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Underwater World

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Underwater World

Underwater World

Ever see live fish at a mall? Sure, if you're visiting the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, home to Underwater World. The best part of this exhibit is that it doesn't limit itself to saltwater, as many public aquariums do. Two of its four exhibits are entirely freshwater habitats, and a third is partially freshwater. Over 5,000 species of fish, reptiles, and other aquatic life are housed within the 1.2 million gallons of water that makes up Underwater World. A 300 foot acrylic tunnel allows visitors to be surrounded by the watery exhibits as they progress through the exhibit on a moving walkway. The freshwater portions of the exhibit centers on Minnesota, and include specimens from nearly half of Minnesota’s 135 native fish species.

The tour starts with Minnesota Dawn, which centers on the aquatic life in and along the streams and ponds of northern Minnesota. The design of the exhibit includes low lights, lots of vegetation, a small rock waterfall, and fog drifting through the air, to give visitors the feel of strolling in the wilds of Minnesota. .

Included are ponds and stream habitats.
  • Lily Pond - Home to Black Crappie, Bluegill Sunfish, Painted Turtle, Red-Eared Slider Turtle, and the Mississippi Map Turtle.
  • Sunfish Pond - Home to Blue Gills, Red Breasted Sunfish, Long-ear Sunfish, Green Sunfish, and Pumpkinseeds.
  • Trout Stream – Home to Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Brook Trout (no fishing poles allowed - so don't get any ideas!).
  • Critter Log - Home to a Fox Snake, Toads, and Tiger Salamanders. .

At the end of the Minnesota Dawn, visitors step onto a slowly moving walkway that takes them into the 300 foot acrylic tunnel. From this point on they are literally surrounded by water. .

Minnesota Lake is the first of the tunnel exhibits. It focuses on freshwater lake inhabitants such as: Lake Sturgeon, Shovelnose Sturgeon, American Eel, Northern Pike, Carp, Black Crappie, and Freshwater Drum. The fish swim lazily up the glass and over the visitor’s heads, providing everyone a chance to look at them up close. .

As the exhibit moves farther down the Mississippi river, it transitions from freshwater to saltwater. In this portion of the exhibit you'll see Long-nose Gar, Short-nose Gar, Spotted Gar, Alligator Gar, Blue Sucker, White Bass, and Striped Bass. The guide provides plenty of detailed profiles about the fish in the exhibit, and I'd recommend stepped off the moving walkway to listen to them all. .

A large steamboat paddle wheel lends to the sense of moving towards the Gulf of Mexico. Comprised of 600,000 gallon of saltwater, this display contains one of the largest populations of sharks in the Midwest. Children find this part of the exhibit particularly exciting because the sharks swim right over your head. .

Some of the specimens you'll see are: Sand Tiger Sharks, Sand Bar (brown) Sharks, Southern Stingrays, Small Tooth Sawfish, Nurse Sharks, Black Tip Sharks, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle, Red Grouper, Permit, Horse-eye Jack, Lookdown, and Gray Triggerfish. The guide has detailed profiles for over a dozen fish, so don't get so caught up in the exhibit that you forget to listen to them. .

Following the Gulf of Mexico is the Caribbean Reef - an absolutely stunning display of a coral reef. You simply must step off the walkway and spend some time watching so you see the incredible variety of creatures here. If you are lucky you'll see Queen Angelfish, French Angelfish, Grey Angelfish, Blue Tangs, Pinfish, Grunts, Porkfish, Sergeant Major, Blue Chromis, Purple Reef Fish, Creole-fish, Hogfish, Squirrelfish, Porcupine fish, Whitespotted Filefish, Trippletail, and a large Green Moray Eel (very exciting to the youngsters). .

At the end of the Caribbean Reef is the live coral exhibit that includes: Brain Corals, Large & Small Polyped Stony Corals, Bubble Coral, Flower Pot Coral, Elegance Coral, Leather Corals, Soft Corals, Colonial and Star Polyps, Mushroom Anemones, Mushroom Polyps, Elephant Ear, Featherdusters, Scarlet-Striped Cleaner Shrimp, Bangaii Cardinalfish, Mandarin Goby, Orange-spotted Goby, and the Clown fish. Even though I'm a freshwater fan, I have to admit this part of the exhibit mesmerized me! .

The tour closes with a delightful touch pool that children and adults can both enjoy. There you can actually touch Sea Stars, Mollusks, Lobsters, Horseshoe Crabs, Urchins and other creatures. All the specimens in the touch exhibit are safe to handle without fear of being bitten. .

In the same room with the Touch Pool are several tanks containing interesting oddities that are definitely worth taking time to stop and view. This is a great exhibit that I'd recommend to freshwater and saltwater fans alike. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to fully enjoy it.
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