Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Snorkeling is like a party. It was fun, but who were all those folks you bumped into? If you want to put names to the fish that cruised by your snorkel mask, spend some time at the Waikiki Aquarium.

Located on a live coral reef, the aquarium houses 460 species of marine life with a creature count of 3,050. Somewhere in that collection, you’ll locate the fish you’re looking for, but expect to be introduced to sharks in captivity, marine animals without fins and the only chambered nautilus born in captivity.

The spiral-shelled cephalopod mollusk, the last of a species that dates back 500 million years, is sometimes referred to as a living fossil. An ancient relative of the octopus, the nautilus lives in a shell with rainbow-colored chambers. Look for this treasure in the “Jet Set” exhibit.

Operated by the University of Hawaii, the aquarium is known for its innovative research and husbandry techniques. The third oldest public aquarium in the U.S., it was founded in 1904. More than 300,000 people visit the aquarium each year.

A visit to the Aquarium is the ultimate dry snorkeling experience. Check out the pulsating sea jellies, so clear you can see what they’ve been eating. Look a shark in the eye. You’ll find them in the “Hunters on the Reef” exhibit, a 35,000-gallon tank that houses Hawaiian sharks and jacks. Behold a critically endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, an animal that sometimes weighs in at 600 pounds and is nearing extinction.

The Edge of the Reef exhibit showcases five different types of reef environments found along Hawaii’s shorelines. The Reef Machine, a state of the art aquarium system, demonstrates how scientists attempt to simulate nature. There is an interactive coral exhibit and a giant clam display. Expect to spend some time at this small, but thoroughly entertaining, aquarium.

Years ago author Jack London described his experience at the aquarium as a “wonderful orgy of color and form.” It just keeps getting better.

The Aquarium is open every day, except Christmas and New Year’s Day, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It’s located about five minutes from Waikiki opposite Kapi’olani Park. For more information, visit the Waikiki Aquarium website.