When it comes to “all things Galveston,” I’d like to think that I’m in the know. After all, I grew up on this cool, laid back island and have soaked up most of the sights, sounds and attractions over the years.
So when I got the chance to visit Moody Gardens’ newly renovated Aquarium Pyramid, I jumped at the opportunity to see all the cool sea life from around the world. I expected to have fun, and ended up having an unforgettable experience.
A whopping $37 million went into renovations to the Aquarium Pyramid, which reopened to the public over Memorial Day weekend.
“We’re really trying to show the diverse ecosystems of the world,” said Alexis Shelly, Moody Gardens’ public relations coordinator. “We’ve got wildlife from the North Pacific (Ocean), South Pacific, The Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. We want visitors to learn a little something and to also have fun.”
One of the first stops on my tour was the Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig exhibit, a two-story, 30,000-gallon tank with colorful corals and schools of fish that call it home. At the top of the aquarium is a 23-foot scale model oil production platform.
“It shows the different corals that would attach themselves to those platforms out in the Gulf, and the different schools of fish that would live around those structures,” Shelly said. “It shows the balance between nature and technology out in the Gulf of Mexico.”
One of my favorite stops was the North Pacific Gallery, where gregarious seals and sea lions swim and strut their stuff for admiring visitors, myself included. Two of the stars of the attraction are blind – Squirt, a sea lion blind from birth, and Porter, a harbor seal found abandoned in Maryland with an eye infection that spread to the other eye.
“They are very, very popular and the kids love them,” Shelly said. “They know their surroundings and are very comfortable with their keepers and the naturalists there. Both Squirt and Porter are perfectly fine and happy with swimming around at Moody Gardens. They’re active and energetic and pretty much do exactly what our other seals and sea lions do.”
Walk around to the side of the tank for a panoramic view of seals and sea lions diving down and swimming, seemingly without a care in the world.
But there’s plenty of competition when it comes to entertaining the crowds – the aquarium’s lively penguins. A second exhibit has opened with Humboldt penguins right next door to the South Atlantic penguin habitat with its king, gentoo, chinstrap, rockhopper and macaroni penguins.
“These new guys are Humboldt penguins that come from Chili and Peru,” Shelly said. “They’re warm-climate penguins and they live in the desert and on land where temperatures rise anywhere from 70 degrees up to the 90s. We tried to show a different side of penguins that people aren’t as familiar with.”
Another big crowd pleaser at the Aquarium Pyramid: new touch tanks that allow visitors to get up close and personal with stingrays and starfish. Brave visitors can reach in and touch cownose stingrays and bonnethead sharks as they swim lazily around the jungle of stilt roots.
A second touch tank features small fish, sea stars, hermit crabs, pencil urchins and other invertebrates allowing guests to cross the water/air border.
A short distance away, guests are completely immersed in the Caribbean exhibit with breathtaking views of sharks, stingrays and other tropical fish swimming overhead. Stand in the tunnel of the million-gallon exhibit to get a sense of diving in the Caribbean.
Also new to the exhibit is The Pride, a 19th century rum-runner shipwreck replica, loosely based on the vessel sailed by famed Galveston pirate Jean Lafitte. Divers spent a total of 68.5 hours underwater assembling the ship, which arrived in roughly 75 individual pieces.
“It’s pretty close to life-sized and is based on his original ship,” Shelly said. “We added it because we had some areas in the back of that exhibit where the fish would hide out and you couldn’t really see them very well. We wanted to bring the fish a little closer to the guests.”
For ticket information, visit online or call 800-582-4673.