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Oklahoma Aquarium Brings Sea Life To The Southwest

Visiting an aquarium in the middle of the United States may seem odd to some, but we were looking forward to this unique experience. The Oklahoma Aquarium is a great place for a family destination, and offers a nice selection of activities, along with some beautiful exhibits. We dropped by on a Saturday morning, and while we were some of the first to arrive, it didn’t take long for the place to become a beehive of activity.

The grand entrance to the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, Oklahoma.

A Landlocked Ocean

The Oklahoma Aquarium is located in Jenks, Oklahoma, which is a suburb of Tulsa. When we arrived, we were amazed at the sheer size of the attraction.  It holds nine main exhibit areas, which include freshwater and salt water displays. We met up with Teri Bowers, the Executive Director of the facility, for a guided tour. She told us that the aquarium is in it’s 14th year of operation, and continues to add new exhibits. Their newest display had just opened this Spring, but we would get to that later. Off we all went to check out the place.

Visitors feed turtles at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Tulsa.

Getting Hands On

The entrance feeds guests into the Great Hall, which features a cafe, and is connected to the aquarium’s event center.  As we strolled down the main corridor, which connects various exhibit areas, we watched families interact with some of the hands-on displays. A large open top area holds a collection of Red-ear Slider Turtles, which can be fed by guests. Kids of all ages would dangle pieces of food for the turtles to snap up. This was an extremely popular, and entertaining exhibit. We had as much fun watching the children’s delight, as we did watching the turtles eat.

Visitor touches the shell of a horseshoe crab.

In the Amazing Invertebrates area, visitors can experience more hands on displays. Here they can feel the shells of Horseshoe Crabs or let shrimp move across their hands. This was another popular area, and it was filled with the giggles of excitement from kids of all ages. There are also an assortment of smaller displays, with various ocean invertebrates, so it is as educational as it is fun.

A beaver eats its food while a staff member tells visitors about the species.

Introductions, Please!

We continued our tour of the Oklahoma Aquarium, and Teri explained each exhibit we passed. The time for feeding the otters and beaver was about to start, and we were in for a treat. We arrived during the otter portion, and watched with delight, as the otters scurried about their area. While the handler told the crowd facts about the animals, she doled out their food. Everyone enjoyed their lively frolicking, and this continued until all of their food had been served. Next up was the beaver. The handler climbed into the exhibit, and sat a bowl of food in front of her. The beaver scooted out, as she began explaining things about this species. The beaver was obviously impatient, and dug into the food without any hesitation. These demonstrations were just as entertaining as they were educational.

Various sea life species are found throughout the aquarium.

Moving Into The Ecozone

Our next stop was in the Ecozone, which contains a variety of habitats. Here we found tanks filled with sea creatures from the coral reefs, marshes, and kelp forests. Lots of families assembled in these areas, as it was filled with tons of brightly colored species. It was entertaining to watch the wonder and amazement in the faces of the children. While our kids are grown, we can still remember the same type of excitement experienced by them, when we visited aquariums and zoos. We believe it is a great way to get the next generation to bond with the other species who inhabit our planet, and hopefully instill a desire to see the changes necessary to preserve their habitats.

A clown fish rests in the protective tentacles of an anemone.

As we moved around the displays, we observed seahorses dance, piranhas float by in schools, and clown fish dart in and out of anemones. All of this created a kaleidoscope of color and action that was pleasing to the eyes, and calming to watch. We passed around a partition, and found more hands-on exhibits. On each side of the wall was a tank. One side contained stingrays, which at certain times can be fed by visitors. Our timing wasn’t exact, so we moved to the other side of the wall. Here we found a pair of tanks filled with small sharks. Guests were allowed to touch them, as they swam by, also on a rotating time frame. Fortunately, we were right on time, and had the chance to feel the rough skin as they passed. It was certainly quite an experience.

A Local Favorite

Before we moved too far away, Teri wanted to introduce us to one of her favorite characters. The Giant Pacific Octopus is the largest growing, and longest living of its species. It is amazing to watch, with its fluid movements. As it passed to different sections, its color changes to mimic its environment. As it became more active, the crowd grew around us. Everyone discussed its unique abilities, and this quickly became a group learning experience.

A replica of a coral reef tide pool holds an assortment of tropical fish.

Welcome to Sea Turtle Island

The newest exhibit at the Oklahoma Aquarium recreates an offshore area inhabited by tropical fish, reef sharks, and a pair of Loggerhead sea turtles. The huge 56,000 gallon tank is contained behind a large bank of glass walls. These allow visitors to watch the inhabitants swim by alone or in schools. The exhibit can be viewed by multiple areas, with each allowing its own unique experience. The bright colors in this area create a vibrant feel, which reminded us of a visit to the Caribbean Islands.

The author exploring the underwater viewing bubble.

After watching from below, we moved up a ramp at the end, which brought us above the tank. Here we could watch the action below us, as well as have a birds-eye view of the crowd. There are seating areas up here, so that visitors can rest for a bit, while watching the fish pass by. Another viewing area involves a crawl through tube that leads to an underwater observation bubble. We certainly didn’t want to pass this opportunity up, and waited our turn to crawl in. It’s a little smaller than we would have desired, but not too small to visit. It was a little like snorkeling without getting wet.

A Loggerhead Sea Turtle glides through the exhibit.

Brothers Join The Family

Periodically one of the sea turtles would pass by, much to the delight of everyone around. These grand creatures are so fun to watch, and everyone anticipated this opportunity. The Oklahoma Aquarium has a set of brothers, but the day we visited only one was on display. There are areas built into the display that allow the turtle to be out of view at times. He seemed to be in an exploring mood, which meant that he only appeared periodically. This made his appearances even more special, and certainly helped increase the crowds during those times.

An educational area explains information about sharks.

Denizens of the Deep

After our exploration of the bright reef area, our next adventure would plunge us into the dark world of the shark. The Oklahoma Aquarium is home to one of the largest collections of Bull Sharks. These can be viewed from two locations, but we mostly wanted to be in the underwater section. To get there you pass through a corridor that highlights some interesting facts about these mysterious creatures.

The end of the corridor deposited us in a large underwater viewing area. All around us Bull Sharks cruised slowly through the water. The exhibit is designed so that these creatures are sometimes shrouded in darkness. Suddenly they will appear and slowly pass overhead. We have had the pleasure of visiting quite a few aquariums, and this display really stands out. By limiting the area to only this species, it made them seem even more mysterious. This was certainly one of the best focused exhibits we can remember.

The author visits an upcoming exhibit area with Teri Bowers from the Oklahoma Aquarium.

More To Come

Our tour had taken us to every active exhibit in the Oklahoma Aquarium, but Teri had one more surprise for us. We passed through a door, and found ourselves in an area that is under renovation. Teri explained that this will be home to the next big exhibit, the South Pacific Reef. Many of the static pieces are already designed, and construction has begun. They are hoping to open it in 2018, and we will certainly have to find a way to add another visit to our schedule in the future. Our time to move on had come, and we bid our farewells to the staff. Everyone had been so welcoming and friendly. It certainly added a special touch to a great visit. Be sure to add the Oklahoma Aquarium to your Tulsa itinerary.

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*We want to thank the Oklahoma Aquarium for hosting our visit. Rest assured that the opinions are all our own.

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