The Living Planet Aquarium offers summer family fun

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If ocean lovers can’t make it to the beach this summer, The Living Planet Aquarium offers visitors a touch of the sea and the life beneath its waves.

With several exhibits and a host of animal encounters and summer camps, the aquarium has something to offer all age groups. Two of the most popular attractions include daily stingray feedings and penguin encounters.
“The only place in the state you can go to see stingrays [is The Living Planet Aquarium],” said Andy Allison, curator of the aquarium. “You can touch them anytime you want.”

In addition to the regular interaction, patrons may buy a small cup of food and feed the stingrays at 2 p.m. daily. The stingray diet consists of fresh frozen sea food, usually shrimp or squid.

“Our stingrays are captive bred, born in another aquarium,” Allison said. “All on display are females.”

Female stingrays can have a 6-foot wingspan. The southern stingrays housed at The Living Planet Aquarium are currently half that size. They are separated from the smaller males to prevent breeding.

Stingray feedings are limited to 10 people per feeding and require an additional $6 fee. Children must be 5 years of age or older to participate. However, stingrays aren’t the only animals patrons can interact with.

The Penguin Encounter allows people to get nose to beak with Gentoo Penguins.

Deana Walz, an aviculturist with the aquarium, said a limited number of visitors have an opportunity to observe and interact with the exotic birds in an isolated area. The penguins are allowed to come and go freely to this area. There are toys available so visitors may see the individual personalities of the birds.

“We have one that sits on a tennis ball and thinks it’s an egg,” Walz said. “His name is Roto.”

The Penguin Encounter is offered at 1 p.m. daily and is limited to eight patrons. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or legal guardian. The penguin encounter is offered for $25 with a $5 discount for members.

According to The Living Planet Aquarium website, membership fees support the Aquarium’s work as a non-profit organization.

In keeping with the aquarium’s mission statement to engage people to explore, discover and learn about Earth’s diverse ecosystems, several day camps are planned June through August for pre-K, grade school and junior high age groups.

According to Angie Hyde, director of PR and marketing, the 2-hour day camps offer two days of fun-filled, educational activities including crafts, games, songs and a lot of behind-the-scenes interaction not available on a regular visit to the aquarium.

Parents are encouraged to drop their children off and let them experience the camp on their own.

“We base our summer camps on core curriculum for each grade,” Hyde said. “It is a great educational experience.”

The Living Planet Aquarium has a vision for the future that includes a new state of the art facility. Fund-raising efforts are underway to make that dream a reality. Community donations are welcome. The aquarium also has a program to adopt an animal which allows patrons to become involved in supporting the aquarium and its vision. According to Hyde, the new site will offer increased visibility along with easy access from the freeway. If all goes as planned, the aquarium will conduct a spring 2012 groundbreaking with the new facility slated to open sometime in 2013.

The Living Planet Aquarium is open daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours are from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.  Admission is $9 for adults and $7 for children ages 3-17 with discounts available for groups of 20 or more. Children 2 and under are admitted free. The aquarium is currently offering an annual membership special of $20 for adults and $16 for children. This membership allows one year of unlimited admission along with discounts for other services. For more information visit thelivingplanet.com.

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