We recently tested the Aquarium using 5 grandchildren ranging in age from 5 to 15. It is excellent. It combines a first rate “involved kid” experience that appealed to the entirety of the younger set with enough information about the local ecosystem to keep the adults fully engaged. The Aquarium is an excellent family experience perfect for that day when the surf is a bit too rough or the weather isn’t as good as one might hope, and only 1.9 miles from the Catnap.
What more can someone want?
Well, a very fast camera – in the sense of zero delay between the “take picture” command and the image capture – combined with the reflexes of a hockey goalie might help when one gets to the Otter Exhibit. The otters are FAST little critters that do not appear to have a “stop” button. They zip around the display like, well, otters playing! They delight the kids and are a blast to watch but very hard to photograph.
The Stingray Display, really a Petting Zoo for stingrays, is another major delight for the younger set. The kids get the opportunity to reach into a shallow tank and touch the stingrays as they swim elegantly by. It’s an unusual, if not unique, experience for them and one that can be hard to drag the smaller set away from.
Some of the larger tanks are set up to honor the Chrystal Coast’s history below the ocean’s surface.
One exhibit is a model of the wreck of the U-352, one of a dozen or so German subs that that ravaged Allied shipping along the United State’s eastern seaboard during World War II.
The United States did not impose blackouts on seaside communities so the U-boats could see the silhouette of the freighters against the light from the shore. This made the vessels moving freight along the coast very vulnerable to attack. Was this failure to protect the shipping through a blackout because the US had no prior experience with naval warfare near its shores or because the Roosevelt Administration did not want to alarm the civilian population? Both possibilities are reported to be true.
The U-352 entered service off North Carolina in April 1942 and on May 9 its commander, Hellmut Rathke, spotted what he thought would be an easy target and attacked … the US Coast Guard Cutter Icarus. That turned out to be a mistake on his part because the Icarus responded with depth charges that crippled the U-352 and forced it to surface. The Icarus crew killed 16 Germans, captured 33 more, and sank the U-352 in 115 feet of water about 30 miles south of the Catnap. It was the first German U-boat sunk by the Coast Guard in World War II.
The aquarium display presents a typical cast of marine characters, even including sharks, against a large model of the U3-52. The many fish swimming in the tank make an almost hypnotic display that holds the attention of young and old alike.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge display is similar in concept but far smaller in implementation. It simulates a portion of the various artifacts that have been recovered from the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship where he ran it aground while entering Beaufort Inlet 10 miles or so East of the Catnap.