The New England Aquarium remains a calm place in Boston

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The spiral ramp forms the main part of the aquarium, leading up from the penguins to the top of the tank. A right whale skeleton can be seen hanging from much of the aquarium.

I love fish. I love the elegant way they swim. I love the myriad of shapes, colors and sizes of their bodies. I love the way they taste in sushi and on bagels… Anyway

Before diving too deep, know that those who do not love fish will probably not be interested in an aquarium and should take my opinions with a grain of sea salt. That being said, the New England Aquarium is a great place to spend part of a relaxing day in the city.

A favorite of aquarium staff and viewers alike, Myrtle the green sea turtle is over 90 years old! She lives in the Giant Ocean Tank.

Behind the outdoor ticket booth, there is a tank with half a dozen harbor seals that are native to the area in their own rocky New England coast habitat. Watching them gracefully swim upside down and all around right next to the glass works great as a teaser for what’s inside the aquarium.

The focal point of the aquarium is the recreated Caribbean coral reef habitat (creatively called the “Giant Ocean Tank”) that the building was constructed around. The spiral ramp that runs around the 200,000 gallon tank allows for many different views of the tank, leading to many different encounters with the organisms that inhabit it.

I loved taking way too many photos and seeing animals born thousands of miles away with less than a foot of glass and water separating them from me. I could spend hours watching them look back at me from their shimmering, blue-green world.

Encircling the bottom of the Giant Ocean Tank is the penguin habitat, and who doesn’t love penguins? There are 70 of them in all, including African penguins and rockhoppers, and they all swim around in the clear blue water, stand on rocks and just generally are the cutest.

A second ramp leads up and around the periphery of the aquarium, with miniature ecosystems and descriptions of how they work in the real world populating the dark walls of the aquarium. The tanks contain all sorts of interesting and unique fishes, reptiles, birds and invertebrates, including piranhas, snakes and my personal favorite: a tiny cuttlefish trying to hide from the crowds.

There are all sorts of interesting animals in the many tanks along the walls of the aquarium, including this cuttlefish.

The elephant seal in the room is, unfortunately, the fact that we have to swim against the current of a pandemic. The aquarium certainly didn’t feel the safest of any place I’ve been in the past year and a half.

Masks are required for anyone over five years old inside, and reservations are highly recommended due to maximum occupancy limits. Still, when I went there on a Saturday, it was as packed as a sardine tin. It was so crowded that it was hard to even find space to see the tanks at times.

Even so, there’s always enough room to move around the aquarium comfortably, even if people get in the way of your pictures of the fish. Also, because there are many places to move from the outer ramp to the inner ramp, the whole experience felt very cohesive and concise. It is a very well-designed building, and it felt to me that they took full advantage of all of the space that they had to build it.

However, that leads to the second problem of the aquarium: it just isn’t that big. Apart from walking up and down the main two paths, there’s not much to do. There is a room for petting small sharks and rays, which is always a ton of fun, and there’s also an area with seals and sea lions which I didn’t go to, but apart from what I assume was a tide pool touch tank undergoing repairs, that’s it.

For me, that’s not such a big deal. I could stare at fish for hours, watching them swim around and live in their own little world… But I know that’s not everyone’s cup of sea.