Touch an alligator and lots more at the S.C. Aquarium

By:Kerry Egan

Date:9/2/2014

"Do you want to touch the alligator?" the museum guide asked my friend, 10-year-old Anna Grace, as we entered the South Carolina A​quarium in Charle​ston.

Anna Grace looked incredulously from the baby alligator held in the woman's hands to her father to the museum guide and back to the alligator again. She looked at her dad one more time, in what appeared to be disbelief.

"Go ahead," he said. "You really can touch it."

And with that she brushed her fingers across the the brown reptiles's back, while his yellow beady eyes stared and his teeth, clamped shut, seemed to grin. Her eyes widened.

By the time we wandered our way upstairs and to the Touch Tanks full of sea stars, sting rays and sea urchins, all signs of hesitation were gone. Anna Grace confidently plunged her hands into the tank and turned around holding a hermit crab the size of a baseball, with a grin as big as that baby alligator's.

The motto at the aquarium seems to be "Yes, you can touch!" And this summer, they've added lots of hands-on experiences, interactive displays and programming that allow children (and adults, too) to experience sea life in ways most of us never have before.

Animal ambassadors, such as turtles, snakes and alligators, (and their human handlers) wander the main hall, waiting for visitors to come meet them in the Animal Encounters program. Museum guides wait with giant humpback-whale rib bones and owl pellets for people to explore up close.

Through the aquarium's Discovery program, kids can peer through microscopes and see the amazing diversity of sea life scooped up from the waters right around the aquarium's pier. The day we were there, we saw sea squirts. True to their name, the microscopic creatures filled with water and squirted it out in a tiny blast, unseen except through the microscope lens.

The museum has 10 public programs or​ shows per day. Three of those programs are dive shows, in which a volunteer diver in full scuba gear goes into the giant Great Ocean tank and swims around with the creatures, all while wearing a head set and interacting with the audience. We saw "The Dr. Gill Show," and the kids in the audience were all laughing, asking questions, cheering, and seemed to be generally having a great time.

My favorite exhibit was the Salt Ma​rsh, outside on a gorgeous patio overlooking Charleston Harbor. You can buy shrimp to feed to the sting rays. The gentle rays (don't worry; their barbs have been clipped) swim right up to the edge of their glass tank and flap their bodies up the sides, waiting to grab a treat.

The interactive, tactile theme is carried over into the great 4D ​movies the aquarium is showing this summer. "National Geographic's Sea Monsters" and "SpongeBob SquarePants: The Great Jelly Rescue!" come to life with bubbles, gusts of air, and rumbling seats as you watch the films.

So the next time you're at the beach and looking out at the vast water stretching all the way to Portugal, wonder what's swimming around in there. The S.C. Aquarium will not just let you see some of that sea life, but touch it with your own fingers as well.

The S.C. Aquarium is located at 100 Aquarium Wharf in Charleston. This summer, it's open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $24.95 for adults, $14.95 for children up to age 12, and free for children 3 and younger. The 4D movies cost extra.

Insider Tip: Touch the animals, and ask their names. We petted a snake named Ron Burgandy, named after the Will Ferrell character in the Anchorman movies. You also can book a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium’s Sea T​​urtle Hospital, which is fascinating (more to come on this in upcoming weeks.)

Related Content

6 Kid-Friendly Museums
When you think of great family activities with children, you might not think of going to a museum right away, but South Carolina is blessed with many museums that are fascinating, fun, and appropriate for both kids and parents.
Behind the Scenes at Sea Turtle Hospital
The South Carolina Aquarium offers behind-the-scenes tours of their Sea Turtle Hospital everyday. It's a tour you don't want to miss.
Go-Karts, Laser Tag and More at Frankie's Fun Park
Go-karts. Laser tag. Giant video games. Bumper Boats. Nacho cheese. It sounds like an 8-year-old boy's dream world. Welcome to Frankie's Fun Park, a kid-friendly destination if ever there was one. Bonus: it's also an absolute blast for adults.
Kids Run, Play and Soak up History at Charleston’s Battery and White Point Garden
Charleston’s Battery and White Point Garden offer a great place for children to run, play and learn about the area’s history.
Take the kids to Fort Sumter for an adventure-filled day
Fort Sumter, the island in Charleston Harbor where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, offers the opportunity to combine a perfect adventure for kids and a chance for adults to learn about the history of the region.
Looking for a great meal in Charleston? Here's your guide
Charleston has a national reputation as a city full of fine food, so here’s a summary of what a lot of people have said about Charleston restaurants in the past couple of years.

Featured Products

South Carolina Aquarium
Coast

Charleston

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
Featuring 60 unique habitats and over 5,000 animals, the South Carolina Aquarium is Charleston’s #1 family attraction! Explore Shark Shallows - an impressive 20,000-gallo ...
City of Charleston
Coast

Charleston

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
Known as the "Holy City", for its long tolerance for religions of all types, Charleston is the state's most beautiful and historic treasure. Charleston has had a starring ...

Featured products and attractions in "Touch an alligator and lots more at the S.C. Aquarium"

Nearby Attractions

  • {{item.name}}

You might also like:

Cypress Gardens
Coast

Moncks Corner

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
AS OF OCTOBER 2015 CYPRESS GARDENS IS CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. PLEASE VISIT http://www.cypressgardens.info/ OR CONTACT THE OFFICE FOR MOR ...
Alligator Adventure
Coast

North Myrtle Beach

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
Some of the most feared, respected, and fascinating members of the reptile world are on exhibit at this facility. See albino American alligators, giant galapagos tortoise ...
Orangeburg National Fish Hatchery
Midlands

Orangeburg

Midlands

Midlands

The
Midlands Region

Learn More
The US Fish & Wildlife Service operates the hatchery which produces a number of species, including striped bass, red breast sunfish and bluegill sunfish, for stocking lak ...
Broadway At The Beach
Coast

Myrtle Beach

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
A 350-acre shopping, dining and entertainment complex featuring more than 100 specialty shops, 20 restaurants, attractions such as Myrtle Ripley's Aquarium, Wonder Works, ...
Ripley's Aquarium
Coast

Myrtle Beach

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
Winner of the 1999 SC Governor's Cup, Ripley's continues to entertain guests with some of the world's most beautiful, fascinating and dangerous aquatic life. The 87,000-s ...
Edisto Island Serpentarium
Coast

Edisto Island

Coast

Coast

The
Coast Region

Learn More
Reptiles - native to the region and from around the world - are displayed here. Walk the grounds and enjoy open displays of hundreds of snakes in their natural habitat as ...