Sunday, May 27, 2018
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20180201 Texas State Aquarium CorpusChristi GU IMG 1188A dolphin jumps high out of the water during the exciting Dolphin Show at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi.

Anyone who has not been to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi since the May 13 opening of the new $65 million renovation including construction of the Caribbean Journey, which doubled the aquarium's capacity, really has not seen the aquarium.

I kept a promise to my great grandchildren to take them to the aquarium during the holidays. As an educator, I took students each year but it changed so much that I didn't recognize the place.

I would put it on par with – or maybe even better than – the larger aquariums I have seen in major cities across the county. The aquarium is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Texas State Aquarium specializes in the fish and marine life of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. There are more than 4,000 species of tropical fish and marine life on display in several large tanks. There are jellyfish displays and other hard-to-see marine animals. Dolphins make daily appearances and there is a wild bird flight show new to the aquarium. The otters perform and there is a turtle show. Visitors can also enjoy feeding the rays in the tanks.

The new Caribbean Journey addition is the biggest change. Years in the making, the Caribbean Journey exhibit takes the best of the Caribbean and brings it to the coastal bend region. Caribbean Journey celebrates the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Preserve, a biodiverse region in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Pathways wind in and around habitats teeming with life, including vibrant coral formations, cenotes, and a sunken shipwreck.This exhibit features a 400,000-gallon shark habitat, a 4D Theater, and hands-on and interactive exhibits.

20180201 Texas State Aquarium CorpusChristi GU IMG 0938

An audience “volunteer” feeds a porcupine during the Wild Bird Show at the Texas State Aquarium.

In addition to its aquatic residents, Caribbean Journey is home to dozens of exotic plants, flowers, and trees found in the Sian Ka’an and are insulated by a film skylight roof.

The new exhibit includes a glass dome built to withstand 200 mile-per-hour winds covering the addition. Fortunately, the exhibit was completed before Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast. Alex Nguyen, my guide, said the aquarium had minimal damage and was able to protect its many species of marine life during the storm that did so much damage just up the coast.

Entering the domed area, Nguyen said visitors will enter a rain forest, complete with a waterfall. To the right was a pen of flamingoes, bright orange in color. In the middle, there were brightly colored birds including a green-winged macaw, and a toucan. On the left side, there were individual habitats holding poison dart frogs, an emerald tree boat, a red-eyed tree frog and an arboreal alligator lizard.

Don’t miss the Hawaiian Giant Calliwasp, a scary-looking snake considered to be vulnerable. Look for vampire bats and red-tailed boas in their own exhibits.

Other displays taught the importance of the Mangrove forests that serve as nurseries for many different fish, like tarpons, snook and mangrove snappers, along with crabs, shrimp and mollusks.

A Karst pool awaited a baby alligator now in the nursery when it gets large enough to be moved. A small palapa provided shelter for a two-toed sloth hiding up under the roof. It is a nocturnal mammal that prefers to sleep in the day.

Walking around the circle of the dome brings visitors face to face with a waterfall fronting a two-story aquarium tank where brightly colored fish swim alongside “well fed” sharks. There is a tunnel where visitors walk under a portion of the tank along with rounded areas where they can stand inside and be almost surrounded by the water. A favorite for the small fry are the elevated head holes where they can crawl under a section of elevated floor and stick their head into a bubble inside the aquarium tank.

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There’s more than fish at the Texas State Aquarium. Zander, the Harris hawk, is shown with a trainer during the Wild Bird Flight Show.

Nguyen said there are sandbar sharks, 4,000 species of Caribbean fish, and large stingrays, barracudas and groupers living together in the tank that is filled with brightly colored man-made coral to provide hiding places for the smaller fish. The Caribbean Sea has the second largest natural coral reef in the world, so the fish are in a friendly environment. Nguyen said the fish are fed twice daily to keep them from having too much interest in eating each other.

A smaller tank represents a blue hole, or marine cave, where other species of marine life can be found in the aquarium.

A Mayan ruins exhibit pays tribute to the Mayans who lived in the tropical areas in Mexico and the Caribbean from 250 to 900 A.D. No one knows what happened to the estimated two million Mayans whose civilization had agriculture, writing walls, advanced architecture and accurate calendars.

One of the most important do-not-miss features of the exhibit is the Whataburger 4-D theater. Visitors are given glasses to make viewing clearer.

When the Aquarium showed the movie “Sharks,” and the shark opened his mouth releasing a large volume of bubbles on the screen, bubbles fell from the ceiling. When the storm started, the seats shook, winds hit the person in the seat’s neck, rain hit the face and lights flashed in the theater. It was a new experience in theater.

After the Caribbean Journey, we visited the Wild Flight Theater show where Zander, a Harris hawk, performed with a pigeon, a porcupine named Chiquita, and Nacho, a Caribbean bird who demonstrated the proper way to smash a snake.

The Dolphin Show seemed to be the most popular as the four Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins danced with their trainers, did flips out of the water, walked on their tails and begged for food.

Next, we went into the older part of the aquarium where a new display of jellyfish enthralled my 5-year-old great grandson, Jaydon. There was also a replica of a great white shark to see the actual size of the shark.

20180201 Texas State Aquarium CorpusChristi GU IMG 1136

An Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphin balances a basketball on his nose during the Dolphin Show at the Texas State Aquarium.

But the best part for the children ages 7, 5 and 4, was the large touching tank, filled with mollusks, crabs, stingrays and other marine animals.

We did not make it to the otter or turtle shows, due to time. For those planning a trip, the Texas State Aquarium is now a full-day experience with shows throughout the day.

For those wanting a more in-depth experience on weekends, there are several exclusive encounters including Feed the Fish, Feed the Flock, and Discover Dolphins for extra fees ranging from $49.95 to $149.95.

Whether it is a day trip when the grandchildren come to visit, a special excursion with Winter Texan friends, or a stop on the way back home, the Texas State Aquarium, located at 2710 N Shoreline Blvd, in Corpus Christi, is well worth the visit. The aquarium is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Buy tickets ahead of time online as they are less expensive than at the door. The website address is www.texasstateaquarium.org.

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