Just a 10-minute drive from Morehead City, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a showplace.
Inside, a brilliant window stretches 65 feet wide. Children press their faces against it. Adults stare at it, their mouths agape.
On the other side of the glass, 306,000 gallons of water fill the aquarium’s “Living Shipwreck” exhibit — its largest. Menacing sand tiger sharks glide and dart through the water. They swim among schools of colorful fish and nose around a replica of a sunken German U-boat.
The window frames a blur of constant movement. But it’s just one reason to visit this aquarium.
In 2006, an expansion added three times more space to the facility. Enough room for its many exhibits, a collection that depicts North Carolina’s aquatic life from mountain streams to ocean shipwrecks.
Among the four state-supported aquariums, Pine Knoll Shores is the only one with a statewide focus.
That’s why in the aquarium’s Mountain Gallery you can feel the spray of a waterfall and see mountain trout.
And why in the Piedmont Gallery, you can marvel at three river otters, named Neuse, Pungo, and Eno. These otters help tell the story of how humans have affected the environment of the state’s most populated region.
In the Coastal Plain Gallery, you can learn how turtles share swampy waters with beavers.
Of course no visit to this aquarium is complete without seeing the turtle: a rare white loggerhead named Nimbus in the Tidal Waters Gallery. Nearby, the kid-friendly touch pool offers hands-on encounters with saltwater creatures.
Whatever you do, be sure to find your way back to the giant, glass window in time for the daily live dives in the “Living Shipwreck” exhibit. At 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., divers swim with the sharks and interact with visitors through underwater microphones.
It’s a sight to see, no matter your age.
Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium
1 Roosevelt Boulevard
Pine Knoll Shores, N.C. 28512
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., daily.
Admission: Adults $8. Seniors $7. Children ages 3-12, $6. Children younger than 3, free.