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Sitting on the edge of Corpus Christi Bay, the Texas State Aquarium has dazzled and educated both locals and tourists for over 25 years. From the hands-on experiences of the Living Shores and Stingray Lagoon to the reclaimed pipelines of the Islands of Steel exhibit to the showmanship of the hawks and dolphins outside, the Aquarium displays the many diverse ecosystems found right in our backyard.
Beginning your tour, you’ll come across a familiar sight in the Coastal Bend: a beach, surrounded by vibrant pink roseate spoonbills, and a shallow pool of water filled with seagrass and various fish. The Nearshore exhibit is a distilled version of an ecosystem one could find on South Padre Island, or even in the murky shores of the Laguna Madre. However you don’t need to get your boots muddy in this exhibit.
Moving into the next room the Aquarium’s emphasis on interactivity is on full display in the Living Shores touch tank exhibit. There are six small tanks, computer kiosks, and the centerpiece, a large touch tank that allows visitors to safely handle various hermit crabs and whelks. The kiosks go into detail about the Aquarium’s local conservation efforts such as their Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation program where injured marine mammals, reptiles, and shorebirds are brought in and nursed back to health.
“The goal is always to release them back into the wild,” Communications Assistant Andrea Bolt explained, “but if we can’t, we will find homes for them.” Just a few months ago Bolt filmed the release of two brown pelicans in Port Aransas.
As you wander deeper through the Aquarium, you might recognize that the exhibits take you farther and farther out to sea, first to the coastal jetties and finally to crown jewel of the Texas State Aquarium, Islands of Steel. In this 125,000 gallon exhibit you can find various sharks, sportfish, and even barracuda mingling among the coral encrusted remains of a decommissioned oil rig. It is perhaps the most fascinating of all the exhibits, demonstrating how man’s presence in the marine environment is not always harmful to wildlife but can actually become the kernel in which a thriving and diverse ecosystem can be built upon.
Stepping out of the Aquarium’s oldest exhibit, visitors will be greeted by the latest exhibit: Saving Sharks. As the name suggests, the exhibit focuses on the conservation of the sea’s apex predator. The kiosks feature a map of the world marking in real time the locations of every shark they’re tracking. In addition there’s also a diving cage, a replica jaw of the mighty extinct megalodon and even a touch tank where visitors can get up close and personal with cat sharks.
The indoor exhibits conclude with the beautiful and ethereal jellyfish. The tanks are lit much differently than the rest of the exhibits, with a pitch black background and a singular light source that glimmer up the vibrating contours of these strange creatures. But soon they’ll be joined by some cephalopod neighbors in the Tentacles exhibit. “Tentacles is awesome, and we are really excited about it,” Bolt said. “We have cuttlefish, species of squid, and a giant Pacific octopus.”
Even after walking through the indoor exhibits, you will have only scratched the surface of what the Texas State Aquarium has to offer. Outside there are a number of marine mammals and reptiles and even fearsome birds of prey. The fun-loving otters of Otter Creek and the gliding and graceful Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles of Tortuga Cay have been mainstays for decades. But next to them are probably the most unexpected exhibit in the Aquarium, the birds of prey in Eagle Pass and the Hawn Wild Flight Theater.
Eagle Pass is a special home to raptors who have been rehabilitated after injury but cannot be released back into the wild. The main attraction is the regal bald eagle, Grace, who was recovered from Alaska. The birds of the Hawn Wild Flight Theater have a bit more of a showman flair. During their shows various raptors, hawks, falcons, and owls swoop within inches of spectators heads, demonstrating their pinpoint precision.
Finally, but certainly not least, are the energetic and peppy dolphins of Dolphin Bay, Shadow and Kai. The rambunctious duo perform various tricks and jumps. Soon they will have another pair join their pod, Liko and Schooner, who arrived in Corpus in January. It’ll take a while for the new pair to adjust to their surroundings and trainers, but Bolt hopes to add Liko and Schooner to Shadow and Kai’s ‘bachelor pod’ sometime this year.
Once you’re done with the animal exhibits, grab a bite at the Shoreline Grill or follow the path around the back where you’ll find a food truck and a beer garden. If you come to the Aquarium, don’t forget to bring your bathing suit! The H-E-B Splash Park is a water playground that allows younger kids to cool off from the blistering South Texas sun.
What does the future hold? As some may have noticed, the Texas State Aquarium has a massive concrete structure emerging from its side. This structure is the single largest addition to the Aquarium in its 25-year history, 65,000 square feet, more than double the size of the original Aquarium building, it will house a brand new tropical Caribbean exhibit. The building will be designed almost as a greenhouse to simulate the climate of a tropical Mexican rain forest. “It’ll be a multi-taxis species exhibit,” Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jesse Gilbert. “We’ll have sloths, toucans, lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions. Our goal is that when you walk into the space you will feel like you’re in the Yucatan jungle.”
In addition to the animal and botanical space, there will be event areas overlooking the bay and the exhibits as well as Corpus Christi’s first 4-D theater. It will provide a movie experience that will overwhelm the senses. Gilbert says their target for the grand opening of this new addition is set for Spring or Summer of 2017.
With the unprecedented expansion coming soon, the Aquarium adds even more incentive for return visits. Whether it be the water park, the family time, or the shared experiences of interacting with the natural world like never before, the Texas State Aquarium offers fun to every age and any family.