Have you ever visited an Aquarium and saw people swimming around inside the tank that appear as if they are part of the attraction? Well they sort of are. Many of the Aquariums around the world offer a unique way of visiting their attractions. Unlike the standard Aquarium going if you are a certified diver and your willing to pony up some extra dollars you can swim the fish instead of viewing them through a piece a glass.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD is one such aquarium where you can dive with the fish and other marine life that calls their reef tank home. This tank holds 335,000 gallons of water and features crystal clear 76 degree water. The dive consists of a 20 minute pre-dive briefing, and 40 minute dive, and a 10 or so minute debrief after the dive. When diving the Baltimore Aquarium they allow for up to 6 diver to be in the tank at one time along with their Dive Master who supervise the dive.
For my wife and I this was our first Aquarium dive. We chose the Baltimore Aquarium because it was close for us and offered a PADI Aquarium Diver certification (Not needed to dive Aquariums) that we thought we would add to our collection of PADI certifications. Full of excitement we set out on our trek not knowing exactly what to expect.
We arrived at the Aquarium at the time we were given in May of 2016 and reporting to the Employee entrance. Once we entered we got to walk through the back area of the Aquarium on our way to the briefing room. This wasn’t as much a backroom tour as it was a let’s get to where we are going and oh you can look around as we pass through. Once in the briefing room we completed the necessary paper work and it was off to the locker rooms to get changed and ready for our dive. You must bring your own wet suite, mask and fins for the dive and the rest is provided for you. Even if you wanted to bring your own BCD and regulators you are not allowed.
Once dressed and ready to go you are led out to the common area of the Aquarium where you walk among the regular aquarium goers as they stared and pointed at all the people dressed in wet suites carrying their mask and fins. It sorta felt like a celebrity walking down the red carpet as people pointed and took pictures jealous that they were missing out on something. Once you get to the 4th level where the entry deck is to the aquarium the staff closes off some gates preventing the other aquarium goers from entering the general area.
Here your BCD, tanks, and regulators are already setup and ready to go for you. You simply sit down, put the BCD on and hop in the water to float around until everyone is in and ready to go. All the while you have become the main attraction for the Aquarium goers spectating on what is going on and watching as if you are something more exotic that the fish in the tank. Once everyone is in you descend and you are on your way.
The tank is not very wide and with the artificial coral reef it’s even narrower. We started by swing around the oval shaped tank squeezing between the glass, fake coral, and sometimes other divers to get around the tank that seemed like an oval race track. Once my wife and I had done two laps around we decided that swimming laps and waiting in line to get past other divers wasn’t very much fun so we picked an open area to park on the bottom.
Kneeling on the bottom we were able to pick up gravel and sift it between our hands which the fish loved as it was like a refreshing shower for them. Before long dozens of fish were coming to swim under the falling gravel. Swarming all around us and even at times brushing up against us as if they were dogs seeking affection. This also grabbed the attention of the Aquarium goers who gather to watch us frolic with these playful fish. Some waiving, taking pictures, and the occasional spectator interacting with us, blowing kisses and the such. As we knelt there playing with the fish we heard the ring of the cowbell letting us know our 40 minutes were up and it was time to get out.
Back to the locker rooms to get changed, off to have our dive logs signed, and on our way we were. After it was all said and done you have to walk out through the aquarium to the exit, but you cannot stay and visit unless you pay extra for an aquarium pass. I found this to be slightly disappointing as the cost for the dive wasn’t cheap. Had we wanted to wander around just a little we would have had to pay the standard fee.
All in all it was a good experience, but I would have really liked to be able to bring a camera to photograph the experience. After your first dive at the Aquarium you can go back and bring a camera on a second dive. For me it’s just not worth paying the high price a second time just so I can take some pictures.