At Mystic Aquarium, less than 20 minutes from the Rhode Island border, it’s tough to tell who has the biggest smile at the Arctic Coast exhibit – the kids, the adults or the beluga whales, sleek and gorgeous creatures with seeming permanent smiles locked on their faces below iconic bulging brows.
Smiling and science go hand on hand at this place, a perpetual family favorite and a great summery thing to do (it’s open year round). You can start off at the beluga whale exhibit, the largest in the United States, and watch the big beasts from above -and below water level in their three-quarter million-gallon tank through three 20-foot-long underwater viewing windows. You can also listen to trainers during feeding and training sessions and learn how the belugas’ natural behaviors help them survive.
Pretty much anywhere you take the kids, or yourself, in Mystic will keep you happily engaged for hours. One particular kid-friendly spot is the Roger Tory Peterson Penguin Pavilion, where you can check out dozens of African penguins above and below water, and/or sign up for a penguin encounter of your own.
If you’ve never been to Mystic, it’s all new but to those familiar with the place, a new addition is the “Weird and Wonderful,” an exhibit with odd and oddly fascinating creatures like the giant Japanese spider crab, huge Pacific octopus, big-nosed freshwater wonders like paddlefish and gar, and coral reefs and “Glow with the Flow” fluorescents.
One absolutely riveting exhibit that’s not for those frightened by gooey things that you could bump into while swimming is “Jellies: The Ocean in Motion” where giant glass separates you from beautifully colored and undulating jellyfish the likes of which you’ve probably never seen. Even if you find these things kind of gross, just watching them pump themselves gently through the water is ballet dance of nature that is downright captivating.
Mystic is also a leader of helping animals in need; at its Animal Rescue Clinic, trained staffers care for stranded marine creatures and on any given day you can check them out at work at doing things like rehabilitating stranded seals.
For all Mystic info, visit www.mysticaquarium.org