Big things are happening over at the New York Aquarium. After more than a decade of planning and building (and a major setback in 2012 when the aquarium was devastated by Hurricane Sandy), the long-awaited Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is now open! The immersive and awe-inspiring exhibit brings visitors up close and personal (or “nose-to-nose”) with a stunning array of shark species, as well as scores of other underwater creatures. Plus, it’s got a major conservation message, too. We dropped by on opening day — here’s how to do the New York Aquarium with kids!

A view of Ocean Wonders: Sharks! building on the boardwalk side. photo: WCS

What’s New
The big news at the New York Aquarium is the incredible Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit. A three-story, 57,500-square-foot building featuring nine galleries, the exhibit underscores the importance of sharks to the health of the world’s oceans, and educates visitors about threats to sharks and other marine wildlife, while also offering ways in which humans can make choices to protect and preserve the environment.

Expect massive displays populated with diverse sea life, as well as well-executed video, interactive media and mechanicals that help visitors understand the role of sharks in the ecosystem, as well as how they breathe, reproduce, feed, move, and more.

The Coral Reef Tunnel, photo: WCS

Sharks, Rays, and Schools
Ocean Wonders: Sharks! provides lots of opportunities to check out sharks and other sea creatures up close. (The exhibit contains an estimated 115+ species, including 12 species of shark, and six species of skates and rays in 784,000 gallons of water.)

The entrance to the exhibit is a beautiful Coral Reef Tunnel, in which sharks and schooling fish swim all around and above visitors.

The Discover New York Waters section highlights the marine ecosystems found off the coast of New York, and features a 62,000-gallon showcase of several New York shark species and numerous rays (the later of which, with their graceful, flight-like movement, are the unsung stars of this exhibit). Visitors also learn about the NY Seascape initiative that focuses on shark conservation in New York waters.

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

On the Edge
Canyon’s Edge is another “show-stopper”: a tank that simulates the edge of the Hudson Canyon, a marine canyon similar in size and depth to the Grand Canyon that begins at the mouth of the Hudson River. (Who knew?) Large sand tiger sharks emerge from the “limitless” depths, swim close to viewers, and then recede, while rays and fish swim by. It’s a large area with lots of seating to take the impressive sight in.

Other sections include New York Seascape, an area that shows how the Wildlife Conservation Society is using tagging and tracking to save sharks and Shipwreck!,  an immersive example of the more than 60 wrecks in New York Waters that serve as places where marine life cluster.

Conservation Choices
The New York Aquarium and the WCS are serious about conservation, and the theme is not an after-thought in this razzle dazzle exhibit. In addition to being woven into the overall messaging, Ocean Wonders: Sharks! concludes with an interactive gallery dedicated to mankind’s effect on the health of the ocean and its inhabitants, and how one can make choices to improve it. (Visitors enter the area under a net filled with discarded plastic, and the section on gyres, AKA, those masses of plastic swirling in the ocean, are enough to keep you from buying bottled water ever again.) There’s also a faux diner where you can saddle up, order, and learn if your seafood is sustainable or not. (We  were distressed to learn about our salmon purchases.)

Touch Pool
To get even closer to at least some kind of sharks, check out the Touch Pool, located on the rooftop level of the Ocean Wonders: Sharks! building. Here, kids can interface with bamboo and epaulette sharks and learn more about the sea creatures. Take note: the Touch Pool is open from 10:15 a.m. – 4 p.m. and closes in inclement weather.

Beyond the Sharks
Ocean Wonders: Sharks! is a special experience, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit the New York Aquarium. The “Sea Cliffs” area of the aquarium is a collection of outdoor, separate rocky, watery habitats where sea lions, penguins, otters, and pelicans reside. Visitors can view feedings at various times throughout the day, which are accompanied by interesting but not dry info about the animals and their habits, delivered by aquarium staff.

Don’t Miss the Show
Try to hit up the entertaining 15 to 20 minute show in the Aquatheater, which features resident sea lions performing with their trainers, as well as some information on the mammal’s habits and conservation. (While there are some orchestrated moments—see sea lion hug above—it’s short and sweet and doesn’t seem exploitive. Plus the animals get lots of treats.) Plus, it’s a chance to sit down and the are misting fans keeping crowds cool.

To Take it Up a Notch
If you’re looking for a more experiential way to interface with the sharks, check out the film at the 4-D theater, dedicated to the ocean predators. (It’s 4-D thanks to 3D glasses, moving seats, effect like wind, mist, and more.) Take note: the theater is located outside the aquarium; if you leave and want to come back in to the main aquarium, be sure to get your hand stamped for re-entry.

photo: Doris M. via yelp 

What to Eat
Of course, there are standard overpriced options of snacks, drinks, Dippin’ Dots, etc., available at both stands around the aquarium, and the on-site cafeteria.

But the savvy move is at the new Shark building, which not only has a casual rooftop cafe/bar with great ocean views (Oceanview Bites), but also a restaurant, the Oceanview Grill, accessed via the boardwalk, where sustainable seafood options like fish tacos and fish and chips are served. (The building is also a no single-use plastic zone, in keeping with the conservation mission of the aquarium.)

photo: Mimi O’Connor


Hot Tip: Buy your tickets ahead of time online to avoid potentially soul-crushing long lines. If you do, you will be able to skip the lines and walk right in.

The Basic Info

Tickets are $24.95/adults (ages 13 and up); $19.95/ages 3-12, and $21.95 for ages 65 and over. (Kids 2 and under are free.) Note: these are “Value Admission” tickets, which can be used on select days; “Any Day Admission” tickets are $5 more.
Hours: Mon. – Thurs., 10 a.m. – 6p.m.; Fri. – Sun., 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. (last entry 1 hour before closing) 718-265-3474
Surf Ave. & W. 8th St.
Coney Island

—Mimi O’Connor


Best NYC Beaches You Can Get to By Subway — and They’re Free!

Let Us Spray: NYC Parks with Water to Keep Cool

Everybody In! NYC’s Best Free Outdoor Pools