Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Named Best Place to See Aquatic Life!

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park also winners

Some of the world's most majestic, colorful, amazing life forms spend their lives – all or in part – within the world's rivers, lakes and oceans. 10Best asked a panel of wildlife experts to nominate their top 20 places in the United States to observe aquatic life, then we turned it over to you!

  • Puget Sound
    Washington

    The waters of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands boast a staggering array of animal life. Visitors to the second largest estuary in the United States can often spot orcas, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, gray whales and humpback whales, as well as hundreds of bird species.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Everglades National Park
    Florida

    The second largest national park in the contiguous US, the Everglades covers more than 1.5 million acres. It's a fantastic place to view different species in their natural habitats: tropical fish, colorful birds, giant tree snails, and an array of reptiles and amphibians. In fact, this preserve is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles share a habitat.
    Photo courtesy of NPSPhoto, S.Zenner

  • Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
    Florida

    Located northeast of Naples, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary protects a swathe of Everglades ecosystem where it's possible to spot alligators, otters and red-bellied turtles, along with a wide variety of bird life. A boardwalk trail winds through the sanctuary, providing excellent viewing and photography opportunities.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge
    Florida

    Although most equate “Ding” Darling with serious birding, the Florida refuge is great for aquatic animals as well. The 4-mile Wildlife Drive and its spur trails allow nature watchers to come quite close to American alligators, Florida manatees and nearly 250 species of birds. Its recreation concession offers rentals, lessons and tours by kayak, tram, boat and paddleboard.
    Photo courtesy of Chris Lexow, Creative Commons

  • Channel Islands National Park
    California

    While the Channel Islands themselves are perhaps most famous for the sly island fox, it's what lies just offshore that makes this national park a wildlife watcher's dream. The Santa Barbara Channel boasts productive waters that attract mega pods of common dolphins, as well as Risso's dolphins, elephant seals, northern fur seals, harbor seals, California sea lions and Pacific gray whales.
    Photo courtesy of NPS Photo

  • Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
    Florida

    Wildlife enthusiasts flock to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to spot the endangered West Indian manatees – the mammals are visible from the park's underwater observatory just about every day of the year. Manatees aren't the only residents; it's also possible to see American alligators, American crocodiles and river otters, as well as a few terrestrial mammals, like black bears, bobcats and white-tailed deer.
    Photo courtesy of Tim Donovan/FWC

  • Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
    Hawaii

    Although the nene – Hawaii’s endangered state bird, a.k.a. the Hawaiian goose – is emblematic to the Kaua’i refuge, its sheer cliffs and ocean waters are home to a number of fascinating creatures. It boasts large populations of nesting seabirds, plus Hawaiian monk seals and spinner dolphins. Its historic lighthouse punctuates the island’s rugged and dramatic north shore.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
    Florida

    Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 as the only refuge specifically for the protection of the endangered Florida Manatee. This stunning sanctuary protects undeveloped spring habitat at the headwaters of the Crystal River, where manatees migrate each winter. Visitors can view them from above the water or below, via guided snorkeling tours.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
    California

    The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established in 1992 to protect the waters off California's central coast. Encompassing 276 miles of shoreline between Marin and Cambria, the sanctuary protects the country's largest kelp forest where 34 species of marine mammals, 525 species of fish and 180 species of birds live. Nicknamed the "Serengeti of the Sea," the sanctuary is a great place to go tide pooling, whale watching or to spot seals, sea lions and sea otters.
    Photo courtesy of Robert Schwemmer

  • Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
    Massachusetts

    Situated at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is one of the planet's best whale watching destinations. Each summer, humpback whales visit these protected waters to feed on sand lance. Experienced scuba divers come to observe life below the surface – schooling fish, sponges, moon snails, clams, wolf eel, sharks and ocean sunfish, among others.
    Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

After four weeks of reader voting, the results are in and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in Massachusetts has taken the title of Best Place to See Aquatic Life.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Place to See Aquatic Life are as follows:

  1. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary - Massachusetts
  2. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary - California
  3. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge - Florida
  4. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge - Hawaii
  5. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park - Florida
  6. Channel Islands National Park - California
  7. J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge - Florida
  8. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary - Florida
  9. Everglades National Park - Florida
  10. Puget Sound - Washington

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts David Houghton (National Wildlife Refuge Association), Stephen W. Kress (National Audubon Society) and David Mizejewski (National Wildlife Federation) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of American wildlife.

Other contenders for the title included Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Florida, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Midway Atoll, Monomoy Island National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, Point Reyes National Seashore in California, Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands National Park in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Congratulations to all our winning parks and refuges!

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Alert The Experts

David Houghton

David Houghton

Stephen W. Kress

Stephen W. Kress

David Mizejewski

David Mizejewski

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