The 3 Best Aquariums in North Carolina

Written by Jude Speegle
Published: April 16, 2022
Image Credit NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock.com
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North Carolina has a rich history of sports and is the birthplace of Pepsi, but something not to overlook is the plethora of aquariums and natural wonders throughout the state.

North Carolina has a wonderful mixture of both river systems and coastal systems. This diverse array of waterways means that there is a lot to learn about the area. Here are three of the best aquariums you need to visit:

  • North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
  • North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
  • North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

Megalodon Jaws
The interactive Megalodon exhibit is a main attraction of the Fort Fisher Aquarium.
North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher
Address 900 Loggerhead Rd, Kure Beach, NC 28449
Animal to SeeSharks
Known ForMegalodon Exhibit

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher was named one of the best aquariums in the United States recently, and it’s easy to see why. The adventures they have to join in are magnificent. From sea otters to sharks, to touching stingrays, to their Megalodon exhibit, they keep their visitors entertained and busy.

Their central atrium is full of living trees to discuss, along with real-life water habitats like ponds and swamps. It’s a fully immersive and gratifying experience. Here are a few of the exhibits to explore.

This exhibit features jellyfish to view and other fun adventures. 

Cape Fear Conservatory

A gigantic saltwater tank that holds 235,000 gallons is the centerpiece of this section. It has a replica of reefs and is visible from two levels so one can experience all the angles of the reef.

Visible within this tank is a wide array of animals like moray eels, groupers, sharks, stingrays, fish, and more populating the living reef.

Tide Pool Touch Tank

Along the upper level of this aquarium is a lovely tide pool touch tank where you can feel the smooth skin of the stingray and touch starfish and sea urchins.

Megalodon Exhibit

The Megalodon is a classic legend come to life, and this exhibit talks all about the mighty whale consuming shark that used to swim in the depths of the sea. This is an interactive exhibit with holograms and touch screens to learn more.

Exotic Aquatics

This area contains animals that aren’t native to North Carolina, but other ocean regions further away. Some of these animals are lion fish, spiny lobsters, and the spotted scorpionfish which is actually native to North Carolina.

Bamboo Shark Touch Pool

Touch bamboo sharks and discover if sharks are really smooth or not. There is no danger to be had from bamboo sharks and it is a magnificent experience.

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

Green Sea Turtle swimming along tropical coral reef, Bonaire
The main attraction of the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium is their submarine shipwreck.

Isabelle Kuehn/Shutterstock.com

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores
Address 1 Roosevelt Blvd, Pine Knoll Shores, NC 28512
Animal to SeeLoggerhead Sea Turtles
Known ForSubmarine Tank

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls Shores has specific features of animals you can find in North Carolina’s rivers and coasts. Their Living Shipwreck exhibit is the centerpiece of the aquarium and holds all sorts of aquatic creatures familiar to the locale.

When visiting the aquarium, be sure to check out what programs they might have going on. They may include special events like live animal feedings, puppet shows, and more inclusive educational entertainment.

Living Shipwreck

This is an exhibit that incorporates a colossal shipwreck study, and has 306,000 gallons of seawater within its tank. The shipwreck in question is a giant replica of a sunken submarine and houses many different fish who are searching for a place to stay safe.

Green sea turtles, sand sharks, and more make their home among the replica submarine wreckage. 

Loggerhead Odyssey

Walk straight into an ocean-style setup to learn all about the life-cycle of a loggerhead sea turtle, even see rehabilitated turtles in their natural habitat. It’s possible to explore the threats the turtles face and even watch as hatchlings make their way safely to the “sea.”

This gallery is less live fish and more art. Be ready to explore artistic interpretations of sea life and all the fish they include. From colorful to majestic to terrifying, this art incorporates all the life you can find under the sea.

Some featured artists rotate out through the year, so keep visiting to see what magical displays are next.

Tree-mendous Nature Play Area

Families are welcome to explore the Nature play area, which features an outdoor playground to get some of that excitable energy out. 

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

freshwater jellyfish
Check out the Delicate Drifters exhibit at the Roanoke Island Aquarium.

Rostislav Stefanek/Shutterstock.com

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Address 374 Airport Rd, Manteo, NC 27954
Animal to SeeShark Tank
Known ForSea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation

The North Carolina ecosystem is the most significant focus here for the Aquarium on Roanoke Island. There is a 285,000 gallon tank full of fascinating fish and sea life to learn about.

An exciting aspect of this aquarium is that there is a sea turtle exhibit where you can get up close and personal with the stories of the loggerhead sea turtles. More information can be found below.

Delicate Drifters

Jellyfish spend their lives floating directionless through the sea, their stinging tentacles loose and beautiful, their entire bodies see-through. Learn more about them and see their spirals and learn how they survive in the ocean.

Graveyard of the Atlantic

This tank has sharks and other interesting fish to look at as you walk through it.

Ironclad Sanctuary

Learn all about submarines, how they work, and what they do beneath the ocean.

Soundside Pier

This exhibit takes place outside and in the surrounding area of the aquarium with more information on ocean animals.

Sea Senses

Get a personal viewing of stingrays in this exhibit and learn all about their experiences and habitat.

Sea Treasures

Travel through a sunken ship to find treasure and learn about all the animals which may reside there in the dark deep.

Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center

This area is all about learning how to assist sea turtles in the wild and rehabilitation of injured ones. Conservation for endangered or vulnerable animals is essential to know about.

Seven Rivers

The Albemarle Sound is a local estuary. An estuary is where rivers meet the ocean, and freshwater combines with saltwater. Seven rivers converge in this estuary, and this exhibit showcases animals and the environment therewithin.

Wild Wetlands

This area teaches about local wetland animals, including alligators and otters.

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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. The birds are named Scoresby, George Michael, and Ketchup Packet. The cats are named Theo, Oatmeal, and Polly.

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