staff, and additional improvements in the early 2000's.   

Cost of admission includes an audio tour, which I would highly recommend.  Not necessarily for you, but for your kids.  They can run around the Aquarium while being educated and entertained.  Because the Aquarium is small, has one main hall, it's easy to keep track of your kids and hard for them to get lost.  Each exhibit has a number that you enter in the audio wand to start the tour.  

There is a small room that shows a video on the corals and other marine life.  Perfect to keep your little ones occupied.  Not so perfect if they want the DVD sold in the gift shop, but at least you can sit back while the kids are occupied.  

First stop the backbone of the Hawaiian Island reefs, corals.  Despite their rocky appearance, corals are delicate.  Corals are actually colonies made of thousands of small polyps that form calcium carbonate as their skeleton, providing a habitat for themselves and other marine animals.    

In this exhibit, you can use the magnifying glass to see the tiny polyps.  Here's the close up.  You can see the hundreds of little polyps as they move.  Some coral feed by catching plankton, but most feed by photosynthesis.  They need sunlight and is the reason  most coral is only within 30 feet of water.  

Coral colonies provide homes for other sea life.  Sea anemones grow on coral.  The sea anemones themselves provide a home for clown fish.  Here, you can tell your kids you found Nemo.  

Like I said, the audio tour isn't for you, it's for your kids.

One of the things you don't see everyday is the Moon Jelly exhibit.  This is one of the newer exhibits added during renovation to the aquarium.  Moon Jellies are distinguished by the four horseshoe shaped organs in their bell.  Those horseshoe are their gonads.

The also have freshwater jellyfish.  I think this guy is a golden jellyfish.  These little guys are fast.

I was a little surprised that these jellyfish were here.  These are sea nettles, the most poisonous jellyfish in the world.

And what would a Hawaiian aquarium be without a moray eel?  Moray eels are native to Hawaii.  Here is a dragon moray eel.  The eels look fierce, but are shy.  They open and close their mouth to pass water over their gills to breathe.  Morays get aggressive when it comes to eating or if someone sticks their hand in their face.  Their jaws have a hinge which lock when they bite down on something.  

The Aquarium even has the rare nautilus on display.  Nautilus are deep sea animals, normally living at depths of 980 feet (300 meters), rising to 330 feet (100 meters) at night to feed.  These animals are extremely sensitive to light, so NO FLASH when taking pictures.

The Aquarium also has tiny creatures on display.  Here is a small and colorful reef shrimp.  

And they also have seahorses.  That's not something you see everyday.  These guys are fast and constantly swimming around the tank.  

The shark tank here is smaller than I remember, only extending back about 15 feet.  The old shark tank extended back about 50 feet, was more open, and you could watch feeding time.  I think parts of the Aquarium are still undergoing renovation.

There still are sharks in this tank.  Hopefully, the shark tank will get expanded.  

I heard they should be finished in a few months and maybe they'll get more sharks. 

After you're done with the indoor exhibits, there are a few outdoor exhibits.  One of them is the Edge of the Reef tank.  This has six different reef habitats and assorted sea animals that live there.  

While the Edge of the Reef exhibit isn't large, it does have a petting zoo, the Edge of the Reef tank has a small exhibit that allows kids to pick up small reef animals.  Here, this kid has a small hermit crab in his hand.  

The Edge of the Reef tank can be a lot of fun for kids.  Just make sure yours doesn't fall in.  

One of the last exhibits outside is the harbor seal pool.  They have one harbor seal.  He spent most of his time laying out or swimming lazy laps around his pool.  

There's a lot more to see, I just didn't want to bore people with more pictures.  I'll leave that to your kids to find when you visit.  

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