The Waikiki Aquarium is and isn’t a tourist attraction. Certainly, it offers the requisite marine life exhibits that appeal to ocean lovers of all ages; roughly 350,000 people visit here each year. But over the years, the Aquarium has also carved a niche as a vital marine research and education center.
Debuting in March 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium is the third oldest public aquarium in the United States. It was originally operated as a commercial attraction by the Honolulu Rapid Transit Authority, which saw the facility as a way to entice passengers to ride to the end of the new trolley line in Waikiki. Writer Jack London was among the Aquarium’s early patrons.
The Aquarium became Hawaii’s first marine field station in 1912 and a part of the University of Hawaii in 1919. Its exhibits, programs and research focus on the aquatic life of Hawaii and the tropical Pacific.
The Aquarium houses more than 2,500 animals representing more than 420 species. Here, you can get up-close looks at reef sharks, Hawaiian monk seals, reef fish, rays, jellyfish and many other ocean inhabitants. One of the more unique exhibits is the Mahi Hatchery, which displays young mahimahi. While this curious-looking fish is a fisherman’s delight, it’s also a favorite item served on Island menus. With further research, Aquarium experts say, it’s possible that we’ll someday see facilities that spawn mahimahi for food purposes.
After taking in the exhibits, visitors can do some browsing at the Aquarium’s gift shop, which carries an extensive line of marine-related gifts, T-shirts and books. In addition, the shop is selling limited-edition commemorative coins in .999 fine silver, in celebration of the Aquarium’s centennial anniversary.
The Aquarium also has a number of educational programs that are open to the public. Its “Aquarium After Dark” program, offered about once a month, allows guests to tour the different exhibits at night (using flashlights). “Exploring the Reef by Day,” meanwhile, spotlights Hawaii’s shoreline, reef flat and tidepool habitats. Naturalists from the Aquarium’s Education Department lead informative sessions at select Oahu sites.
The Aquarium is located at 2777 Kalakaua Avenue on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki Beach. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.