The Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport is a one-stop shop to explore life above and below the sea, from the American Alligator to the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, the rainforest, and more.
When you stand on the beach at the Mississippi Gulf Coast and gaze at the horizon, it is hard to fathom just how much life is teeming underneath the water. The Gulf and beyond houses an ecosystem that can be read about in books, seen on TV, and researched by professionals, but it is hard to wrap your brain around what can’t be seen up close.
That’s where the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport comes in. The Aquarium is a one-stop shop to explore life above and below the sea, from the American Alligator to the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, the rainforest, and more.
Living up to its purpose
The Mississippi Aquarium is a non-profit organization with three pillars: education, conservation, and community. This is all evident as you make your way through the aquarium. Many exhibits are tailored to visitors of all ages, with placards describing the marine life to tunnels to climb through and observe for the littlest of learners. The animals and fish are expertly managed in habitats carefully designed to mimic their ecosystem in the wild.
The Mississippi Aquarium provides an enormous learning opportunity with over 250 species and 3500 individual animals, including birds, fish, insects, reptiles, marine mammals, etc. Over 30 individual habitats include indoor and outdoor habitats spread over about six acres of land.
One of the favorites at the aquarium is the three-story Aquatic Wonders experience. The third floor is home to an invertebrate, shark, and ray touch encounter. Level 2 is a 360-degree tunnel and swirling schooling habitat, and the bottom floor is the Gulf community gallery. These larger-than-land-life tanks allow aquarium patrons to stand alongside or even under-side the ocean as schooling fish, sharks, sting rays, and more dip, dive, and seemingly dance along to the rhythm of their own currents.
“Changing Tides” is the newest exhibit at the Mississippi Aquarium. Over 7,000 square feet of indoor exhibition space shows off over 100 new species across 20 new spaces throughout three unique biomes. The Kelp Forest, The Rainforest, and the Coral Reef bring an immersive experience that kids and adults alike can enjoy.
The Kelp Forest is home to marine life that thrives in the ocean’s colder, darker, deeper waters. The ocean’s deepest depths are where giant Pacific octopuses and California eels thrive.
The Rainforest showcases the brightly colored Emerald Tree Boas, the Poisonous Dart frogs, and the sleepy Linnaeus’s Two-Toed Sloth. Finally, the Coral Reef is where kiddos will enjoy pointing out the Ocellaris Clownfish, made famous by Disney’s Finding Nemo, as well as the Clown Triggerfish and Lionfish.
There is even more to explore in the outdoor exhibits. Kids can watch otters up close and personal by crawling into a tunnel and popping into an observation bubble. The American Alligators are in the center of the entrance to the park, where they can get plenty of time in the sun and the water. A stroll through the Aviary gives Aquarium visitors a bird’s eye view of how they’d soar through the wild. Finally, have a seat at the dolphin habitat and watch these beautiful creatures swim and glide through the water.
Another must-try exhibit at the Mississippi Aquarium is Pelican Pointe Cafe. The location is excellent, between the River and the Aviary; and dining outdoors is always a plus. That location makes starting, breaking, or ending the day with a good meal easy. And the Shark Bite Burger is one bonus perk of admission into the Mississippi Aquarium. The double-patty cheeseburger with all the “fixings” has been voted Best Burger along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. With a heaping helping of Mississippi River Fries, the burger will almost make you forget you’re at an aquarium and not a five-star burger joint.
Diving deeper: Getting face-to-face with the world underwater
While the general admission run-through of the aquarium is enough to keep you busy for hours, the Mississippi Aquarium has a slew of up-close-and-personal experiences to enhance the experience.
The Dolphin Encounter allows you and your bigger kids to have a one-on-one with a dolphin trainer to learn more about the dolphin, as well as some play time!
Older kids can also get a taste of what a day in the life of an animal trainer is like with the VIP Trainer experience. Kids ages thirteen and up have the opportunity to spend an entire day shadowing the trainers, working with the otters and dolphins, and even prepping some of the animals’ snacks.
If that’s not enough experience, you might as well get in the water with the SeaTrek Experience. You’re fully immersed and face-to-face with the sharks, rays, and fish in the ocean habitat.
More than entertainment
The Mississippi Aquarium aims to create “an awe-inspiring entertainment experience that supports animal research and conservation, inspires learning, and instills a passion for the aquatic world,” according to its website.
This means that behind the scenes, intentionality drives the daily operations at the Aquarium. Whether by carefully curating educational content for the exhibits or eliminating the use of plastic bottle caps and straws on park property, The Mississippi Aquarium staff are doing everything they can to not just provide entertainment to the public but to maximize conservation efforts for the sake of the animals at the aquarium and the environments from which they come.
“The Aquarium understands that living in Mississippi is about the outdoor experience and the relationships of its people. Mississippi Aquarium represents education, conservation, and community,” reads their website. “The Aquarium will provide visitors many opportunities to be entertained and fully immersed in Mississippi’s aquatic wonder.”
For more information about the Mississippi Aquarium, including encounter information, click here.