This audio tour highlights exhibits and provides directional information to guests who are visually impaired.
There are 18 audio tracks to help guide you through the Pier 3 and Pier 4 pavilions.
Instead of using a personal mobile device to access the tour, guests may also reserve a device by visiting stroller check on the ground floor in Pier 3 and providing photo identification.
The Glass Pavilion is home to our immersive Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit, which transports you to the heart of an Australian river gorge. Amenities such as stroller check, restrooms and the Pier 3 Cafe can also be found in this section of Pier 3.
Start listening to this track at stroller check, located on the ground level of the Glass Pavilion.
Welcome to the National Aquarium! Please take a moment to listen to this brief introduction before beginning your exploration of the Aquarium. Throughout the tour, you will hear information about the aquatic and marine habitats we showcase, designed to make visual images more accessible. Complete accessibility guides are also available here at stroller check.
Our tour covers all five levels of the Aquarium's permanent exhibits at 19 separate locations along the way. They are: 1 Introduction/Ground Level Concourse; 2 Top of the entry escalator; 3 Australia: Wild Extremes; 4 Lobby; 5 Blacktip Reef; 6 Maryland: Mountains to the Sea; 7 Living Seashore; 8 Surviving Through Adaptation; 9 Sea Cliffs, Kelp Forests, Pacific Coral Reef; 10 Amazon River Forest; 11 Upland Tropical Rain Forest; 12 Hidden Life; 13 Atlantic Coral Reef; 14 Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators; 15 Blacktip Reef: Underwater Viewing; 16 Bridge to Pier 4; 17 Dolphin Discovery: Underwater Viewing; 18 Jellies Invasion.
This self-guided tour is designed to follow the general traffic flow of visitors to the Aquarium. However, if you choose, feel free to move throughout the Aquarium floors in any order and at your own pace. Elevators, as well as movealators, are available in each of the three major buildings. As you walk through the Aquarium, the tour narration is triggered by transmitters placed near the beginning of each habitat area. Please note that if you plan to leave the Aquarium and return, ask to have your hand stamped on your way out so you may re-enter later in the day. Also, remember that if you purchased a ticket that included a 4D film, the ticket is stamped with a time for your specific show time. You should arrive about 10 minutes prior to the show start time.
You are now at stroller check, on the ground level of the Glass Pavilion. The restrooms, public lockers, and water fountains are located in this area. Across from the lockers is the Sharpshooters sales desk where you can preview and purchase your souvenir entry photo. The Harbor Market Kitchen (now named Pier 3 Cafe) is also on this level with entry near the base of the escalator. You may take the escalator to Level 1 if you would like to go to Blue Wonders, Pier 4 or the main Aquarium gift shop. If you wish to go directly to Australia: Wild Extremes, go to level two.
Start listening to this track at the top of escalator that takes you from the ground level of the Glass Pavilion to Level 1.
You are now at the top of the escalator. The Aquarium gift shop is located to the right. Turn left off the escalator into the Harbor Overlook. Seating is available here. Continue your tour route through the overlook towards the lobby or to the escalator leading up to Australia: Wild Extremes.
Start listening to this track at the top of the escalator that takes you from Level 1 of the Glass Pavilion to Level 2, at the entrance to Australia: Wild Extremes.
Welcome to Australia: Wild Extremes! As you approached on the escalator, you may have heard the sounds of exotic birds and the distant call of digeridoo music. Throughout this series of habitats, you will become immersed in the Northern Territory of Australia where the extreme seasonal changes of flood, drought and fire have shaped the lives of plants, animals and people for thousands of years.
Your journey takes place at the beginning of the flood season. Beneath your feet, you will feel the carpet change to rough stone. Follow a riverbed through a canyon. You can feel the rocky wall of the canyon in front of you. The first set of habitats includes a number of reptiles adapted to the harsh droughts that characterize this region of Australia. On your left is a small, mottled brown snake that blends in well with the sand and rocky outcroppings that surround it. Although this snake is one of the smallest in the Aquarium, at around 2 feet long, it is the most dangerous. This is the death adder, the only venomous snake we have here. To the right of the adder is a habitat which includes a frilled lizard, a bearded dragon, a blue tongued skink, a shingle-backed skink, and a spiny tailed monitor lizard. Perhaps the lizard that most exemplifies adaptation to this extreme habitat is the shingleback skink. This lizard is nearly a foot long and covered with thick, dark brown scales, making it almost resemble a pinecone. Its head is large and bulbous, and tapers to the point of its nose. Its tail is nearly an identical shape. This serves two purposes. The head-shaped tail confuses predators so they do not know which end to bite. The skink's thick tail also stores fat, which provides needed energy during times of drought.
Turn to your right and continue on your tour. You may feel the stone underfoot change to wooden planks as you cross the bridge that spans the beginnings of a grand 35-foot waterfall. You may start to feel the heat and humidity, and hear the deluge of cascading water. At the far end of the bridge, on the right side, is a rock overhang. If you reach out to your right, you will feel the rock wall. If you are tall and you continue to reach your hand up, you may feel the overhang about 7-and-a-half feet above the floor. This overhang is made to resemble those that Native Australians took refuge under, to protect themselves from the elements. Covering the wall you just touched are numerous depictions of fish, turtles and lizards, copied from real rocky outcroppings in the Outback. The images were painted with various colors of clay. Some images tell a whole story, like the one in the center painted only in white, showing a spear thrower using an atlatl to hunt his prey. Others use more detail and more colors (browns, greys, tans) to show the anatomy of the animals that lived in the area. As you moved your hand along the wall, you may have also run your hand over a handprint of a person who lived more than 5,000 years ago. The handprints on the wall are replicas of those of the Native Australian artists who created these works; it was how they made their signature.
Continue along the wall until you reach the door to the rest of Australia, which will also be on your right. If you are facing the doors, there is a revolving door on your right and an accessibility door on your left. Beyond this area, the Australia habitat is home to free-flight birds, including finches, lorikeets, and parrots. Don't be surprised if a bird flies by you, although most of the animals like to stay far above human heads. You are still continuing along the river bed of the canyon and the canyon walls stretch 20 feet above your head in this part of Australia. As you move forward, most of the animals will be on your left, and a rocky wall will be on your right.
Once you go through the doors, take about five steps forward and you will encounter the habitat representing the past fire season, part of an important seasonal cycle in this region of Australia. On the right, rising up from the canyon wall, starting about 5 feet from the ground, is a large charred tree. The tree is about 10 feet tall with the most severe charring at the base of its trunk. Its upper broken branches seem to have only been licked by fire. Snags, or dead trees, like this make the perfect perches for birds. If you are lucky and listen carefully, you may hear them. A big noisy cockatoo, smaller colorful lorikeets, and pear-shaped pigeons all enjoy sitting here. It may be hard to hear them, though, over the rushing sound of a waterfall on your left. This waterfall leads to a deep river pool filled with large fish and turtles. The largest fish are barramundi. They have small heads that quickly slope up to their large bodies. They are covered in large metallic scales that range from dusky bronze on the back to shimmery silver on their bellies. These fish can grow to 6 1/2 feet in length making them one of the largest freshwater fish in Australia, although the ones swimming in front of you are only about 4 ½ to 5 feet long.
As you move past the barramundi, reach your hand out to the left, and you'll feel a pile of driftwood. Many species of rainbowfish and turtles congregate in hiding places provided by a pile of debris created by the last flood. This type of seasonal habitat may be washed away during the next flood season.
Continue about five more steps along the riverbed. The next section of river contains seven-spot archerfish. These silvery fish are nearly triangular in shape with large eyes near their pointed nose and several large black spots stretching along their back. These fish can accurately squirt a jet of water from their mouth to knock an insect off an overhanging branch up to 5 feet away. Studies have also shown that archerfish recognize and remember human faces, so spend a moment here and perhaps they will remember you if you visit us again.
While you're here, listen for the familiar call of the laughing kookaburra. This member of the kingfisher family is the national bird of Australia. Kookaburras are also called the "ghosts of the gum forest" because while their calls can be heard, they often remain out of sight.
Moving forward a few more steps, you'll come across a habitat that models a sloping riverbank. Resting along the next riverbank are the freshwater crocodiles. Also known as "freshies," they can grow to be almost 10 feet long. Even at such a large size, they're not considered a threat to humans. They spend much of their time resting, or basking, but can gallop on land at high speeds to escape danger.
If you follow the curved glass to the canyon wall on the far edge, you'll be able to touch the cascading roots of the strangler fig. These trees send out long roots searching for a source of permanent groundwater. The roots continue far above your head to the tree itself, which is a favorite hiding spot for the numerous species of finches that flutter around this gallery.
After the strangler fig, follow the canyon wall on your right to reach the last habitat, home to more archerfish, a pig-nosed turtle and lungfish. The pig-nosed turtle has sea turtle-like flippers and a smooth, flattened shell that allow it to swim quickly. These turtles are considered the "platypus of the turtle world" because they appear to be put together from a variety of mismatched parts: a snout, a flipper and a soft shell. The Australian lungfish is also a strange-looking beast. It has small, soft lips; its head gently slopes up to its elongated body, covered in large, dull brown scales. Its tail looks more like the tail of an eel or newt, rather than a fish. It has four fins that it uses basically as feet, to walk along the bottom of the pool of water. Most remarkably, it can also breathe air with primitive lungs. It has gills like all fish, but has a modified swim bladder that works like a lung to allow it to breathe air at the surface of the water to supplement the oxygen from its gills. This comes in handy during the long draughts that characterize this region, when pools of water can become very small and stagnant. Some people have described the lungfish as a living fossil, having changed very little in 300 million years. With all of its adaptations, it is easy to imagine the lungfish as that first step from fishes to amphibians, boldly going where no animal had gone before: out of the water, and onto dry land.
If you continue moving along the riverbed, you'll reach the exit of Australia: Wild Extremes. There will be a revolving door on your left, and an accessibility door on your right. After you exit through the doors, you can return to the lobby—either by turning left to take the escalator, or turning right to take the elevator. As you leave the extreme habitats of Australia, where water is so important, consider how so many plants and animals have adapted to a seemingly inhospitable place. Each of these organisms thrives on a seasonal cycle of drought, fire and flood. Climate change is affecting this cycle, and is likely to lead to more extreme weather and increased drought. To all these living beings, water is a precious, seasonal resource. Consider how you use water and how it impacts your life.
Journey from the depths of an Indo-Pacific reef to the canopy of a South American rain forest as you explore all the aquatic habitats in between. Blue Wonders houses Blacktip Reef, Maryland: Mountains to the Sea, Living Seashore, Surviving Through Adaptation, North Atlantic to Pacific, Amazon River Forest, Upland Tropical Rain Forest, Atlantic Coral Reef and Shark Alley.
Start listening to this track once you enter the Blue Wonders lobby, after descending the escalators from Australia: Wild Extremes and taking a right.
You are now in the Blue Wonders lobby on Level 1. This is a central hub area with access to Blue Wonders, Pier 4 and the Glass Pavilion from this location. In this area, you will find the 4D Immersion Theater on your left. If you bought tickets to a 4D movie, theater hosts will be outside the theater to escort visitors inside at the appropriate time. The information desk is located just off center to your right, near the windows overlooking the Inner Harbor. There are restrooms on the right, just beyond the entrance to the 4D Immersion Theater.
In the lobby area, you may hear music, crashing waves and the sound of raindrops. Slightly to your left, a large video wall installation is preparing guests for the Blue Wonders experience. Slightly to your right, there are rows of large, gurgling, water-filled bubble tubes, which will lead you to the next section of your tour, Blue Wonders.
Start listening to this track after you walk through the Blue Wonders lobby and enter the Blacktip Reef exhibit.
As you enter the Blue Wonders building between the iridescent wall and the video installation, you walk under a large, clear, acrylic sculpture that looks like a splash of water, frozen in time. Directly to your right, there is a sentence written on the wall that asks, "What is your connection to water?" The sound effects you hear represent the large bubbles moving through an array of floor-to-ceiling, water-filled tubes on your left, each about a foot in diameter. The tubes reflect the glow of blue light, and a wall of mirrors enhances the visual effect. You may also hear sound effects of splashing, diving and ocean waves.
Passing the bubble tubes on the left, you arrive at Blacktip Reef, a vibrant replica of an Indo-Pacific coral reef. Every inch of this colorful, busy reef reveals a surprising way life survives and thrives in this complex, yet fragile, ocean ecosystem. Gliding effortlessly around the reef are several 5-foot-long blacktip reef sharks, their signature black dorsal fins slicing the water. Unlike some species of sharks, blacktip reef sharks often swim in schools. Brilliant blue-green chromis and orangeband surgeonfish dart through the multi-hued coral grottos to evade the sharks. More than 2,000 pieces of life-like artificial coral create this intricate habitat, which varies from 7-18 feet in depth.
Continuing along the Z-shaped walkway, you'll discover that Blacktip Reef houses literally hundreds of animals. Biodiversity is a key component of a healthy coral reef ecosystem. Joining the blacktip reef sharks are stingrays, colorful Indo-Pacific fish, zebra sharks, and other animals including two different species of wobbegong sharks and a large green sea turtle. The ornate and tasseled wobbegong sharks with dappled skin are nearly invisible against the reef bottom. The honeycomb ray's massive 5-foot-wide "wings" rise and fall as they glide through water like a bird through air. These stingrays move through the water using a rippling or undulating motion along the edge of their pectoral fins. The honeycomb ray is also known as the reticulated whipray and has a light brown body with dark brown spots. Its underside, however, is a solid off-white. Its snout is pointed, and its tail can reach three times its body size. Rays feel soft and slimy, like wet velvet.
Every day, scuba divers hand-feed the colorful fish different foods such as pellet foods, smelt, clams, shrimp, and squid. The blacktip reef sharks are fed from the surface using a target that is lowered into the water on a rope. When the sharks approach the target, they are fed by the Aquarium staff who strategically place the sharks' food in the water.
The escalator to Level 2 is on the right at the end of the walkway, or you can retrace your steps toward the lobby to take the Blue Wonders Elevator A to Level 2. To do this, go back, toward the bubble tubes. Just before you reach the bubble tubes on your right, turn to the left into a hallway. The elevator is located around the corner on the right. Our next tour section, the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea gallery, begins at the top of the escalator.
Start listening to this track once you exit the escalator or the elevator at Level 2 of Blue Wonders, at the beginning of Maryland: Mountains to the Sea.
You are on Level 2, Maryland: Mountains to the Sea. These four living habitats trace the course of water in Maryland as it flows from a stream in the Appalachian Mountains, to a tidal marsh, to a sandy beach, and then out to the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean. At the top of the escalator, on the wall on your left, or to the right as you emerge from the elevator, is a grid of more than 30 assorted, backlit photographs. Each picture depicts how life depends on water. Children, apples, lizards, pelicans, lemons, red tulips and penguins–every living thing on this planet–depend on water.
Halls here are dark with the brightest light coming from aquatic habitats. The first, Allegheny Stream, introduces you to the freshwater life of a mountain stream. It flows vigorously, splashing over rocks before bubbling into a quiet pool. Can you hear the water moving? The habitat is open behind acrylic that rises to about 4 feet. Take a deep breath and smell the distinct smells of an Appalachian forest. Please remember to take care not to put hands in any of the open habitats. At the water line, rocks and tree roots are covered with moss that varies in color from bright light green to dark green to brown to black. Small saplings are topped with fans of green leaves. Spear-shaped ferns grow from pockets in the rocks at the base of the display. Underwater, some of the rocks are square, stacked like bricks. A dead tree trunk lies submerged in the center. To its left are cave-like openings, which offer convenient hiding places for small fish. While the fish in the habitat change from time to time, there are a variety of dace and chubs with long slender bodies. There are also turtles and frogs swimming or basking in the warm light.
Next is the Tidal Marsh, an area of brackish water where salt and fresh waters mix. This grassy wetland is noticeably brighter than the tree-shaded stream, giving the illusion of bright sunlight. Light colored oysters and shell rubble make up the floor of the marsh with walls of dark mud rising to support live plants. This habitat is also open, so you might be able to smell the pungent marsh mud. Here you will find diamondback terrapins, Maryland's state reptile and mascot of the University of Maryland. Between 5 and 8 inches long, the terrapin basks in the sun during the day and glides slowly through the water with broad webbed feet, searching the marsh for clams, snails and crabs. This reptile is one of only two species of turtle that live exclusively in salt marshes. Thick marsh grasses bend over and tickle the water surface. They are a pale, cool green blending into a sunny yellow under the illuminated center of the display. Behind them are taller grasses and bushes that stand straighter. On a painted background, grassy areas stretch across the horizon. Fish here are silvery or gray and small, about the size of your finger. Most are types of killifish and mummichogs that thrive in this mix: fresh water from the land and salty water from the sea. Marshes and other wetlands—once considered wastelands to be filled or drained—are now recognized as necessary for healthy coastal communities. Wetlands are important habitat for migratory animals, many of which are endangered species, and they serve as nurseries for most species of commercially important seafood. Wetlands also absorb impacts of storms, floods, and rising sea levels, and so help people to be more resilient to climate change. Outside of our building, the Aquarium's Conservation team helps restore and monitor local tidal wetlands. They plant native marsh grasses, track wildlife and conduct educational programs.
After the stream and tidal marsh, Coastal Beach is the next habitat behind a solid acrylic window. The water level is not quite halfway up this space. Be sure not to tap the window. Even a soft sound is amplified in water and can cause stress for the animals. Gentle waves of water lap the shoreline. Above the water line from the left side to the middle are two parallel logs lying on their sides with their roots sticking out like stars. Each of these trees measures about 5 feet long with their top parts buried in a sand dune. In the water, along both sides are barnacle-encrusted pilings. The silvery, hand-sized fish in the Coastal Beach blend into the light sandy background. From where you stand, imagine that you are in the ocean looking toward the sandy shore … and prepare to move deeper out to the Atlantic Shelf.
The last habitat following the flow of the Maryland watershed is completely filled with water, displaying fish several times larger than those found in the other Maryland habitats. Large drum, flounder, and groupers swim in the dark water. The Atlantic Shelf is the shallow water along the coastline. In Maryland, this shelf extends 70 miles offshore. The waters of the continental shelf are prime recreational and commercial fishing grounds which are well-managed to provide thousands of jobs and produce harvests valued over $400 million dollars annually. If you enjoy eating fish, you can support ocean health and coastal economies by choosing to eat sustainable seafood. The U.S. has strict standards to keep fish stocks and their habitats healthy, so fish and shellfish that come from American fisheries or aquaculture facilities are generally good choices.
Nearby is a model of one vertebra or backbone of a fin whale. Go ahead and explore it with your hands. This would correspond to one of the bumps on your spine. The vertebra is a three-pronged cylindrically shaped object; a cool flat white color with brown dots. The top mid-section is flat, resembling the tail of an aircraft or the blade end of an oar. At the right and left are tail-like pieces bending up at the center. You can feel flat flanges that would support the whale's strong swimming muscles. Put your hand right into the hole that housed the spinal cord. Above the whale vertebra mounted in a small plexiglass case is a plastic model of a human vertebra. It is many times smaller than that of our mammalian cousin the fin whale. On your right about 20 feet away and overhead is the skeleton of a 58-foot fin whale salvaged in 1880. Suspended from the ceiling, it hangs head down as if diving. Because the skeleton was too long to fit in the central space, 10 vertebrae like the one you just encountered had to be removed.
Continue right to the movealator, a flat moving walkway angled upward, or retrace your path to Elevator A, just beyond the Allegheny Stream on the right side of the wall. The sounds of gulls and surf are calling you from above. You are now on Level 3. To reach the beginning of our next section, go straight at the end of the movealator, or right from the elevator. Just ahead is the Living Seashore.
Start listening to this track once you exit the movealator or elevator onto Level 3 of Blue Wonders, at the beginning of Living Seashore.
Sounds of waves and gulls of the mid-Atlantic coast accompany your journey through the Living Seashore, from its upper dunes, to the beach, down to the water, and then below the water's surface. The sounds you hear as you move through seashore habitats correspond to each location. In the upper dunes, rolling hills of sand are held together by the native plants growing there. There are shorebirds, like piping plovers nesting; ghost crabs digging their small burrows in the sand; and a hognose snake basking in the sun. At the beach, there are often fences and signs marking where people should avoid walking on dunes to protect the fragile bird nests and other animals that live there. By staying off sand dunes, we can help protect a fragile and beautiful piece of the coastline ecosystem.
Just past the dunes is the beach. Feel all along the curved wall as you journey from the upper dry sand down to the waterline. The entire wall is a vertical, tactile slice of the beach. Near the upper dry sand on the left, you will find many objects in what's known as the wrackline. It's commonly found at the high tide line of every beach and it contains many treasures, such as shells from moon snails and whelks, seaweed, snail egg cases, crab molts, and shark egg cases. Many animals live in the wrackline, including hermit crabs and snails. The circular cut-outs on the nearby tables help guests learn more about what's in a wrackline. These days, wracklines also contain non-natural items of trash, mostly made of plastic, which has washed back up on the beach after getting into the ocean via wind, a river, or storm drain. Plastic trash causes harm to animals in the ocean and on the beach. You can help reduce plastic pollution at the beach and in the ocean by picking up trash wherever you find it, and choose to use less disposable plastic every day.
As you move further along the beach you reach the water and a large curved pool that is one of two live touch experiences in the Living Seashore. In this touchpool you can find animals that live just offshore. Aquarium interpreters are on the other side of the touchpool–they can tell you all about the animals and help you to touch them carefully. Use the soft pads of your fingers to gently feel the animals on the top, or dorsal, side of their bodies. Clearnose skates, little skates and Atlantic rays glide through the water while horseshoe crabs scurry amongst the whelks on the sandy floor. Ask an interpreter to help you touch one of the snails. Depending on the day, we may have channeled whelks, knobbed whelks and/or moon snails in the touchpool. Just past this first touchpool and a little deeper into the ocean, you will find our moon jelly touchpool. Here you will find Aquarium interpreters that can help you ever so gently touch a moon jelly. Moon jellies can sting but their prey is so small that their sting does not penetrate our relatively thick human skin.
There are even more strange creatures to be found just off the mid-Atlantic coast. The large circular habitat features some of the fish you can find just offshore. Fish called searobins have long fin rays that they use to stir up the seafloor and find small invertebrates to munch on. Flounders bury themselves in the sand with their flattened bodies while only their two eyes poke out above the sand. Large silver fish called file fish swim up above in the water column. Just ahead is the beginning of the next section of the tour: Surviving Through Adaptation.
Start listening to this track after exiting Living Seashore and arriving at the beginning of Surviving Through Adaptation.
This floor highlights some of the unique adaptations such as body shape, color and behavior that help animals survive. Ahead of you, the hall is dark and narrower than the previous one with habitats on both your left and right–these areas are flush against the wall on the left, and to the right they jut out into triangular nooks every few feet. An interesting fish in this area is the electric eel located in the second triangular nook on your right. If the fish is on the move, you'll hear a deep clicking or thumping sound. This is from an amplifier that translates the eel's voltage to sound. Faster clicks mean higher voltage and a more active eel. Electric eels produce between 300 and 600 volts of electricity, three times the shock you'd get from the average household electrical socket. The electrical field helps the eel to navigate in the murky water. These eels can grow to about 8 feet in length. Their small eyes are useless in the murky waters where they live and many eels are blind, relying instead on the electrical field they generate to help navigate. The electrical impulses are produced by stacks of modified muscle tissue. These stacks combine like batteries in a series, to produce a large total discharge. Deep pits in the eels face receive information from the electrical field as it returns. This adaptation allows the eel to wind its way throughout its environment. The murky waters in which the eels live often contain low dissolved oxygen levels. As an adaptation to this, eels have modified gills in their mouths and may be seen at the surface of the water gulping air.
Across the hall is a dark and cool habitat that is usually home to a giant Pacific octopus. Gently place your hand against the glass to note the temperature. Suction cups the size of quarters grip the smooth acrylic window and investigate food and rocks. There may be 2,000 of these suckers and they operate independently of each other. The habitat next to the octopus has brighter light and colors—whites, pinks, and light greens—that recreate the Pacific coast with an assortment of sea anemones. The exhibit resembles a lovely flower garden but these animals are efficient predators. Their tentacles contain stinging cells that overcome animals unlucky enough to brush against them.
The next section on our tour is the second part of Surviving Through Adaptation. Veer to the right on a slight angle just past a concrete pillar. The first habitat in the next triangular nook to the right is entitled Hiding. Animals here have shapes, colors, and patterns that help them blend into their surroundings. The stonefish is naturally camouflaged and has venomous spines for defense. They resemble hunks of sponge-encrusted rock. In sharp contrast are the fish of Displaying, located on the opposite nook of the triangular wall. Some of these fish are brightly colored to signal their territorial claim on a coral reef. This enables other creatures to recognize them and stay clear. Living here is a brightly colored angelfish with striking blues and yellows. There is also a longhorn cowfish whose body is not flat like most fish, but boxed shape. Their horns and poisonous skin make them nearly invulnerable. Across from Displaying is Occupying—one of only two habitats that display live coral. If the Aquarium galleries are quiet you may be able to hear the hum of pumps. Corals tend to thrive in gently moving water. Place your hand against the glass here, and you may note how warm this display is compared to the octopus den. The next section on our tour, North Atlantic to the Pacific, begins at the end of the movealator to your right; or you can retrace your steps back to the Blue Wonders Elevator A and go to Level 4.
Start listening to this track after exiting the movealator or elevator onto Level 4 of Blue Wonders, at the beginning of North Atlantic to the Pacific.
You are now on Level 4. An information desk is immediately to your right. Restrooms and water fountains are about 30 feet to your left. If you are stepping out of the elevator, restrooms and water fountains are about 20 feet ahead and to the right, and the information desk is about 20 feet away across the hall and slightly to the left. The Harbor View Room is between the elevator and the bathrooms. This room is only open at selected times and offers a place to pause with food and beverages available for purchase during the summer months.
The Sea Cliffs habitat features sea birds from the North Atlantic. It is home to the Aquarium's mascot the Atlantic puffin, as well as black guillemots and razorbills. Their distinctive dark on the top, light on bottom appearance acts as a camouflage enabling them to blend in with dark water when viewed from above and to blend in with light sky when viewed from below. This color pattern is called countershading and is displayed by many aquatic animals. Listen for the puffin's call, which sounds like a growl and is sometimes described as a chainsaw-like sound. You may also hear razorbill squeaks or the high-pitched whistle of black guillemots. Listen for splashes from these birds as they dive and swim. During breeding season, supplemental recorded sounds of larger seabird colonies are provided for animal enrichment and help to promote breeding activity. These birds have warm down under their feathers. When they preen, they oil-coat their feathers with a waterproofing layer that helps them stay warm and dry in cold Northern waters. Feel the exhibit window with your palm. The water temperature is a chilly 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Above the water line, the air is only 50 degrees.
The next section of our tour begins at the entrance to the Aquarium's Amazon River Forest. It will be found past two additional habitats on your left—Kelp Forest and the Pacific Coral Reef. The Kelp Forest represents a unique habitat on the Pacific coast. Kelp is a thick stalked, leafy seaweed that can grow up to two feet a day, and provides food and protection for many species including three species of shark living here: the horn shark, leopard shark and the swell shark. All three are not the typical gray and white coloration, but are more brown with stripes and spots to help them blend into their unique home. The Pacific Coral Reef habitat is one of only two places in the Aquarium that has live coral. Coral is a small animal that can have plant and mineral properties to aide in its survival. Living amongst the coral are familiar-looking fish like the orange and white striped clownfish, and blue, black and yellow palette surgeonfish. Veer to the right around the concrete pillar and proceed ahead about 20 feet.
Start listening to this track after you leave North Atlantic to Pacific and arrive at the beginning of the Amazon River Forest.
The exhibit behind glass and extending for 57 feet is a cross section of an Amazon river forest. It depicts the area flooded annually by the Rio Negro, an Amazon tributary. Both aquatic and terrestrial, the exhibit depicts a submerged portion of the forest. At the rear, above the water line, are trees and other vegetation. At peak, the flood may extend inland up to 30 miles and be 30 feet deep. Animals as well as people are adapted to the seasonal water level changes. More than 40 species of tropical fish inhabit this exhibit ranging from the large red-tailed catfish, growing up to 4 feet in length, to the tiny tetras less than 3 inches long. Besides fish, large turtles search for food along the river bottom and caimans camouflage among the submerged logs. Throughout the exhibit, you will hear natural sound effects recorded from this area. Around the corner to your right, after you have walked past the 57 foot exhibit, you'll find two small displays that are identical, except that one portrays the dry season and the other shows the same slice of forest during the rainy season. In the first of the two exhibits on your right, turtles and fish such as tetras swim through the tree trunks. During the low water months represented by the second exhibit on the left, the forest floor is dotted with small isolated ponds. Small frogs and well-camouflaged snakes make their home among the leaf litter and tree branches. The next section of our tour begins just as you approach the Upland Tropical Rain Forest on Level 5. Please note that the rain forest involves an environment that is high in humidity and its walkway can be slippery.
Start listening to this track at the end of the Amazon River Forest, at the bottom of the escalator that will take you to Upland Tropical Rain Forest.
To enter the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, step into the revolving door just ahead and to your left of the Hidden Life habitat, and then onto an escalator. The escalator brings you up through a dark tunnel to the light of the forest. The dark discourages birds and other free roaming animals from investigating this space. Once you reach the top of the escalator, step to the left side for a quick orientation out of traffic. The forest itself is sunlit and green, as the roof is a dramatic pyramid greenhouse structure made of glass panels and steel framing, soaring to 81 feet above your head. Light trickles through lush vegetation. Life is all around you, yet much of it is tucked behind rocks and hidden in tree branches. Rain forests provide humans with many natural resources: woods such as teak, mahogany, and balsa; spices; vanilla; medicines to treat malaria, glaucoma and childhood leukemia; and fibers for fabrics, string, and rope. Some of these plants, such as vanilla, ginger, and bananas, are growing around you. You'll also notice the high humidity, misting and consequent dampness, so take care as you proceed through the rain forest. Despite the humidity, the temperature is comfortable, usually hovering around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You may feel droplets of water from the misting system that cloaks the forest in fog every five to eight minutes.
The path through the rain forest is sculpted as a rocky face with dangling roots and trailing tendrils. As you enter the pathway, there may be golden lion tamarins perched in the trees above. Golden lion tamarins are small primates which get their name from their luxurious orange-gold fur and the thick mane that frames their small faces. They sit on their haunches, front paws resting on a branch and their long slender tail hangs straight down. Their furless face has small dark eyes, small slightly flared nostrils and a wide, narrow-lipped mouth. These mammals emit a high-pitched whistle. Further along this cobbled rain forest walkway is a pool, which is home to a few red piranhas and other small fish. Please remember to keep your hands out of any of the open water habitats. Although the red-bellied piranha's sharp teeth can strip meat from bone, other closely related species have strong jaws and frequently crush seeds and nuts that fall into the flooded forest.
Past the piranhas and straight ahead is a staircase that leads you to the two upper platforms. These platforms give you access to a higher vantage point where you may find golden lion tamarins, yellow-footed tortoises and two-toed sloths. The sloth, a mammal about 24 inches long, spends most of its life upside down in trees. Sloths move, mate, and give birth all while living in the branches. During the day, they sleep curled up. The sloth's compact body is covered in thick coarse fur, cream-tan in color. Its squat head sits right atop its shoulders. Tiny ears are folded on top of its head and its face is covered in cream-colored fur, and it has a large, rounded snout with small nostrils, and dark brown or black eyes set close to the edges of its nose. It has four long legs. The two-toed sloth has two fingers with hooked claws in the front and three toes with hooked claws in the back. These hooked claws enable them to easily hang from branches.
In the trees, there are also many free-roaming birds including the scarlet ibis with its bright pink feathers. Its long body thickens in the middle and balances atop very slender pink jointed legs with just a fringe of pink feathers at the top where they connect to its underside. Its wings are folded into its sides and its tail is short and pointed, tucked close in to its body. The bird's neck is long and curves gracefully, ending with a long grey-white beak that's as long as its neck, tapering down in a gentle hook shape. Ibis use their curved beaks to probe the mud for insects and small crustaceans. Listen for the calls of other free-flying birds. The long, drawn-out whistle of the screaming piha is the loudest. Its call can be heard for miles in the rain forest. Try to pick out the whooping of the mot mots, the low melancholy whistle of the sun bittern, and the chitter chatter of the tanagers and other soft-billed birds. Toward the end of the rain forest walkway is a slightly uneven path just before you cross a wooden bridge at the exit. You may notice another larger waterfall and the repetitive squawks of two parrots. Like coral reefs, they are ecosystems with incredible biodiversity, ongoing rainforest conservation efforts support ocean and human health. The next section of our tour, Hidden Life, begins just as you leave the Upland Tropical Rain Forest.
Start listening to this track when you leave Upland Tropical Rain Forest and enter the Hidden Life hall.
You'll turn left when you leave the forest and enter the dark Hidden Life hall with seven small habitats on the right side. Each is home to small, secretive animals normally hidden among the leaves, such as colorful poison dart frogs and camouflaged snakes, lizards, and other frogs. The diversity represents only a fraction of the Aquarium's research and breeding collection.
Having successfully bred more than 25 species, the National Aquarium is known for its poison dart frogs. There are more than 200 species of poison dart frogs, ranging in size from one-half to 2 inches, found along the forest floor in South and Central America. Their bright colors of red, blue, orange, green and more actually aide in their survival by warning predators to stay away. These frogs secrete alkaloids, toxins that attack the nervous system or muscles. These alkaloids are currently being researched for possible medicinal use including painkillers. Although some species have toxins that are fatal to humans, the poison dart frogs bred at the Aquarium are not poisonous, thanks to their diet. In the wild, the frogs eat mites, ants, termites and other tiny leaf-litter organisms that feed on and store toxins from plants. The frogs then absorb these poisons and convert them for their own use.
To leave Hidden Life pass through a revolving door at the end of the room or follow the dark corridor on the right to the elevator. You're heading back to Level 4. Just through the revolving door, you'll hear a recorded soundscape of tropical birds and insects. An escalator takes you down from the forest and continues the tropical theme. Now on Level 4, turn left to begin your immersion into the Atlantic Coral Reef, the next section of our tour. From the elevator, follow the right wall about 75 feet for the introduction to the reef on your left.
Start listening to this track when you exit the escalator or elevator onto Level 4 of Blue Wonders after leaving Hidden Life, at the beginning of Atlantic Coral Reef.
The design for this 335,000-gallon habitat is based on reef formations and fish found in the Caribbean. Artificial coral has been painstakingly created from molds and colored to form a realistic habitat for approximately 1,000 fish representing about 100 species. Listen for the splash of scuba divers as they enter the reef to hand-feed the fish, offering pellet foods, smelt, squid, shrimp, and krill. They also provide lettuce.
The reef is open at the surface. A waist-high railing lets you get close enough to hear the water splashing just below your feet. The exhibit forms an oval doughnut and in the middle is a walkway spiraling downward. You may choose to walk around the surface path listening for water movement and the occasional splash from a fish fin as it breaks the surface. To go below the water level, follow the inner hand rails to the opening that leads down. The exhibit is a series of gently descending ramps. At every turn in the handrail, is a chance to approach tall acrylic viewing windows and step out of traffic. Take a moment to notice the soothing melody playing in the background. It is a musical composition of the sounds of grunts and snapping shrimp combined with other underwater sound effects. Imagine that you are part of the reef, a vast expanse of rock and coral surrounded by fish, most swimming within schools numbering in the hundreds. Dark brown arms of thick coral stick out, branching into irregular shapes. Burgundy encrusting corals rest on the sand bed. Coral ledges and crevices provide shelter for nocturnal fish.
Coral reefs make up less than 1% of the Earth's surface, yet they are home to almost 25% of marine life. We can help coral and all the marine life that depends on it by reducing our energy usage, or carbon footprint. Excess carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil is absorbed by the ocean and creates an acidic environment for the coral. By reducing the amount of fossil fuels that are burned, we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide the ocean absorbs. One easy way is to buy food and other products that are produced locally, significantly cutting down the amount of energy needed to transport such goods. The next section of our tour, Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators, begins as you continue down the ramp.
Start listening to this track as you descend on the ramp from the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit into Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators.
As you descend, further along the ramp, it will grow darker. You are entering the 225,000-gallon, ring-shaped Shark Alley habitat, which is home to large sharks, each more than 6 feet long and between 140 and 250 pounds. Equal sizes help control interactions among the inhabitants. Like the rays and skates in the Living Seashore, sharks have skeletons of cartilage, which is generally softer, more flexible, and lighter than bone.
Although the sharks are roughly the same size, they are far from identical. The sand tiger sharks have many snaggly teeth that almost look like fangs, and they usually swim quite slowly. They swallow or release gulps of air to adjust their buoyancy. Nurse sharks often rest on the bottom in shallow water. Sensitive barbels help them to find food along the bottom. Each shark in this exhibit is fed 3 to 7 pounds of fresh, restaurant-quality fish every week. That's not much compared to a dolphin the same size that consumes 15-20 pounds of fish each day. But most sharks are cold-blooded and have a lower metabolism than mammals. In fact, a shark may have a large meal such as a fatty dolphin or seal and then fast for weeks before eating again. Sharks have between five and 15 rows of teeth and go through tens of thousands of teeth in a lifetime. When a tooth is lost, a tooth in the next row shifts forward to replace it. The whole process may take as little as 24 hours. Sharks do not have scales similar to those of bony fish, but instead have dermal denticles covering their bodies. If you were to rub a shark from tail to head, these tiny teeth-like scales would feel very rough and could scrape your skin. Even though sharks have a scary reputation, humans do more damage to shark populations. Sharks are an important part of the ecosystem, preying upon easy-to-catch sick and diseased marine animals, effectively stopping the spread of disease amongst animal populations.
Continue down the ramp for the final underwater exhibit in the Blue Wonders building. The next section of our tour, Blacktip Reef underwater viewing I, begins at the end of the ramp.
Start listening to this track once you exit Shark Alley and arrive in the underwater viewing area of Blacktip Reef.
Now you find yourself below water in a darkened room with large glowing windows. Each one offers a unique view of the reef not seen from the surface. A floor-to-ceiling bump out window in the center invites you to come closer into the reef. There, suspended several feet into crystal-clear water, you are immersed in Blacktip Reef in a way that even the most traveled scuba diver rarely experiences. One minute you are nose-to-nose with a sleek blacktip reef shark, the next you are directly beneath the broad wing of an elegant reticulated whiptail ray. In this area, benches face each of the four large viewing windows with one large curved viewing window in the middle. This comfortable seating and immersive lighting invite you to pause, rest and reflect on life's extraordinary connection to water.
As you face the Blacktip Reef underwater viewing area, an escalator and stairway that both head up to the Aquarium lobby and Level 1 are on the far right. To take an elevator up to the lobby, use the door on the far left of the underwater viewing area. The hallway will take you up a small ramp and turn to the right. You will walk down the hall about 50 feet past offices, then go to your right to an elevator around the corner to the left. Take the elevator to Level 1 to return to the main lobby area.
Cross the indoor bridge from Pier 3 into Pier 4, where you'll find a colony of playful Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and an exhibit of mesmerizing jellies, as well as a cafe and restrooms.
Start listening to this track once you enter the lobby area of Blue Wonders after leaving the underwater viewing area of Blacktip Reef.
The next section of the tour encompasses the Pier 4 Pavilion. Pier 4 houses Dolphin Discovery and Children's Discovery Gallery on the main level, and a lower level with an underwater viewing of the dolphins, the Jellies Invasion habitats, and a cafe. From the lobby area next to the 4D theater, pass the restrooms to cross a glass-enclosed bridge to Pier 4. When the sun is out, you can feel the warmth coming through the windows. As you cross the bridge, you are crossing over the Patapsco River, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. This river is an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Entrance to the Dolphin Discovery is directly ahead. The Dolphin Shop is to the right of the entrance to the Dolphin Discovery. On your left are restrooms, along with a central staircase that leads to the lower level of Pier 4. Dolphin Discovery is open all day long, allowing guests to set the pace of their visits and spend as long as they like with these fascinating animals. Inside, there are rows of graduated seating to the left and right of any entrance. Be aware that the first four rows all around the amphitheater are considered the splash zone. The ceiling is made up of glass panels to allow natural light into the space. In front of the seats, the pool is separated into four spaces for Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. There are females—Spirit, Jade, Chesapeake, and Bayley. The males are Beau and Foster. To learn more about them, you can talk with the dolphin experts stationed here. There are also several dolphin activities and staff talks scheduled each day, including feeding, enrichment, and play sessions! Every hour of every day is different.
Take a moment and listen to the sounds of dolphins as they interact within their space. Dolphins use echolocation to interpret their world and its inhabitants. You may hear different squeaks and clicks as they communicate. The dolphin's distinctive call is produced by pushing air back and forth between air sacs located below their blowhole. The clicking sounds they make help them determine the size, density, speed, and direction of prey, even in murky water. You may also hear the sound of different splashes as they move through the water and chuffs as they breach the water, coming up for a breath of air. Bottlenose dolphins can hold their breath for about seven minutes if needed, but most of the time they will breathe two or three times a minute. It all depends on their activity level.
The rest of your tour will continue to your left. Before leaving Level 1, head to the Children's Discovery Gallery at the far end of the pathway. This space offers children the opportunity to explore, be creative, and use their imaginations as they investigate the beach treasures in the storybook area, dress up and pretend to be a crab or dolphin, put on a puppet show or find the hidden animal clues in the rotten log display. Continue your exploration by going downstairs, using the Pier 4 Pavilion elevator to the Jellies Invasion exhibit and cafe.
Start listening to this track when you enter the underwater viewing area of Dolphin Discovery on the ground level of Pier 4.
The Aquarium's dolphin viewing area offers another opportunity to view the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins are a kind of small-toothed whale weighing between 300 and 600 pounds and growing up to 10 feet long. These graceful creatures remind some people of a long and narrow torpedo. If you put your ear up to the glass, you are likely to hear dolphin echolocation: quiet clicking sounds as they explore their environment, which is constantly changing through enrichment activities. The Aquarium's marine mammal specialists will put different objects in the water for the dolphins to interact with. It could be basketballs, hula hoops, barrels, or even foam noodles. The objects vary in order to keep things different and new for the dolphins.
On the ground level of Pier 4, there are also restrooms, a cafe, and the Jellies Invasion exhibit. The cafe is just outside the dolphin underwater viewing area. Restrooms are on the other side of the food court area behind red doors and adjacent to the elevator up to the Pier 4 main level. Walk through the cafe to find the Jellies Invasion area. It is on the left, across from the red exit doors.
Start listening to this track when you enter the Jellies Invasion exhibit on the ground level of Pier 4, across the cafe from the Dolphin Discovery underwater viewing area.
Jellies live in every ocean, thrive in coastal and open waters, and even live in fresh water. These prehistoric brainless, boneless creatures are an important environmental indicator, and can tell us a lot about the health of our planet. Jellies can survive and adapt to waters that most animals cannot. Jellies Invasion features up to nine different species of these prehistoric survivors and panels on the walls explain more about the role they play in our environment.
As you walk up a small ramp to enter the dark room of jellies, first on your left is a sea nettle. It has a basic umbrella shape with the bell-shaped body at the top, and tentacles and oral arms flowing beneath. Its gelatinous body is more than 90% water. Jellies are examples of plankton, plants and animals which drift according to currents, but they can move within the current by contracting and pulsing their bells. Some jellies, such as the moon jelly, are milky-white and transparent, while others, such as the Pacific sea nettle, are a vibrant yellow-red with dark maroon tentacles.
The round habitat in the middle of the room is filled with upside down jellies. They are unique because they spend most of their time upside down and laying on the bottom of a shallow lagoon. Lying upside down allows algae, one of the jelly's main food sources, to grow on its oral arms. They can also eat smaller zooplankton that floats by. Jellies make a great meal for animals such as the endangered sun fish and leatherback sea turtles. Something that looks quite like a jelly is a plastic bag floating in the waters. Turtles and fish could consume the bags mistaking them for a jelly. By using reusable bags and lunch boxes, we can help reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean and reduce the amount of plastic animals might accidently ingest.
This concludes our tour of the Pier 4 Pavilion. You may take the Pier 4 Pavilion elevator back to Level 1, then cross the bridge to the Level 1 lobby.