Key West Aquarium, Key West Florida
Perhaps one of the most unique aquariums in the world, the Key West Aquarium has delighted visitors since 1934. You can see the beautiful indigenous sea-creatures of Key West and the Florida Keys.
The Key West Aquarium was a dream of Dr. Van Deusen, a director of the Fairmount Park Aquarium in Philadelphia. It began construction during the Great Depression in 1933 as part of the Works Progress Administration Program. This provided many jobs to local Key Westers or “Conchs” as they are called today during this hard financial time where jobs were limited and people were in need of income to support their families. The concrete that was used to form the aquarium structure and holding tanks was mixed with sea water from the ocean since fresh water was hard to come by in those days.
The First of its Kind: The History and Purpose of the Aquarium
The Aquarium took two years to complete and opened to the public on February 18, 1935. At that time admission was 15 cents for adults and 5 cents for children. The Key West Aquarium was the first aquarium to use an “open air concept”. This allowed for natural sunlight to illuminate the concrete marine displays. Dr. Van Deusen outlined the future of the Aquarium in his speech on it’s opening day. He stated that it was a valuable institution to biologists and students from all around the world in the hope that it would draw thousands of people annually to Key West.
One of the purposes for the Key West Aquarium was to be a clearing market for other aquariums around the country. Only seven months after opening, Labor Day of 1935, a hurricane struck the middle keys and destroyed the Overseas Railroad and any hope for the aquarium’s success along with it. At the time the Overseas Extension to the Florida East Coast Railroad was the only way to reach Key West besides by boat.
On May 8, 1943 the U. S. Government leased the Aquarium to the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to use as an indoor rifle range. All the displays were torn down or filled in to make a level surface area for military firearms. In June of 1946, the Aquarium was returned to the city of Key West and restored to it’s former glory. Some believe it was more popular than when it opened in 1935.
In the 1960s the roof was added to the once opened air aquarium to cut down on algae in the exhibits. More modern methods of illuminating the tanks were slowly being developed and with it came the end of the open air aquarium.
Today the Key West Aquarium is home to sharks, turtles, stingrays, tropical and other various fish found in the beautiful waters of Key West. It is actively involved in conservation of the delicate eco-system of the Florida Keys.
Daily shark and turtle feedings and the Touch Tank offer guests hands on experience with the sea life of the surrounding waters. The Aquarium features a wide variety of fish including grouper, moray eels, barracuda, tropical fish, tarpon, parrotfish and much, much more.
All of the animals in the Touch Tank are harmless and guests are encouraged to pick up and meet the animals. During the daily tours, the Key West Aquarium’s collection of sharks, rays and turtles are fed, as guides explain the habits and habitats of these mysterious creatures. Daring guests can even pet a live shark!
Tours offered every half hours throughout the day. (See below for tour types) Shark feedings occur daily at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:30pm. Visit our Web Cams and experience the magic of the Key West Aquarium from you own computer!
The Key West Aquarium is committed to helping protect the endangered sea turtles. The Aquarium is associated with the Turtle Hospital and Florida Sea Turtle Stranding Network comprised of state agencies, universities and marine parks, all working in the nursing and rehabilitation of injured sea turtles. The Aquarium is currently home to several turtles on the mend and some, that due to their injuries, will be permanently housed at the Key West Aquarium.
Touch Tank/Aquarium History- Tour Guides will discuss the aquarium history (first opened air aquarium in the United States), the importance of the frescos. Touch tank discussion and hands on knowledge of the creatures in our waters.
Atlantic Shores Interactive Feed- Tour Guides will cover the importance of the mangrove eco system, allow guest the opportunity to feed some of our large game and tropical fish while discussing the variety of fish in the exhibit.
Shark Interactive Feeding- Guests will have the opportunity to get up and close to one of man’s most feared apex predator- the shark. Guides will explain the importance of sharks to our waters while allowing guests to feed and touch a live shark!
Sea Turtle Conservation Tour- Tour Guides will discuss the Aquarium’s role in the conservation efforts of these species.
Stingray interactive Feedings- Tour Guides will allow guests to interact with our stingrays by feeding and petting these animals. Guides will discuss the misconception about these animals being dangerous.
The Atlantic Shores Exhibit is a cross section of a near shore mangrove environment. The 50,000 gallon tank holds a variety of tropical fish and game fish.