On a recent vacation to Mount Desert Island, Maine we stopped by the The Mount Desert Oceanarium. We are a mountain-dwelling inland family, so we were searching for a family friendly interactive nature museum to introduce Alden to marine life, and this is about all you can find in the area. It’s advertised in all the tourist pamphlets and magazines so we decided to head over one afternoon. The entrance is a little hidden, but can be found on Route 3 just north of Bar Harbor.
The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, but the few religious signs and references remind us that this is a “mom and pop” establishment. We were greeted warmly and given the run down for our visit. They have a strict schedule for visiting the different areas of the oceanarium, so be sure to pay attention to your assigned times. The schedule is probably most useful for large groups of visitors.
We were to go to the Touch Tank area first. This was great and we learned a lot from a young man who was very knowledgeable and great with the visitors. We saw and touched horseshoe crabs, sea stars, sand dollars, urchins, and sea snails. Did you know that horseshoe crabs (relics from the time of the dinosaurs) have 10 eyes! And sea stars have no brains, no blood, and their arms are hollow!
Next up we headed to the Lobster Hatchery. A one-of-a-kind hatchery (run on a shoestring budget) that raises lobsters and releases them back into the ocean. An older gentleman gave a talk all about The life cycle of lobsters and how they raise lobsters. Did you know that female lobsters individually glue 10,000 eggs on their abdomen! The talk was a little long for a 4 year old and we slipped out of the room for the last 10 minutes, but went back in when we were allowed to explore and see the lobsters in the tanks. They do offer a coloring station for kids, but Alden wasn’t interested.
They also have a museum and tank area that you can explore on your own (no schedule for this part) and we enjoyed seeing live lobsters and horseshoe crabs. Also a large collection of fishing and lobstering equipment can be viewed here. It looked like there was another room set up for other displays and talks, but they weren’t running those talks on our day.
Lastly, we went on the short trail that brings you close to a tidal bay and wetland. The mosquitoes were in full force outside and complementary bug spray can be found in the viewing platform deck. We spied a great blue heron in the bay and little fishes in the shallow water.
This is a must stop for families, especially since it seems to be one of the only places on the island where kids can get up close to some ocean creatures (besides going out on a boat). We easily spent several hours exploring the Oceanarium. Don’t expect state-of-the-art displays, but definitely expect to learn from and enjoy the friendly staff.