NOW’S THE TIME TO VISIT MOODY GARDENS AQUARIUM

October 15, 2022

by Steve Alexander

With outdoor temperatures cooler and daylight hours shorter, fall has arrived. But don’t abandon Galveston this time of year.

Some of the island’s most popular indoor attractions are perfect for an autumn visit. A favorite is the aquarium at Moody Gardens. Here’s a taste of what you’ll see.

Chinstrap penguin eyes visitor

One of the first exhibits upon entering the aquarium is the penguin exhibit. It houses four species: King, Chinstrap, Gentoo and Macaroni. Most hang out on the shore, waiting for their next meal of fresh fish. Others are busy amusing visitors with their water acrobatics or pausing at the glass window to peer out at an admiring visitor (see photo).

Moon jellyfish

One room is devoted entirely to jellyfish, including Pacific sea nettle, moon jellyfish and comb jellyfish. These ocean inhabitants sink if they don’t swim, so they swim — incessantly. Although sea nettles are the largest and most colorful, it’s the many moon jellyfish that amaze with their white, disk-like bodies pulsing against a sea of black (see photo).

Sea lion at rest

The exhibit housing seals and sea lions is worth a stop. These animals are mammals like us, but belong to a marine group called pinnipeds. To tell them apart, look for ear flaps. Sea lions have visible ear flaps (see photo), while seals don’t. Both are accomplished swimmers, using their front flippers — large in sea lions, small in seals — to travel through the water like torpedoes. Take a few minutes to marvel at their speed and agility.

Mangrove Touch Tank

The Mangrove Touch Tank is a stop where kids can touch cownose rays as they swim by. Rays aren’t always cooperative in getting close enough to touch, but since they circle the exhibit continuously, kids get a number of chances (see photo). Touching the animals is an approved activity here, one closely monitored by aquarists who ensure the safety of both animals and visitors.

The last exhibit before exiting is perhaps the best. Here, you enter a glass tunnel that travels through a large overhead aquarium. Swimming above you are a multitude of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest denizens: nurse shark, crevalle, tarpon, snook, spadefish, permit and lookdown. If you sit and watch, it feels like you’re part of an undersea adventure. So, sit, relax and catch some of the action overhead before heading out.

After exiting, good luck passing the gift shop without the kids noticing the many marine-themed items for sale inside.

Steve Alexander teaches wetlands management at Texas A&M University at Galveston and is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council. He is the author of Exploring Galveston: A Naturalist's Guide to the Island.