North American Aquarium Diving
There may be times when you find yourself in a another city either due to work, visiting relatives, or just because you wanted to get away, explore, and play. If this happens to you, and you can’t bring all your dive gear, and yet you are looking for something a little more exciting than viewing goldfish in hotel lobby aquariums then we thought you might like the following list of relatively convenient yet definitely unusual dive sites.
Sure, this list is all about aquariums, but ones so big, diver friendly, and filled with sharks and other exotic creatures that you may have to rethink how you classify the seven seas. So, starting off our list of potential dive sites in a semi-random pattern from east to west this is what we have discovered so far.
Long Island Aquarium. This must be one of the easiest dives in the world. They provide everything for you including a mask with underwater communication abilities and you don’t even have to be a certified diver. A trained shark dive instructor goes with you inside a shark cage, which is lowered, into the 120,000 gallon Lost City of Atlantis shark exhibit. Besides a 12ft long trident, pillars, and remnants of the lost city, you just might see sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, moray eels, grouper and a 300lb turtle named “Jaws”. This adventure also includes a souvenir beach towel and an emailed photograph of you diving. www.longislandaquarium.com
Baltimore’s National Aquarium. Be a guest diver in the 335,000-gallon Atlantic Coral Reef Tank. This is an authentic fabricated oval reef with some 500 plus fish, rays, and sharks. The 13ft deep dive is operated by Atlantic Edge scuba school and dive shop in Gathersburg. You must be certified and bring you own wetsuit, mask, snorkel, and fins. After the dive don’t miss the new 225,000-gallon Blacktip Reef exhibit with 793 different fish and sharks.www.aqua.org
North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island. The “Dive with the Sharks” program allows you to dive with sand tigers, sandbar, nurse sharks, and a replica of the USS Monitor ship in a 285,000-gallon “Graveyard of the Atlantic” exhibit. You can have photos and a video made of you experience. They have two dive sessions each weekday and one session on Saturday and Sunday. All gear is supplied and you must be a certified diver.www.ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island
The Georgia Aquarium. Here you can dive with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, in the largest indoor habitat that we know of. The Ocean Voyager exhibit built by Home Depot is 284ft x 126ft and 20-30ft deep and holds about 6.3 million gallons of seawater. It’s a chance to dive with up to 4 whale sharks, rays almost 9 feet wide, and 1,000 other fish. They supply all the gear, but you can bring your own mask if you want and you have to show your dive certification card. www.georgiaaquarium.org
The Epcot Dive Quest at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Caribbean Coral Reef is 5.7 millions gallons of saltwater fun and includes over 6,000 sea creatures, which is more sea life than you might see on a natural reef. For swimming with sharks and rays you need to have a C-card, but not the for the Dolphins in Depth program. Diving here is one of those “book early, book everything, and book often, adventure sites”, but would you expect anything less from a Mickey Mouse operation? https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/epcot/epcot-divequest/
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida. The Dive with the Sharks program operates in a 93,000-gallon tank called “Sharks Bay”. The dives are 3 times daily and you can basically kneel in the sand and watch the teeth glide by you. Were talking teeth attached to sand tigers, zebra sharks, nurse sharks, and black tip sharks. A paired Florida Aquarium divemaster makes sure you have a fun and safe dive. Bring a mask, towel, swimsuit, and C-card. www.flaquarium.org
SEA Life Minnesota Aquarium at Mall of America. SEA Life has two really cool exhibit dives. Atlantis is their Saltwater dive and you will swim in a tank of sand tigers, nurse sharks, huge bowmouth guitarfish, large sawfish, wobbegongs, white tips, zebra sharks, and more. You glide right over the tunnel of people peering inside the exhibit and it’s fun to pick shark teeth up right out of the sandy substrate and show the families walking through the tunnel what you found. The second dive in Sturgeon Lake is an unexpectedly fun dive, especially if they are feeding the turtle and fish. You’ll never experience outdoor lake diving with this degree of clarity nor this docile concentration of alligator gar, walleye, sturgeon, and bass. Bring all your dive gear including C-card, gloves, and a hood. SEA Life supplies tanks and weights. After the dives you get a souvenir T-shirt and you can keep all the shark teeth you find.
Great Lakes Aquarium, Duluth, Minnesota. The “Dive-N-Feed Experience”, may not be found on the website, but it’s still occasionally offered on special request with plenty of advance notice. Here is a chance to feed freshwater fish and dive in a two story, three chambered, Isle Royale exhibit with Steelhead, kamloops, brown, coaster brook, and lake trout. Also, Siscowet lake trout, burbot, Atlantic salmon, coho salmon, sturgeon, walleye, longnose suckers, and American eels. They have over 100 Great Lake species in all. Bring your C-card and dive gear to keep you warm in the 52ºF 45,000-gallon main tank. Caution, diving here may lead to you becoming an active volunteer diver too. http://glaquarium.org/
Downtown Aquarium, Denver, Colorado. There are several ways to dive this aquarium, but all are done in conjunction with A-1 Scuba and Travel. For certified divers you can dive with the fish in the “Under the Sea” exhibit, and Dive with the Sharks in the “Depths of the Pacific” exhibit. If your not scuba certified, dive students training with A-1 Scuba and Travel may complete open water dives 1 & 2 at the aquarium, so call A-1 for more information on any of their aquarium dive programs. www.divedowntown.com
Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada. Their “Dive with the Sharks” program is available for guests staying at Mandalay Bay. Now just about any marine biologist or batfish going blind from nematode infection will tell you that Shark Reef has had several unfortunate die offs in the last unlucky seven years from eels, sea turtles, schooling fish, and sharks. Fortunately, after the main circular lobby tank sprang leaks, the fish and sharks from this exhibit were transferred to the tank where the cow rays recently died off, so it all looks good to passing tourists, but concern about alleged reports about a shark left on the loading dock over a weekend and becoming injured, to not being able to dive 48 hours in the salt water after being chemically treated for parasites, and sharks with visible signs of parasitic infection, or showing signs of abnormal behavior still seem to plague Shark Reef, but hopefully a team of marine biologists can turn all this around soon, as Mandalay Bay Resort is one of the best beach resorts in Las Vegas. www.mandalaybay.com
Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, California. Daily dives into the 350,000-gallon Tropical Reef Habitat ;swim with over 1000 fish, use an underwater camera, and get a souvenir towel and memory card all combine to make this a fun dive. All equipment is provided, but you can bring your own mask and booties. Must be certified and see age restrictions. www.aquariumofpacific.org
Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon. People come here annually to this 23-acre Pacific marine wildlife attraction. Passages of the Deep is considered the best shore dive on the Oregon coast. This was the former home of Keiko the Orca whale and the site was transformed into three ecosystems so you can dive 26ft deep at Halibut flats with skates, sturgeon, and rockfish, or sit on a 13ft ledge or dive with the big sharks like the 10ft long Broadnose Sevengill shark at the Open Sea Exhibit. Eugene Skin Divers Supply operates the underwater dives. Must be open water certified. http://aquarium.org/
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma, Washington. Their “Eye to Eye with Sharks” program just started last year, but it’s a big hit with those that have experienced it. They actually have two dives in this 240,000-gallon tank, one is a cage dive for non-certified divers, and a scuba dive for those that are certified divers. The sandbar tiger sharks, nurse sharks, and even the wobbegongs here are some of the biggest you may ever see close up and personal. Dives are available Fridays through Mondays up to four times daily. All gear is supplied for these dives, and you will wear drysuits, so you can wear street clothes on underneath and keep them dry without need of a towel except for hair, but they’ve got that covered with a souvenir towel! No personal cameras are allowed. www.pdza.org/dive
Maui Ocean Center, The Hawaiian Aquarium. The Open Ocean exhibit has 750,000-gallons of salt water, 20 sharks, stingrays, and thousands of fish. Open to divers three days a week except holidays. They supply weight belts and tanks; you bring everything else. Why dive an aquarium in paradise? Guaranteed sightings of sharks! A constant rotation of sea creatures with those in the nearby natural native waters makes every visit here unique. Reservations required and you get to keep the shark teeth that you find in the sandy substrate. www.mauioceancenter.com
Now it’s quite possible that this list is ever changing and hopefully forever expanding. Keep in mind that available days of diving and the frequency of dives may change for any location. Most locations give you a tour of their backstage areas and a glimpse of other animals not normally seen by the general public. This includes breeding pools of fish, and species specifically raised to trade with other zoos and aquariums. A briefing on the dives and in depth information on fish, sharks, and local ecosystems may also be provided. The total tour time could take 3 to 4 hours. Sharing these dives with family members will create life long memories whether they go on the dives with you or look in from the other side of the clear acrylic wall. We hope you get a chance to take part in some or all of these unique diving opportunities.