By Elaine Kish
Since Lake Erie holds the title for the highest fish production and biological diversity of all the Great Lakes, it would only make sense that the Greater Cleveland Aquarium be located near its shore. Housed in the historic FirstEnergy Powerhouse, the late 19th century power station that once supplied electric to streetcars has been transformed into a state-of-the-art aquarium. Its 1,450 animals, daily dive shows and animal encounters, and a 230,000-gallon shark exhibit with an underwater walk-through experience are quickly making the nearly six-year-old attraction a favorite tourist destination.
“From handfeeding a cownose stingray to getting a ‘mini-manicure’ from a cleaner shrimp, there are interactive opportunities around every corner here,” says Greater Cleveland Aquarium GM and Splash Fund Director Tamera Brown.
The Aquarium houses about 250 species. They sometimes trade with other facilities to acquire new species, many of which were born in captivity. In each area stationed guest experience associates and working aquarists will gladly answer your questions about the different animals and help you locate a specific one.
The Aquarium’s first gallery, Ohio Lakes and Rivers, focuses on native species. As you walk through a wooded forest, you’ll see fish, amphibians and the spotted turtle, a threatened species that the Aquarium is helping to repopulate in the wild. You can also learn how lakes, streams, rivers and precipitation fill Ohio’s 45 watersheds and how their individual water quality is constantly monitored for biological, chemical, and physical characteristics.
Aquatic life from Australia, Asia, South America and Africa is featured in the Lakes and Rivers of the World gallery. The first thing you notice in this area is Toby, a giant pink gourami, native to Southeast Asian countries. African spurred tortoises rescued by Noah’s Lost Ark (NLA), a nearby animal sanctuary, are part of one of the Aquarium’s numerous interactive areas.
Originally purchased as pets, these tortoises were either donated to or rescued by NLA because they were abused, neglected and/or unwanted. Guests are encouraged to gently touch their shells—a friendly form of communication. When you visit, see if you can spot Leonardo. One of the largest resident tortoises, he weighs 97 pounds.
The Aquarium is also involved in educational outreach and conservation issues. Informing guests about the effects of pollution is part of its Discovery Zone. Some of the many man-made pollutants that ultimately reach our water sources are pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, detergents, oil, sewage, plastics, and solid objects.
These pollutants are consumed by small marine organisms and then introduced into the global food chain. Few people realize that in the ocean it takes 2 months for an apple core to decompose; 10-20 years for a plastic grocery bag to decompose; 450 years for a plastic bottle to decompose; and 600 years for fishing line to decompose. If we were all aware of these facts, we would certainly think twice before leaving anything in the water.
The moon jellyfish exhibit is located in one of the Powerhouse’s original smokestacks. You can learn about their life stages and watch as they “glow” in the dark. It leads into an Indo-Pacific gallery that highlights fish from the Red Sea, Eastern Asia, Indonesia, Fiji and Hawaii.
On guard is the venomous lionfish with its red-and-white zebra-like stripes and long pectoral fins. The cold water exhibits in the Northern Pacific gallery feature green surf anemones, pink sea star and California sea cucumbers. Continue on and you’ll pass underneath a very smart invertebrate, the Giant Pacific Octopus.
One of the favorite areas for visitors is the Coastal gallery which features an 11,000-gallon touch pool. After learning the official “two-finger touch” method, you can interact with the stingrays and there are daily opportunities to feed them. This gallery also features a live coral exhibit that details the importance of coral and why it needs to be protected.
The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is able to grow coral from tiny pieces called fragments which they obtain from other facilities, without harming the natural coral reefs. Candy cane, striped mushroom, brain coral and numerous other hard and soft corals are part of this 500-gallon exhibit.
Head down a corridor and former coal chutes have been transformed into homes to numerous species of tropical fish. While colorful, they are no match for what’s around the corner—sharks. An extensive seatube lets visitors walk under water and provides extraordinary views of four species of sharks, green moray eels, stingrays, pufferfish, angelfish and other aquatic life.
The Goliath grouper in this display is still a juvenile, despite his massive size. Full-grown Goliath groupers can weigh up to 800 pounds. Look for him on the bottom as he is usually seen resting there with the nurse sharks.
“We invite you to see and appreciate aquatic life in new ways,” says Brown. Before you leave, another fun area for kids is the Exploration station. Designed to resemble a research vessel, it is home to an electric eel. Youngsters can see the captain’s quarters, become a researcher, watch educational videos and be part of hands-on activities. And the Coral Cove Gift Shop has everything from t-shirts to stuffed animals to remember your visit.
The Greater Cleveland Aquarium has tickets for day visits, but also offers annual passes and tour packages. They have partnered with Lolly the Trolley and the Nautica Queen to offer combination tours. For more information, hours and ticket prices, visit their website www.greaterclevelandaquarium.com. Before and after your visit, check out the Shark-Cam to watch the ocean creatures swim right in front of you on your digital screen.
Greater Cleveland Aquarium