This is a fantastic, educational and fun place for animal-lovers of any age.
Note: All pictures in this post were taken by Jessica Rae, and cannot be used anywhere without permission. Thanks!
Those who follow my Twitter know that I’m down in Florida, near Sarasota and Tampa Bay. And you know what they have down here? An abundance of wildlife! And aquariums! And it’s just fantastic for an animal-lover like me. I had the chance to get over to Sarasota this weekend to visit The Mote Aquarium. It’s got two main buildings, offers some different boat tours, has an interactive cinema, a cafe, and tons of exhibits.
This place is great for adults that love animals, as well as children. I saw a mix of both during my trip. And yes, they do allow strollers in most areas as far as I could tell. (Just not flash photography!)
Mote Marine Laboratory has been a leader in marine research since it was founded in 1955. Today, we incorporate public outreach as a key part of our mission. Mote is an independent nonprofit organization and has seven centers for marine research, the public Mote Aquarium and an Education Division specializing in public programs for all ages.
The official name is “The Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory.” The main admissions entrance has a fountain with what I think was a stone whale jumping out of it. You get your tickets, can book your boat tour right there, and go straight inside. (The gift shop is in your eye line already, but you can do that later. There’s also clean, nice restrooms right near this main area.) As you go into the first two main rooms, you’ll see tanks full of fish, squids, and even eels. The size and shapes of the tanks differ, which really looked cool. This section covers the From Rivers to Seas & Convict Fish, and the Grass Flats, Reef Fish & Jellies. My favorite part is seeing the coral reefs.
As you progress, you get to an outdoor area. The area has a roof, but has no air conditioning. Since this is Florida in June, it was crazy hot. My main critique for this experience is that it’d be better to do during one of the cooler months as you do plenty of outdoor walking for this trip. Anyway! There’s stuff on squids in the Florida’s Costal Waters, the Shark Zone (a huge tank!) that you can view from below or above, the Contact Cove (where you can touch the items like sea urchins and starfish)…and let’s take a breath! Okay, as you move along you’ll hear children remark the cutest things. There were two HUGE sharks in the biggest pool, and I heard a little girl inform her parents that, “Those are SLEEPING Sharks!” Precious! I wanted to linger more, but remember, it was hot!
Here are the sleeping sharks in action…sleeping! Or resting?
So we moved along in the outdoor area and saw the Ray Touch Pool, which has a couple different string rays that are safe to touch. It’s in a cute pavilion with a grass tiki-style hut roof. There’s also a guide there at all times, to instruct you and keep everyone safe. (Chidren must keep their feet on the floor as they lean!) I was a little shy at first, and the guide told me to just go for it and not hesitate. So I did get to touch some. And they felt like…well, portabella mushrooms! Ha.
That’s the Sting Ray Touch area! Reach in, the guide will make sure you’re safe!
There’s a hand washing station around here, although it was before the sting ray part so you’d have to then go back to it. From there, you rush to the blissful air-conditioned café. It’s the “Deep Sea Diner.” It’s got a retro, 50’s feel. The bathrooms here are small, as is the café. But if you get a booth then you’re going to be happy – unless you prefer the stools at the counter. The food they offered had all of the usual standards – fries, hamburgers, etc. I opted for just a delicious mango Smoothie and my group cooled down.
Next, we wandered past the Seahorse Conservation Lab where they had TINY seahorses (which they breed and give to other aquariums, so no more have to be taken out of the wild – isn’t that nice?!) They also have the Sea Science at Work section here, and we saw some different stages of sting rays – from the “Mermaid’s Purse” pouches to being freshly hatched ad tiny. It was really cool. There’s also a dolphin skeleton up on the wall. This leads you to the last main area of this big building, the gift shop! There’s plenty of items there, from stuffed animals to books. You can also buy water or Gatorade there. There was really pretty variety of starfish casts in silver that I almost bought to display in my bathroom.
We did not go to the Immersion Cinema, but I really wish I had checked that out. Giant screen = fun times.
Before you leave, look at the far wall in the main admissions area right outside of the gift shop. There is a FANTASTIC sealife quilt. (A tiny bit is shown below!)
From here, you are on your way to the next building. To get you there, they have drawn super cute manatee’s and sea turtles on the sidewalks that you follow.
You have no idea how happy these cute little drawings on the sidewalk made me!
On your way, there’s the Save Our Seabirds wildlife exhibits. You pay $5 to get in, and there are hundreds of birds. It was super hot, but I did enjoy it – especially seeing how gorgeous these grounds are, and how there were a few birds that were loose or from the wild that were visiting their friends! There were also two peacocks that were noteable. This would be a great place for taking photos, trust me.
Anyway! So then we landed at the Ann & Alfred Goldstein Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center. I was really exited because I knew what was in there…
- Sea Turtles
It was enclosed, but all outdoor spaces. So, yes, I was super hot. The Sea Turtles there are HUGE and so fun to watch endlessly. There’s a tunnel kids can crawl through to feel like one.
I could have sat and watched Moon Dancer forever! I am definitely nerdy enough to think that we formed an unspoken connection, he was totally communicating with me, guys. ;p My BFF is a dolphin, so what?
Next up are entire wall-tanks with Manatee’s! There was also a sea turtle in there. (And for photo opps, a super cute manatee measuring chart for anyone to stand next to.) A guide came up to us and gave us all sorts of fantastic info about the manatee’s and the sea turtle who was in there. We watched them eat lettuce, which is fun. Although Manatee’s are so big, they are mostly muscle and not fat! I also learned that the mother’s raise their young for several months after they give birth, and are good mother’s. I find them to be super cute, and they look so SWEET to me. I really loved how informative the volunteer guide was, and I was especially glad that she came up to us because I probably wouldn’t have approached her on my own. It’s a nice, personal touch that The Mote Aquarium offers, letting passionate volunteers share their knowledge with visitors like that.
So, we walked upstairs, through the gift shop (same stuff as in the other one, but it’s nice to have a respite from the heat!) and landed at the Dolphin Lagoon. For me, this was the HIGHLIGHT of my trip to the Mote Aquarium. Like many of you, I LOVE dolphin’s! There’s a HUGE pool area for any dolphins, and there are a couple different places you can stand or sit to watch. Right now, they have just one dolphin they have rescued and it is so rare it’s only one of TWO in the WORLD that’s in captivity right now. The type of dolphin is “Pantropical Spotted dolphin.” His name is Moonshine. And she (sorry, HE) was very playful for us! Oh, I could watch this FOREVER. There were some people there with big, professional/FANCY cameras, but I did my best with my small digital one!
“Moonshine is a male pantropical (we’re learning new words, guys!) spotted dolphin that stranded in 2003 in the Florida Keys and found on the beach with a severe sunburn. After several months of treatment by the Marine Animal Rescue Society of Miami, he was brought to Mote for additional treatment. Although Moonshine’s sunburn eventually healed following treatment at Mote, a liver abnormality has kept him from being released.”
I would recommend you plan this as a day or half-day adventure. A boat cruise will add on about 2 hours or so… but just to get through all the exhibits and factor in a short lunch I’d say you’d want to have 3 full hours. What’s nice is that your tickets are good through the whole day, from 10am-5pm.
There were plenty of clean bathrooms, chances to get water, and everything is accessible for the handicapped. (Wheelchairs are free of charge.)
As a note, I HIGHLY recommend taking part in one of the boat tours to complete your experience. And nearby is amazing, high-quality shopping at St. Armands Circle. It’s a really great area, and everyone supports the Mote.
Question: Jessica, I feel badly when I visit Zoo’s with caged, unhappy animals. Will I enjoy the Mote?
Yes! You will feel good supporting the Mote, and visiting them because they aren’t a zoo who is just holding these animals. They are all about education and rehabilitating their animals. They study the sealife in the area, and especially helped bring back the Snook fish to Florida. Marine biologists from all over come here to intern or work.
The Mote Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital has treated and then released over 100 sea turtles after helping them get better from their illnesses. They’re all about rehab and conservation! And once released, Mote follow’s up to monitor the animals and see how they do.
The animals in their exhibits seem to be there only until they get better, or if they have a condition that would not allow them to return to the wild happily and safely.
Now, there are also those boat tours I mentioned, which will be a separate review!
Learn more Mote.org
Disclaimer: Tickets were provided in exchange for an honest review.