March 1 - August 31
Monday to Saturday 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
September 1- February 28/29
Monday to Saturday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sunday 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
I have always been fascinated by marine life and there is no short supply here at the Gulf of Mexico. While we do not have an aquarium in the area, we do have the Estuarium on Dauphin Island. The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sealab offers displays and exhibits which explain the variety of life and habitats of the Mobile Bay area.
When you arrive at the Estuarium make sure you head towards the building to the left of the parking lot. I made the mistake of walking where it said Estuarium entrance. You’d think that would be the way to go, but on a hot day, that is a very long boardwalk to walk on with kids. If you do decide to walk along the boardwalk, instead of rushing to get inside to the air conditioning, you will find a wealth of information. There are many details about the creation of sand and the dunes and various aspects of the salt marsh throughout the boardwalk. This also gives you an idea as to what to expect during your time at the Estuarium- a lot of reading. For people with small kids, this can be a problem. Most children just wanted to see the animals and moved between exhibits, which made it hard to read some of the descriptions. The exhibits themselves are very well put together. Some exhibits are large and extravagant, while others are simple small tanks. Aside from not being able to find some animals located in each exhibit, I did not see any dead or sick looking specimens.
There are a variety of hands on exhibits. Depending on your child this can be a good or bad thing. Some children were excited while others screamed and ran in fear. Take for example the table containing various shells and bones from different sea life; a child may be fascinated by an empty turtle shell while another completely disgusted. It is interesting to see the various objects, as I’d never think a ray egg would feel more leathery than how a bird egg feels. The Estuarium offers two touch tanks containing live animals. The smaller touch tank had hermit crabs on one side and a horseshoe crab on the other and the other is the new ray tank. My son was leery of touching both that day, which was funny since he wanted to catch hermit crabs at Panama City Beach a month ago.
The new ray tank dubbed “Rays of the Bay” can be a very exciting and busy exhibit but I found the tank to be too deep. I thought the rays were right near the edge but as I put my arm in I found myself elbow deep. Even with my arm that far in, I still did not touch a ray. For the little ones there is a section of glass where they can view the rays under the water. Of course even with that available there is no shortage of parents dangling their children directly above the rays. When I see this, I’m never sure if parents are trying to give their kids a better view or trying to get the rays to come closer with live bait. Speaking of feeding times, there are 3 feeding times throughout the day, which we unfortunately did not get to see. My tip is to not splash the water. People assume that if they do, the rays will come like a dog. The reality is that just like in the wild, the rays will run away from such water disturbances.
The location leaves much to be desired. Unless you’re at Dauphin Island getting to the Estuarium can be quite a drive, especially if you’re at the beaches in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach. Don’t expect to spend more than 2 hours at the Estuarium. Even if you’re able to read all the information presented visiting the attraction should take 1-2 hours at most. As beautifully presented as the exhibits are, your family will visit them quickly and you will begin to realize how small the building actually is.
If you have some time and are visiting Dauphin Island, the Estuarium is definitely worth a visit. However with the limited amenities on Dauphin Island, it is not a destination attraction. Beautifully presented but dreadfully short, it’s a mixed bag. The Estuarium does do a wonderful job showcasing the different ecosystems located in our region, however it feels like just a tease and leaves you wanting more.
This review is based on a complimentary visit to The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. I received no other
compensation and the business owner did not state any requirements that I express a particular point of
This estuarium is very hands on and very kid friendly. We have a large family and all the kids enjoyed looking around, touching sea life, talking to the workers and learning. The 'oil spill' display was especially interesting. They also have a nice gift shop with very affordable classy t-shirts.
This "aquarium" isn't the ordinary one since they are based on a lab researching and educational purpose. However, they are open to the public to see what they are doing and showing about the ocean and its surrounding environments and animals. We like visiting the island to enjoy a quiet beach.