Not many people, even some Washingtonians, know there’s a small aquarium in the basement of the Commerce Department. Even though the National Aquarium in Washington is small, it’s home to lots of interesting and rare sea life. There are more than 1,500 specimens and 250 species.
WHAT YOU SEE: The aquarium is quite dark but it makes it much easier to see what’s in the tanks, which are laid out in large circle. You would think that the darkness would restrict camera use, but picture-taking is allowed. However, some of the creatures like dark conditions and those tanks are marked with “No flash photography allowed” signs.
Some of the aquarium residents include an albino alligator, a spotted moray eel, a ball python, leopard sharks, lionfish, a giant Pacific octopus, red & black anemone, palette surgeonfish, spotted ratfish, red-eared slider turtles, and poison frogs.
The Albino American Alligator, named Oleander, will only be at the aquarium until February 2012 as part of the Secrets of the Swamp exhibit. There’s only about 100 of them in the world and they can’t survive in the wild because of their inability to hide from predators and the damage the sun does to their skin and eyes.
Aquarium staff have public feedings of some of the animals and give a short talk and answer questions as well. Shark feedings are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays at 2 PM. The piranhas are fed on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays at 2 PM, and the alligators get fed on Fridays at 2 PM. Try to make your way to the animal’s tank 10 minutes before to get a good view.
GOOD FOR KIDS: This is one of the better DC attractions for kids. The tanks are positioned relatively low and the sea creatures are pretty active. Some of the younger kids will really enjoy seeing the “Nemo” fish and some of his movie star friends. The aquarium even has Tots & Tales event the first and third Friday of every month at 10 AM. The one-hour toddler-focused event features story time, science experiments, crafts, and an aquarium tour. The event is free with aquarium admission.
GIFT SHOP: There’s a small gift shop near the entrance of the aquarium that has all kinds of interesting items for sale from t-shirts and keychains to matted prints and glass sculptures.
WHERE: 1401 Constitution Ave., NW. The aquarium is near the heart of many Washington attractions such as the Washington Monument and the White House. It’s easy to miss the entrance of the aquarium since it looks like you’re walking into a side door of the Commerce Department. Just look for the aquarium sign.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas 9 AM to 5 PM with the last admission at 4:30 PM.
COST: General admission tickets for people ages 11-59 are $9.95; $8.95 for people age 60 and above and military personnel; $4.95 for children ages 3-11; and free for children under age 3. Buy tickets online.
PARKING: Parking around the National Aquarium is tough since it’s in a busy section of Washington. The best paid parking is probably the Ronald Reagan building across the street. Be prepared to present a photo ID and to have a quick search of your car.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The closest Metro stop is Federal Triangle on the orange and blue lines.
TELEPHONE/WEBSITE: 202-482-2825; http://www.nationalaquarium.org/
WHATS’S CLOSE BY: White House Visitor Center, Washington Monument, the White House, Ronald Reagan Building (food court), National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History.