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Visit Behind the Scenes of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores


The Crystal Coast and MMGY NJF sponsored my behind the scenes tour and visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. All thoughts are my own. Thanks for this great visit!

What do shipwrecks, otters, and sea turtles have to do with each other? They are all exhibits at the North Carolina Aquarium of Pine Knoll Shores! The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is part of a consortium along the coast of North Carolina. Included in her "domain" are the Roanoke Island Aquarium (Manteo, NC) and Fort Fisher Aquarium (Fort Fisher/ Kure Beach, NC). 

I was extremely excited to visit this aquarium and learn all about it's behind the scenes operations. While it's cool to visit the floor exhibits and habitats, there is a lot that goes into the care and maintenance of those exhibits and each of its inhabitants. 

Joining a behind the scenes tour is the perfect way to experience the Aquarium life, as it shows you HOW all of our sea-loving friends are cared for every day! There are currently 

Not only do they house habitats and exhibits to help the public learn about sea life, they also house rescue and rehab operations, particularly for sea turtles. 

Such a wonderful knowledgeable tour guide! 

The current selection of tours offered are an hour long and are offered at various points throughout the week. The tours involving feedings are at 2:30 PM and 

- Feeding Frenzy: A behind the scenes tour that includes a fish feeding at the top of the Living Wreck Exhibit. 

- Shark Frenzy: Watch the Sharks being fed by a staff member from the top of the Living Wreck tank after the behind the scenes tour! 

My tour was a private morning tour, so no fish/ shark feedings for me, but I was able to see: 

  • The incredibly cool water filtration system. Instead of bringing in water, the Aquarium tries to utilize conservation methods as much as possible. Incoming water from Bogue Sound is filtered, filtered again, and filtered even more to make it usable for both salt water and freshwater habitats. The conservation efforts of the Aquarium are constantly evolving as research helps spot areas of improvement.

  • The Fish Hatchery. The Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium provides methods to birth and raise fish in their behind the scenes tanks for Aquarium usage between the three sites. This is so that the fish who are out in the wild remain out in the wild, but yet, we can continue to learn, discover, and care for creation through the means of exhibits. Sea life is precious, especially as environmental concerns pose hazards for the development of natural-born fish, so I'm all for keeping wild fish in the wild naturally, but still want to learn!
Loggerhead Turtles that are hurt go into rehab for a maximum of 2 years in their Ambassador Program. They help educate students, families, and people of all ages about the important Sea Turtles. 

  • The Sea Turtle Conservation Program: This Aquarium not only helps baby sea turtles that didn't quite make it to from their nest to the water, it also helps adult turtles that have been harmed in some way. For those of you who have never ventured to the beach and watched a sea turtle nest hatch, you are in for a treat! Sometimes the weaker ones don't always make it out of their nests when their siblings do. They might need some extra help to get strong before being released back into the ocean. Same with their adult counterparts. Plastic is the biggest contributor to the detrimental demise of sea turtles, but so are fishery practices as well. Both behind the scenes habitats for these turtles are set up to resemble life in the wild, so that when it's time for them to return home, they can do so. Rarely do sea turtles stay at the Aquarium for more than two years. During that time, the adults are known as Ambassadors, and are used in the education of the public (mostly school groups) and go on "trips". 
This Baby Green Turtle needs some help becoming strong before it's released back into the ocean. Sometimes babies are too weak, hatch late, or need some extra love before they start their journey. 

  • The Shark Tank. The sharks reside in the Living Shipwreck exhibit and the tour allows you the opportunity to view the tank from above, which is an incredibly cool experience. It is a LARGE tank, larger than you realize when you are at it's base. I learned that volunteer scuba divers help to care for and maintain the exhibit throughout the year. There are many qualifications to be a scuba diver, and most are ex- military or have some sort of professional training. There is a tour that offers a glimpse of the sharks being fed, twice a week, that I would HIGHLY recommend! Now, in nature, sharks fed when they find food, but here at the Aquarium, their twice a week meal is almost being pampered. 
The top of the Living Shipwreck exhibit- known as the Shark tank. 

Now, after my behind the scenes tour was over, I was able to check out the rest of the Aquarium habitats. This Aquarium holds a LOT! There are habitats for amphibians, fish, otters, seahorses, snakes, and much more! I'm pretty sure I didn't even look at everything, as there was so much to see! 

The bottom of the Living Shipwreck exhibit. Sharks, fish, and a replica of the Queen Anne's Revenge ship all make this massive tank magically to view! 

This Aquarium houses the largest man made ocean habitat within the state of North Carolina, known as the Living Shipwreck. The Living Shipwreck is supposed to resemble the wreckage of the Queen Anne's Revenge, another nod to Blackbeard and the legends of lore across the Crystal Coast. This 306,000 gallon tank not only has various types of sharks, such as the sand tiger shark, it also has sheephead, various types of fish, and even a sea turtle that all might be found around the wreckage sight deep in the bottom of the inlet.. or ocean. 

Trout know when its time to eat! 

You could easily spend all day in the aquarium if you want to witness and participate in its many programs. I was able to view and help the Trout being fed. Talk about a feeding frenzy! These guys know when its their dinner time, as they start to hover and migrate to the top of the water as they sense the time approaching. Be prepared to get splashed! Also, be sure to ask the workers any questions you might have. I discovered that Trout don't actually feed as often in real life and that the Aquarium works to make sure that they are cared for, but not overfed themselves. 

After you have had your fill of marine life, head outside for a beautiful and picturesque view of the Bogue Sound. 

The nature trail view helps families learn about birds and other wild marine life. Spend some time looking in the water or at the sky! 

While you are outside, you can encounter the two non-releasable Bald Eagles that the Aquarium homes permanently. These injured eagles would never make it into the wild, and the Aquarium works with NC Wildlife & Fish alongside of the government to properly maintain these majestic creatures. 

Also, outside is the Snake House. Being able to identify poisonous snakes on the coast is important, so I'm glad that the Snake House has ways for us to help id the creatures we meet along our journeys out in the world. 

The outdoors also has a couple of docks to help identify birds and other creatures of nature, along with a wonderful nature trail. Head down the nature trail to find the playground so that your kiddos can get some energy out after using their indoor voices and indoor behavior for so long inside the Aquarium! 

For those of you that want extra adventure, the Roosevelt Nature Trail is located off the visitor's parking lot. This 1.25-mile trail that is retraced to return to the parking lot. Throughout, you will experience a marsh and end up at a sound side beach. I didn't take this trail, so I can't comment on its accessibility, but if it's like the other one, it's made easy for most hikers. Also, your family doesn't need an Aquarium ticket to access this trail, but just be sure to be back to your car before the Aquarium gates close!

There's even a playground. Be sure to allow your kiddos time to get their energy out. 

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is the perfect way to spend a fall day! If its beautiful weather, enjoy the outdoor exhibits and nature trails, such as the Bald Eagle Exhibit. Hop between the decks to see what birdlife and aquatic life you can find along the Bogue Sound. Learn about the Seat Turtles, the Water Filtration System, and see the top of the Living Wreck on a behind the scenes tour. This is such a wonderful attraction for the entire family and I highly recommend that you check it out the next time you are along the Crystal Coast. 

The Otters love playing! 

If you are planning a trip to the Coast this holiday season, be reminded that the Aquarium is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Be sure to purchase your tickets online because the holiday season fills up fast! If you happen to find yourself in the area, also check out their December 09 Santa by the Sea event! 

Want to visit? 

I know that you will love the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores as much as I did, and I know your family will too!

Find the North Carolina Aquarium at 1 Roosevelt Blvd in Pine Knoll Shores.

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