Friday, August 23, 2013

Totally Texas -- Peek at underwater worlds in Fair Park

Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park

1462 First Avenue (MLK at Robert B. Cullum)



With so many new family-oriented activities in Dallas, I was startled to find myself neglecting established favorites like the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. The aquarium has the Art Deco exterior of the Fair Park exhibits built for the Texas Centennial celebration in 1936. But thanks to a major renovation in 2010, its interior beautifully reflects twenty-first century attitudes toward ecology, hands-on learning, and animal welfare.

One side is dedicated to displays of fresh water habitats, the other to salt water. Habitat designers manage to accommodate fun as well as science. On the fresh water side, the display of South American piranhas points out that these fish aren’t usually dangerous to humans, but scatters replicas of animal bones and skulls across the bottom of the tank. On the salt water displays, a tank with concave sides gives us bottom up views of octopi suckering their way across the sides.

The aquarium’s rescued hawksbill sea turtle provides an object lesson in the impact of human technology on other creatures. Found as a hatchling entangled in abandoned fish netting, the turtle was so badly injured portions of its right flippers had to be amputated, leaving it unable to survive in the wild. A resident of the aquarium since 2001, the turtle maneuvers its way around its tank, expertly locating tidbits during weekly feeding demonstrations.

The aquarium schedules public feedings at 2:30 p.m. daily at various habitats -- turtles, moray eels, alligators, sting rays, piranhas and most popularly, sharks.

Sharks get their weekly treats in the 58,000 gallon open-air aquarium called Stingray Bay. Most feedings are done by aquarium staff, but for a couple of dollars, visitors can buy a cup of scallops to feed the stingrays. And give them a pat as well. (The rays’ barbels have been clipped for the safety of visitors, who are asked to wash their hands before touching, for the safety of the fish.)

The rays understand perfectly that the presence of visitors signals a feeding and aren’t shy about mobbing the side of the tank looking for attention.

The aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children ages 3-11 and seniors aged 65 and older. Or save with annual passes or discounts for holders of Dallas Zoo memberships. Special rates and tours are available for school groups.

This is one place and time I recommend driving. Parking is free except during special events, such as next month’s state fair, and the lots at Gate 6 are convenient both to 
the aquarium and the nearby Butterfly House. I took DART’s Green Line train, but had to dodge construction equipment on my walk across Fair Park, as crews prepare for the State Fair opening September 27. For more information, including directions and complete schedule of feeding demonstrations, see

(How, while rating Dallas’ public fountains recently, did I forget the fountain at Fair Park, with its ground level splashing, textured footing, adjacent shaded seating? While hot weather lasts, dress the kids appropriately and let them cool off, before or after visiting the fish.)

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