Under the Sea: Family Fun at North Carolina’s Aquariums

Want to observe some of North Carolina’s most beautiful residents in their natural habitats? Visit aquariums from the Outer Banks to the Asheville area to peek at life under the sea and discover the aquatic life that make our freshwater and saltwater ecosystems so vibrant.

1 North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

1 North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

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When you walk into this aquarium on the Crystal Coast, you’re greeted by a 3-story indoor waterfall. The waterfall introduces you to the layout of the aquarium, which takes you from the mountains to the sea, stopping to visit hundreds of animals along the way.

Among the aquarium’s exhibit highlights: the always-popular river otters; a Tidal Touch Pool; the Living Shipwreck, which features a 60-foot viewing window; and a very special sea creature named Nimbus, a rare white loggerhead turtle.

2 North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

2 North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

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At this aquarium in the Wilmington area, you’ll follow the mighty Cape Fear River from its inland origins to the ocean. Along the journey you’ll meet Luna, an albino alligator; have the opportunity to touch Bamboo sharks; and even learn about one of the biggest sharks that ever swam off our coast, the Megalodon.

The Megalodon was longer than a school bus, had teeth the size of a dinner plate and a jaw 8 feet across. Fortunately, all that remains are fossil relics of this 2 million-year-old predator, but an exhibit including replica jaws, teeth you can touch and an interactive video display about the Megalodon gives you a feel for this massive creature.

3 North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

3 North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

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At this aquarium on the Outer Banks you’ll see more sharks in one place than you ever thought possible. Nurse, sand tiger and sandbar sharks swim through the 285,000-gallon Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit, living beside dozens of other fish. Divers pay this huge tank a visit to swim with the sharks, and if you’re an open-water certified diver, you may be able to join them. Check with the aquarium for feeding schedules of sharks and other creatures.

The aquarium on Roanoke Island isn’t just one exhibit, though. The whole aquarium will give you an idea of how water reaches the ocean from its inland tributaries, and provides a look at the creatures that call these waters home. From freshwater fish, snakes and frogs in Seven Rivers, to alligators, turtles and river otters in the Wild Wetlands, you’ll glimpse some of the more abundant aquatic life North Carolina has to offer.

4 North Carolina Aquarium at Jennette's Pier

4 North Carolina Aquarium at Jennette's Pier

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The newest of the North Carolina aquariums, this Outer Banks outpost offers summer camps, classes, fishing lessons and even hang gliding for kids. Fishing is what the pier is best known for, and there’s plenty to be had. Anglers can experience some of the East Coast’s best fishing from 1,000-foot pier that extends over the Atlantic Ocean. Veteran anglers teach everything from fishing with the entire family to private lessons.

5 Greensboro Science Center

5 Greensboro Science Center

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An aquarium-zoo hybrid, the Greensboro Science Center is the perfect place to experience the whole animal kingdom at once. The indoor aquarium offers visitors the chance to feed the fish and penguins, touch the stingrays and small sharks, and watch frolicking otters play. Check the daily schedule for the chance to witness the trainers’ daily dive.

Additional Aquatic Attractions

Still craving more underwater exploration? You’ll love the Fish and Invertebrates exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Resources in Raleigh, where you’ll explore both fresh and saltwater species native to our state. Also in our central region, 250+ unique species call the Sea Life Charlotte-Concord Aquarium their home, including rescued and rare specimen. And at the Team ECCO Aquarium & Shark Lab in Hendersonville, you can observe reptiles and tropical fish as you learn about the ocean’s fascinating ecosystems.

Updated August 1, 2018
About the Author
Jason Frye

Jason Frye

Jason Frye is the author of Moon North Carolina, Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip and Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He lives and writes in Wilmington.

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