The 3 Best Aquariums in Michigan

Written by Jude Speegle
Updated: June 24, 2023
Share on:


Michigan is known for its excellent fishing and how it borders four of the five Great Lakes with the longest freshwater coast in the United States. Living by the water is a way of life in Michigan, whether near one of the Great Lake or vacationing at beautiful lakes in Northern Michigan during the summer.

With all these water-related facts for Michigan, there are bound to be a few stellar aquariums in the state to check out. They include:

  • Belle Isle Aquarium
  • John Ball Zoological Garden
  • Michigan Sea Life Aquarium

These aquariums house local sea creatures and wildlife from around the world as well. They allow visitors to get up close and personal with the marine animals found in local lakesWh along with animals from other bodies of water throughout the globe.

Make sure these are at the top of your list to visit once you decide to explore the Wolverine state!

Belle Isle Aquarium

Belle Isle Aquarium

The Belle Isle Aquarium is located in Detroit.


Belle Isle Aquarium
Address 3 Inselruhe Ave, Detroit, MI 48207
Animal to SeeWhite-Spotted Bamboo Sharks
Known ForAmerica’s Oldest Aquarium

The Belle Isle Aquarium opens up as one single long gallery tunnel through the aquarium. You walk down this tunnel and explore all the options and exhibits available, learning about the marine life that lives within.

There are five exhibits, and they include:

  • Rivers of the World
  • Ocean Oasis
  • The Great Lakes of North America
  • The Waters of South America
  • African Great Lakes

These all concern different marine life from various parts of the world and are fascinating to examine within America’s oldest aquarium. 

big piranha fish
Belle Isle Aquarium is the oldest aquarium in America.

The aquarium itself was originally opened in 1904 before it was closed in 2005 in a cost-saving move. In 2012 it was reopened by volunteers from a group called The Belle Isle Conservancy. The walls are tiled in beautiful sea green, opening to an archway that holds all the strength of the 32,000 gallons of water and more than 1,500 fish.

Rivers of the World

When it comes to all the types of fish you’d find in rivers, the Belle Isle Aquarium has access to them. They live together in the rivers sections, including electric catfish and the alligator snapping turtle. Water connects us all, and this gallery really pulls that together.

Ocean Oasis

The marine life located in this part of the gallery is fish you’d find in the oceans that cover seventy-one percent of the world. The laced moray eel and clownfish are popular to visit.

The Great Lakes of North America

There are five great lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. These lakes are home to 20% of the world’s fresh water supply and contain more than 150 different species of fish. In this exhibit visitors can learn all about the species found in the Great Lakes and how invasive species have changed the landscape.

The Waters of South America

Electric eels and piranhas are available to be seen in this exciting exhibit of South American waters. There are also stingrays and many other thrilling fish to check on.

African Great Lakes

There are 19 cichlid species in this aquarium versus the 3,000 in the broader world. Africa holds a good chunk of these species, so the exhibit displays just a small percentage of the diversity in Africa’s Great Lakes.

John Ball Zoological Garden

The John Ball Zoological Garden has Magellanic Penguins to watch diving through their tanks.


John Ball Zoological Garden
Address John Ball Park Ballroom, 1300 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids,
Animal to SeeMagellanic Penguins
Known For40,000 gallon Kelp Forest tank

This park first began when John Ball, a legendary explorer, died and donated his personal menagerie to the city of Grand Rapids. They ended up creating a zoo, though many of the original animals ended up not lasting.

Today the zoo is a beautiful part of Grand Rapids, set to educate and entertain the public concerning all walks of marine life.

Van Andel Living Shores Aquarium

This aquarium is only one part of the zoo, but it houses a 40,000 gallon kelp forest tank and Magellanic penguins that you can watch zooming and spinning in their natural habits.

A few species you could hope to find include:

  • Trout
  • Peacock Wolf Eel
  • Penguin
  • Lake Sturgeon
  • Coastal Birds
  • Spiny Lobsters
  • California Coastal Fish
  • California Moray Eels
  • Shark
  • Marine Invertebrates

There are more than 1200 animals that make their home at the John Ball Zoological Garden. Hours of adventure and excitement are available to keep visitors occupied.

Michigan Sea Life Aquarium

group of sturgeon swimming in an aquarium

The Michigan Sea Life Aquarium is the biggest aquarium in the state of Michigan.

©Stenko Vlad/

Michigan Sea Life Aquarium
Address 4316 Baldwin Rd, Auburn Hills, MI 48326
Animal to SeeLake Sturgeon
Known ForState’s Largest Aquarium

The Sea Life Aquarium is the biggest aquarium in the state of Michigan with 150,000 gallons of water to support marine life. More than 2,000 animals are there to be seen by visitors with 250+ species.

From the underwater ocean tunnel to the touch tank exhibit, there is plenty here to see. It takes around 60-90 minutes to walk through the aquarium and experience it fully.

Their exhibits include:

  • Underwater Ocean Tunnel
  • 360 Shoaling Ring Exhibit
  • Interactive Touch Pool
  • Stingray Bay
  • Shipwreck
  • Doodle Reef

Lake Sturgeon Conservation Efforts in Michigan

Lake sturgeon are freshwater fish that live in the Great Lakes. They are considered “underwater giants” because they can grow up to six and a half feet. Their habitats have been threatened because their habitats have been destroyed.

These sturgeon own the waters in these lakes, and their population and how big they grow provides an indication how healthy waters are. Lake sturgeon even eat invasive species and other bits and pieces to help keep the lakes clean. They take up to fifteen years to reach sexual maturity and be able to reproduce and then only lay eggs once every three years. 

Conservation efforts from the Michigan Sea Life Aquarium assist by taking sturgeon to the aquarium and raising them for a year to help them learn the proper ways to survive in the lakes.

Summary of the 3 Best Aquariums in Michigan:

Name of AquariumLocationSize
Belle IsleDetroit32,000 gallons, 1,500 fish
John Ball Zoological GardenGrand Rapids40,000-gallon kelp forest tank; 1,200 animals
Michigan Sea Life AquariumAuburn Hills (Detroit suburb)150,000 gallons, 2,000 animals

The photo featured at the top of this post is © V_E/

Share on:
About the Author

Jude is a writer both by trade and by heart. They have been writing since a very young age and have eight years of professional writing experience. Passionate about animals, Jude has three birds and three cats.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.