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A penguin goes for a swim at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center. (Credit: Rachel Young)
A penguin goes for a swim at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center. (Credit: Rachel Young photos)

Anyone can discover their inner child at the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, the East Main Street attraction where sea lions dance alongside their trainers and snow monkeys swing from branches.

Yes, there is no shortage of things to see and do at the aquarium, now celebrating its 15th year in operation. But if you’re not sure where to start, northforker made a recent visit to the aquarium to narrow down its coolest exhibits. 

Here they are, the five best aquarium attractions ranked.

snow monkey Long Island Aquarium

5. Japanese snow monkeys at the Lost Temple of Atlantis

Also known as macaques, these 30-pound, pink-faced primates are as playful as they are fun to look at. When we visited, two baby monkeys were chasing each other around the exhibit while an elder macaque ignored them and stared serenely into the distance. It was a funny and all too relatable juxtaposition — one we would happily observe again and again.

sea lion Long Island Aquarium

4. Sea Lion Coliseum

It’s hard not to fall in love with 13-year-old Java, the 400-pound California sea lion who puts on a daily 15-minute show for aquarium guests. Whether it’s high-fiving her trainer, demonstrating her impressive flexibility (can you touch your nose to your lower back?) or boogying to some dance tunes, Sea Lion Coliseum really is an exhibit the whole family will enjoy.

penguin Long Island Aquarium

3.  Penguin Pavilion

The adorable African penguins that waddle around this 800-square-foot land and water exhibit can’t help but steal the show.

Weighing in at a pint-sized 5 to 8 pounds and standing just 25 inches tall, we could spend hours watching these birds dive into their deep-water pool. To get the best vantage point, head to the exhibit’s observation bubble.

Bonus: You can get an interactive, behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibit by booking a “penguin encounter.”

Long Island Aquarium shark

2. Sand Shark Lagoon

No need to start humming the theme from “Jaws.” The sand sharks that inhabit this exhibit are so docile the public is invited to swim with them ($165; aquarium members, $160). In addition to sharks, the lagoon is home to a plentiful number of fish including striped bass, fluke, tarpon and clearnose skates — all of which one could expect to catch off the shores of Long Island.

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1. The Butterfly Room

Guests are required to pay an additional fee to gain access to the aquarium’s butterfly exhibit, but it’s worth it. That’s why it claimed our number one spot.

Thousands of winged beauties (between 40 to 50 species) from all over the world reside in this tropical garden, where they flit from vine to vine, sipping nectar and sometimes pausing to rest on your shoe. Watch your step!

This story will be featured in northforker’s 2015 vacation guide

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