Immerse yourself in the aquatic world at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks. Spend your day exploring creatures from Ozark streams and Oklahoma waterways to ocean vistas. This popular destination has been delighting visitors since 2003. Here are a few of the most fascinating animals you will find.
You might forget you’re in Oklahoma when you enter the Oklahoma Aquarium’s walk-through tunnel to view the world’s largest collection of bull sharks. Considered to be the most dangerous shark in the world, bull sharks have the unique ability to travel into fresh water and have been found 1,500 miles up the Mississippi. If not for the extensive dam system, they could be swimming past the Oklahoma Aquarium, which is the only place in the United States to experience a bull shark exhibit.
The humphead wrasse is an enormous coral reef fish that can live up to 30 years. These amazing fish, which can reach 400 pounds, are vital to controlling coral predators in reef systems. Humpheads, or Napoleon wrasse, are immune to most toxins, allowing them to eat the venomous crown of thorns sea-stars that are voracious coral eaters. The mesmerizing humphead is featured in Oklahoma Aquarium’s Polynesian Reef Exhibit.
Sea turtles are one of the Earth’s most ancient creatures. The 325-pound loggerhead sea turtle is one of seven species of sea turtles found worldwide. All seven species are endangered in some portion of their range. This makes Oklahoma Aquarium’s loggerheads special representatives of the plight of sea turtles. Oklahoma Aquarium’s loggerheads came from Virginia Beach, Virginia. These 24-year-old turtles were hatched in November 1994, and they would never have survived the cold temperatures of the Atlantic Coast. The loggerheads were taken to the Virginia Marine Science Museum to be raised until they were able to be released. By the time they were big enough to avoid becoming a snack for a passing predator, they had become very accustomed to humans. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed them non-releasable, and the Oklahoma Aquarium became the lifelong home for these beautiful reptiles.
Meet a shark that glows in the dark. A perennial favorite at the Oklahoma Aquarium, the swell shark utilizes bio-fluorescence. This small cold water shark can inflate its body, twist and bite its own tail to become a large ball, making it much harder for a predator to attack. The normal browns and beiges of the swell shark glow neon green when activated by blue light. Humans can’t see this fluorescence with the naked eye, but other swell sharks, including potential mates, can find other swells in the dark cold Pacific waters.
Parrotfish poop is very special, because their poop is sand. These colorful herbivores provide many benefits to ocean and coastal health. Parrotfish help control the algae that can overtake valuable reef systems, suffocating the coral. As parrotfish graze on algae, they nip off pieces of the hard calcium carbonate coral skeleton. Molarlike teeth in their throats grind the coral, which travels through their digestive system before being deposited in the ocean as white coral sand. A large parrotfish can produce 800-1,000 pounds of coral sand annually, providing the sand for the beaches that we love to visit and dig our toes in.
Potbellied seahorses are one of the most unique animals in the animal kingdom, because the males give birth. When visiting the seahorses at the Oklahoma Aquarium you may notice that some look like a cross between a horse and a monkey, and they have a very inflated pouch. This seahorse may be a pregnant male, or it could be a male who has inflated his pouch to show off how much space he has to hold a female’s eggs. It’s a seahorse's way of flexing his muscles.
An electric eel can still deliver a shock eight hours after death. Electric eels are actually not eels, but more closely related to catfish. They can deliver a jolt of 600 volts or 1 amp. This terror of the Amazon is almost completely blind. They use their electrosensory system to emit pulses of electricity to find prey, and then stun and immobilize that prey. Biologists at the Oklahoma Aquarium are very careful when feeding this impressive fish. Visitors to the Oklahoma Aquarium can watch the amazing electric eel being fed on any Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Rule of thumb: Never touch an electric eel, dead or alive!
Stingrays, like their shark cousins, don’t have bones. The Oklahoma Aquarium features exhibits where you can touch and feed a stingray, but be careful to read the signs! These stingrays retain their venomous barbs. Stingray barbs are covered in a sheath of tissue which contains toxic venom. The barb itself is shaped like a steak knife with serrations on each side. Although stingrays are not aggressive, they will use their whip tails and barbs to protect themselves. Most people are stung while walking in the surf line by stepping on a stingray. In defense, the ray will whip its tail and sting an unsuspecting beachgoer. The safest thing to do is to use the “stingray shuffle” when walking into the ocean. Shuffle your feet to avoid stepping directly on a stingray.
River otters are built for swimming, and they really know how to play. These frisky mammals are a joy to watch twirling through the water or sliding down their water slide. River otters have a very dense fur, which traps air bubbles against their skin to keep them warm in the cold waters of regions such as Ozark streams. Otters at the Oklahoma Aquarium love to play with their “otter pops,” which are ice cubes embedded with pieces of fish.
Watch out for the cute, inquisitive pufferfish, which has an amazing defense system! Not only can pufferfish inflate their bodies to become a large, spiky ball when threatened, they have a uniquely potent toxin. Pufferfish possess a tetrodotoxin, a deadly toxin capable of killing up to 30 humans. Believe it or not, their meat is still considered a delicacy, but it can only be prepared by specially-trained chefs. None of this prevents the Oklahoma Aquarium biologists from loving on their extremely friendly Big Puff. He even likes the occasional scratch under the chin.
Join in on even more fun this spring as more than 2,000 runners are expected to participate in the Aquarium Run that begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 6. All race routes start and finish at the aquarium. A half-marathon, 10K, 5K and 1-mile fun run are available, and all registered runners receive a finisher medal, snacks and drinks as well as free race-day aquarium admission. Proceeds benefit the non-profit aquarium’s educational exhibits and programs.
Register at okaquarium.org/event/aquarium-run.