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Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies wins Readers' Choice vote

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Gatlinburg aquarium is home to some 10,000 aquatic creatures

Aquariums put us face to fin with aquatic life from the world's oceans, lakes and waterways in a fun and educational setting. The best aquariums also play a vital role in animal conservation by taking part in rescue efforts and advocating for the environmental health of our oceans. These 10 aquariums, nearly all accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and voted to the top by our readers, represent the best in North America for their high quality exhibits and visitor interactions.

  • Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
    Gatlinburg, Tenn.

    More than 350 species are represented among Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies 10,000 aquatic residents. Shark Lagoon, with its moving walkways through underwater tunnels, is the aquarium's biggest and most popular attraction, but kids love the interactive Penguin Playhouse, where they can come nose-to-beak with endangered African penguins both above and below the water.
    Photo courtesy of Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

  • The Florida Aquarium
    Tampa

    One of the top aquariums in the South, the Florida Aquarium displays some 8,000 plants and animals from a range of fresh and saltwater environments, including alligators, sharks, seahorses, river otters and free-flying birds. The Florida Wetlands Trail highlights regional life in a recreated mangrove forest, while the Journey to Madagascar takes visitors across the globe to observe a host of interesting animals – ring-tailed lemurs, hissing cockroaches and colorful chameleons. At Stingray Beach, visitors are invited to touch stingrays and sharks.
    Photo courtesy of The Florida Aquarium

  • Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
    New Orleans

    This aquarium on the Mississippi River displays and animal interactions available at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans take guests below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and deep into the Amazon rain forest. The 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico exhibit features sharks, rays and tarpons in a stunning setting; other guest favorites include sea otters, penguins, sea turtles and even owls.
    Photo courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

  • Texas State Aquarium
    Corpus Christi, Texas

    The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, the largest Aquarium in Texas, offers a journey through land and sea including encounters with the fascinating wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. Notable exhibits include a spacious jungle featuring flamingos, flying birds, and sloths, and a 400,000-gallon deep sea habitat, where visitors can get up close and personal with sharks prowling among a sunken shipwreck. Additional exhibits give guests a captivating look at sea turtles, dolphins, otters, and other amazing animals, while stingray touch pools and a 4D theater provide even more interactive educational experiences.
    Photo courtesy of Texas State Aquarium

  • Mystic Aquarium
    Mystic, Conn.

    The most popular residents at the Mystic Aquarium are New England's only beluga whales; guests can observe these gentle giants from above and below the surface. Animal interaction is the name of the game at Discovery Lab, while Shark Lagoon features one of the ocean's most misunderstood animals. African penguins, bearded dragons, American alligators, seals, sea lions and more than 30 species of frogs also call the aquarium home.
    Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium

  • Newport Aquarium
    Newport, Ky.

    Encompassing a million gallons of water and thousands of animals from around the world, the Newport Aquarium operates the first shark ray breeding program in the world. The Amazon Tunnel allows visitors to walk along the floor of the Amazon River during its flooded season, while the Dangerous & Deadly exhibit showcases some of the world’s most lethal aquatic creatures. Eight species of crocodiles from four different continents can be seen at Gator Alley – one of the most diverse crocodilian collections in the country.
    Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA

  • North Carolina Aquariums
    Multiple Locations

    This foursome of aquariums – Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores, Fort Fisher, and Jennette's Pier – each offer a unique experience. Walk through a sunken ship or explore wetland wildlife on Roanoke Island, learn about loggerhead turtles at Pine Knoll Shores, come nose to nose with an albino alligator at Fort Fisher, and get interactive at Jennette's Pier.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / Charalambos Andronos

  • Vancouver Aquarium
    Vancouver

    The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park houses some 50,000 animals, with exhibits highlighting the British Columbian tidal pass, coral reefs of the Red Sea and colorful fish of Africa's Lake Malawi. It’s also the Ocean Wise headquarters, where scientists, educators, and conservation experts work to protect our oceans and inspire others to join in their mission.
    Photo courtesy of Vancouver Aquarium

  • Tennessee Aquarium
    Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga trace the journey of water from the mountains through the Appalachian Cove Forest, into the Ohio River where it joins with the Mississippi that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A broad array of wildlife highlights ecosystems along the way, including alligators, otters, snapping turtles, catfish and sunfish. Featured habitats – delta swamp, tropical rain forest, spiny forest and reefs – provide homes for frogs, penguins, sharks, jellyfish, cuttlefish and lemurs, while professional keepers and divers happily share their expertise with visiting guests.
    Photo courtesy of Michael A. Schwarz, USA TODAY

  • Aquarium of the Pacific
    Long Beach, Calif.

    The Aquarium of the Pacific – the largest aquarium in Southern California – displays over 11,000 animals representing 500 species from the largest body of water on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. More than 150 sharks populate Shark Lagoon, including toothy sand tiger sharks and whitetip reef sharks, and guests can even feel the slippery skin of bamboo and epaulette sharks. The largest exhibit, the Tropical Reef Habitat, houses more than 1,000 fish, colorful coral, sea turtles and sharks. The NOAA Science on a Sphere exhibit presents imagery and real time ocean and weather data.
    Photo courtesy of Aquarium of the Pacific

The top 10 winners in the category Best Aquarium are as follows:

  1. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, Tenn.
  2. The Florida Aquarium - Tampa
  3. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas - New Orleans
  4. Texas State Aquarium - Corpus Christi, Texas
  5. Mystic Aquarium - Mystic, Conn.
  6. Newport Aquarium - Newport, Ky.
  7. North Carolina Aquariums - Multiple Locations
  8. Vancouver Aquarium - Vancouver
  9. Tennessee Aquarium - Chattanooga, Tenn.
  10. Aquarium of the Pacific - Long Beach, Calif.

A panel of experts (listed below) partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote.

Congratulations to all these winning aquariums!

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