The Sarasota rain led me to seek out indoor activities. It seemed like the perfect day to visit the Mote Marine Aquarium. Upon arriving, it appeared that many other locals and visitors had decided to visit as well. No matter, we trekked on through the visitor center where we purchased tickets and entered the main indoor hall of the aquarium. This area, called From Rivers to Seas & Convict Fish displays a mixture of fresh and salt water marine life. All of the exhibits are beautifully done to reflect the natural habitat of its inhabitants. Visitors can see a fresh water sting ray, a scary and large Moray Eel and the black and white striped Convict Fish who spend their adult lives hidden in coral tunnels. Moving on, we enter the area called Grass Flats, Reef Fish & Jellies where you can see all sorts of beautiful reef dwellers. I have always found Jellyfish particularly interesting to watch and was not disappointed with the ones on display.
My favorite was the upside-down jellyfish that produce algae with their tentacles.
Transitions from inside to a covered outdoor space, visitors have the opportunity to see a preserved giant squid. Once 500 pounds, “Molly the Mollusk” has now shrunk to 300 pounds and 23 feet long because of the preservative liquid she is in. Regardless of a little bit of shrinking, she is still positively fascinating and reminiscent of creatures found on the pages of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Next, you find a variety of shark species as well as Goliath Grouper, Tarpon, and Snook. Mote Marine Aquarium is the only congressionally designated Center for Shark Research! Favorite among both children and adults, are the Touch Pools in Contact Cove where you can touch tame starfish, sea urchins, crabs, and even a variety of stingrays. Towards the exit, the laboratory is currently hatching seahorses, which are tiny and absolutely adorable.
Following the painted manatee and sea turtles on the sidewalk, we headed towards the detached building across the street which houses the manatees, dolphins, and turtles. Mote’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is the world’s longest-running dolphin research program – 42 years and Mote has been rehabbing dolphins and whales for 20 years. They have also treated and released 100 sea turtles! Mote currently has four turtles in exhibit, two of which are from my home state for the last 4 years: North Carolina. Mote monitors sea turtle nesting in the Sarasota area in addition to providing a rehab facility. Luckily for us, the Manatees, or sea cows as they are often called, were indulging in a lettuce lunch so we were able to watch them swim around and chomp on large heads of romaine.
At an adult weight of 1,200 pounds, manatees are certainly interesting creatures. Walking upstairs, we arrived at Dolphin Lagoon just in time to see Moonshine the dolphin perform a few tricks for some tasty fish. Both of Mote’s resident dolphins have made Mote Marine Aquarium their permanent home as they were once part of the Dolphin & Whale Hospital and since rehabilitation have been determined unfit for life in the wild.
In addition to the fantastic marine exhibits, Mote performs world-renowned work in its Research Laboratory. All in all Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory was a wonderful way to get up-close and personal with wildlife and learn more about our ocean friends. Mote is a great rainy day – or any day, family fun Sarasota attraction.
Lauren Ettinger, Associate Editor Must Do Visitor Guides & MustDo.com