Pine Knoll Shores, NC – The second North Carolina Aquarium I visited while in the Wilmington area was the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores north of Wilmington near Atlantic Beach, a sister aquarium to the one I visited at Fort Fisher. It even has a Spadefish sculpture near its entrance similar to the one that the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher has. Tickets for adults are $12.95 and at that price, they’re a bargain.
As you walk through the aquarium, you’re essentially exploring the waters of the State of North Carolina from west to east. After you enter, you walk past a mountain waterfall and into the Mountain Gallery. The Mountain Gallery transitions into the Piedmont Gallery. As you walk from the Piedmont Gallery toward the Coastal Plain Gallery, there is a large otter exhibit – one of the aquarium’s highlights – that you could sit and watch for hours. From the Coastal Plain Gallery, you enter the Tidal Waters Gallery and from there you go into the Ocean Gallery, which contains another of the highlights of the aquarium – the living shipwreck.
The living shipwreck is a large tank that has a recreation of the World War II submarine U-352, which was sunk offshore of where the Aquarium is located on 9 May 1942 by the Coast Guard Cutter Icarus. The Aquarium does dive demonstrations in this tank and it’s fascinating to watch and listen to the divers describe their experiences.
Between the Piedmont Gallery and the Coastal Plain Gallery, you can go outside to the Marsh Boardwalk, Bogue Sound and Egret Point Overlooks, the Snake Exhibit, and a nature trail. There is also a Bald Eagle Exhibit along the boardwalk featuring both and adult and juvenile Bald Eagle. Both sustained injuries that prevent them from flying, so they now reside at the Aquarium. The boardwalk runs along a beautiful lagoon off of Bogue Sound and provides the opportunity to see a lot of wildlife. During my visit, I saw Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, a Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Cormorants, and a pair of Greater Yellowlegs.
If you’re vacationing in the Wilmington, Jacksonville, Morehead City, or Beaufort, NC areas, I can’t recommend visiting the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores enough. It’s well organized and beautifully maintained with a wide variety of wildlife. The ticket prices are a bargain and anyone of any age will enjoy visiting.