In the Cape Fear region, L.O.V.E stands for Living On Vacation Everyday. One place that creates that vacation mindset is The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Earlier this month, the Aquarium issued a press release reporting a record-breaking year. In 2023, a total of 502,123 people visited the Aquarium, located at the southernmost point of New Hanover County. This surpasses the previous record for visitors during a calendar year when 483,985 individuals stopped by the aquarium in 2017. According to the same press release, the aquarium gift shop surpassed $3 million in gross sales in 2023, marking an 11% increase over 2022.
The 92,000-square-foot aquarium features 400,000 gallons of freshwater and saltwater habitats, showcasing a collection of 239 species and 4,150 animals. Among the notable inhabitants are Luna, the albino alligator; two Asian small-clawed otter families; Shelldon, the green sea turtle; two loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings; two sand tiger sharks; a bonnethead shark; and Maverick, the bald eagle.
The Aquarium not only showcases these creatures but also works to rescue injured and endangered animals. Most recently, when the weather dipped in late January, the Aquarium took possession of six Kemp’s ridley sea turtles suffering from cold-stunning. The six sea turtles arrived at the aquarium on January 30th, joining the 200 cold-stunned sea turtles that have been under the aquarium’s care in the last few years.
A dedicated care team will gradually warm up the turtles, ensuring they can swim and lift their heads out of the water to breathe. They receive a variety of foods and administrations of fluids, antibiotics, eye drops, and wound care prescribed by the veterinary team. Once the team clears the turtles for release, a small microchip is placed in the front flipper of each turtle. This chip provides information on the turtle’s last sighting and their growth.
The Aquarium operates seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closing only on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. Online reservations are required to visit the Aquarium; for tickets, visit NCAFF admissions.