Kansas City Aquarium Makes a Splash

Activities, Missouri Tour Guide

A fun new attraction brings the ocean to mid-America travel groups

By Heather Dale

The Kansas City Zoo, located over 1,000 miles from the nearest seacoast, saw an opportunity to bring the ocean’s wonders to western Missouri and has just completed the impressive Sobela Ocean Aquarium. Being part of an established zoo, it is unlike other aquariums in the state and contributes to a well-rounded zoological experience.

The aquarium was purposefully designed to lead guests “into the depths of the ocean.” Begin at the shallow tide pools where sand meets seawater before heading down in elevation to the vaster parts of the offshore ecosystem to witness sharks and other subaquatic critters. Finally, emerge back up onto the shoreline to see cuttlefish, lobsters and Giant Pacific octopuses.

Kansas City Aquarium

Kansas City Aquarium exhibits for families

An impressive assortment of creatures awaits throughout six different habitats. Within those habitats are 34 exhibits showcasing a diverse assortment of marine life. Get up close to more than 8,000 animals, including native Caribbean and Australian fish, sand tiger and zebra sharks, stingrays, moray eels, rescued sea turtles, coral, and other exotic species.

Among curious critters at the aquarium is the monkeyface prickleback, which looks like an eel but really is part of the bony fish family. They can grow up to 30 inches long and live up to 18 years. Also on display are Pacific spiny lumpsuckers, which have been known to eat right out of divers’ hands. Growing 1-3 inches long and sometimes up to 7 inches, they possess very wide mouths, protruding eyes and an inability to swim. See how they latch onto objects using their suction-cupped mouths to keep from floating away!


Popular aquarium attractions

The upper portion of the aquarium is dedicated to shoreline-hugging animals that enjoy shallow water pools. Experience a crash tank where generated waves break against the rocks. Visit mangrove forest exhibits and beachscapes.

Lagoon tanks feature brightly colored tropical creatures from the Caribbean, while jewel tanks accommodate more delicate lifeforms like seahorses and garden eels. A 10,000-gallon living reef lets visitors get up close to the brilliant live coral with schools of fish swimming overhead. You’ll find numerous shark species in a 350,000-gallon reef tank where these cartilaginous fish take center stage. Visit the cold-water reef to witness sea otters playing and the always-popular touch tank where you can feel slippery specimens.

Kansas City Aquarium

Fish, Sharks and more at the Kansas City Aquarium

The new oceanarium, one of the most intriguing aquatic showcases in the country, was 10 years in the making. The $77 million attraction is the largest capital project in Kansas City with a whopping 650,000 gallons of salt water that is carefully monitored using a water system underneath the building. Water quality is critical for the six habitats and their occupants to survive, since each requires specific salt levels.

The zoo prioritizes ethically obtaining and caring for all of the aquarium’s inhabitants. According to Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium Executive Director and CEO Sean Putney, there are several ways they source animals. For example, Sobela Ocean Aquarium serves as a rehabilitation facility for government-owned wildlife. Non-releasable animals like sea otters and sea turtles that sustain injuries or stranding events make their way from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the aquarium to live out the rest of their lives in safety and comfort, freeing up space for more  animals in need of care.

Group trips to the newly renamed Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium can be arranged online. Sign up for a Large Group Program intended for 50-300 participants and choose from one of two options. Cultural Connections focuses on animal and human interactions, while Animal Communication showcases animals’ verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

For more travel ideas in Missouri, be sure to check out our Missouri Tour Guide or Group Itinerary Ideas

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Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium

Situated in the heart of Missouri, the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium captivates visitors with a diverse array of creatures from land and sea. From the intriguing depths of the Sobela Ocean Aquarium, home to over 8,000 marine species, to the expansive grounds showcasing wildlife from across continents, it’s a celebration of nature’s marvels. A must-visit destination for a comprehensive zoological experience.

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