Sea' what life is like in the deep end at the Oklahoma Aquarium 

For those who didn't get to go the Caribbean this summer, no worries. At the Oklahoma Aquarium, located a 90-minute drive away in Jenks, they bring the Caribbean to you. If the tropical menagerie is a little too tame for your tastes, the site has the scary stuff, too. It's like a year-round version of Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

Open since May 2003, the aquarium now boasts a worldwide peek at the creatures of the seas and more, with more than 200 exhibits. Although most of them are behind glass, an interactive exhibit in the Oceans Room allows visitors to touch a slippery stingray or a small shark. The "touch tank" has specific times, so one might have to wait a bit to get a turn when the time comes. For a modest $3, one can even feed a stingray (via a modified pole, not one's hands), which adds a little panache to the watercooler talk on Monday.

With water covering 70 percent of the earth, biodiversity is evident at every turn in the aquarium, where strange and beautiful fish, anemones, eels and octopi share an underwater home. Guests can marvel at the life cycle from tank to tank, from the tiniest creatures like sponges and starfish to the largest predators of the deep blue sea, where survival of the swimmiest is at its finest: Eat and/or get eaten. By reading the accompanying signs, one can figure out where the tank's inhabitants rank on the food chain. Discovering how the vastly different creatures camouflage, attract and attack provides endless entertainment throughout the venue.

The heart-thumping exhibits begin with the Ray & Robin Siegfried Families Shark Adventure, where attendees are surrounded by an impressive shark collection, including the Atlantic blacktip, mammoth lemon and bull sharks " the latter being the largest in captivity. The walk-through tunnel and dome is the closest many of us will get to "swimming" with sharks, not to mention much, much safer.

Jellyfish, piranha and a giant Pacific octopus are a few of the wet wonders on display, complete with interesting facts to make the experience a true learning adventure for the whole family. Although flash photography is not allowed at some of the exhibits, photography and video are for most of the experience.

Oklahoma's own lake wildlife gets the spotlight with an impressive "Fishes of Oklahoma" exhibit containing a a 7-foot-long jawed gar fish and a 120-year-old alligator snapping turtle that strongly resembles a water witch. The new Hayes Family Ozark Stream shows off the state's native animals like river otters, beavers and raccoons, plus common creatures such as bass and sunfish.

The aquarium takes just more than an hour to go through, assuming a stop at each exhibit. However, those planning on feeding the stingrays, eating in the café or perusing the gift shop could easily find themselves facing a whole afternoon adventure. The Oklahoma Aquarium is a testament to the wonders of adaptation, survival and the mysteries of the earth under the water's surface.

The aquarium is open daily, with admission at $13.95 for adults, $11.95 for seniors and $9.95 for children ages 3-12. " Malena Lott

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Malena Lott

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