Impressions of St Louis Union Station Aquarium

An aquarium can be defined as “a transparent tank of water in which fish and other water creatures and plants are kept.” But I believe it also serves a purpose other than just being a pretty tourist attraction. To find out more, I made a trip to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station Aquarium to see what else I could find out about the aquariums meaning and about the animals that they keep. The day I decided to go, there was a sense of excitement in that air because I had never been to an aquarium before and was looking forward to being able to experience everything it had to offer me.

I walked into the brightly lit, newly renovated Union Station and was surprised at how small the aquarium part of it was. I was curious as to how much they could fit in this place and was it big enough to hold wild sea animals? A nice older woman directed me towards the ticket line after asking if I was looking for the ticket booth, I nodded, and she pointed me into the right direction.

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I then bought my ticket and waited quietly in line. Looking around I noticed the décor, what stuck out to me the most while waiting in line was a giant transparent clock that was also a fish tank, it was one of the most beautiful displays I had ever seen.

After waiting behind about a dozen people, I had finally made my way into a long hallway that led to the aquarium itself.

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The walls and floor were grey, and it was dark, that is until you get further down the hallway and see the dim blue-green lighting from the water shining light to the end of the hallway. Entering the first aquarium room, there were many things to look at. The tank in front of me was the tallest fish display I had ever seen, it had to be over twelve feet tall. It was filled with many varieties of fish. Some looked to be about fifty pounds alone with their big, green, bulky bodies. After talking to an older gentleman named Larry who was an employee/marine animal specialist he informed me that not only can some of these fish get up to one hundred pounds, but all the animals on this first floor were native to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, this was news to me, I had no idea these monstrous looking things could be found so close to home! Larry had also informed me that most of the smaller species of fish stayed clustered together so much because “There is safety in numbers.”

A few steps ahead I saw people getting in line for what looked like an interactive exhibit, I had no idea what was in there so I got in line to find out. When it was almost my turn and I could finally see what was happening in this exhibit, I didn’t know if I wanted to continue or not, but I did. The young woman working the exhibit explained these were Red Garra fish, or in other words, fish that eat the dead skin off your hands. I was more than skeptical as I watched these tiny metallic colored fish attach to people's hands by the hundreds. It was as if their hands were made of fish food.

I stepped up and dunked my hand in, immediately I felt ten, twenty, then what felt to be about fifty tiny fish mouths attaching to any piece of exposed skin on my hand they could get. They felt and looked like little aliens that enjoyed “feasting” upon people’s dead skin. I was immediately grossed out and hated the feeling of being sucked on by mass amounts of the little fish, so I pulled my hand out, shook off a few of little fish still attached to my fingers, and stepped to the right, towards a hand washing station. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I couldn’t shake the alien feeling that lingered on my hands afterwards. I had only had my hand inside the tank for maybe a minute, but that had to be one of the longest minutes of my life!

Around the corner from the Missouri and Mississippi river native fish enclosures, and the Garra fish exhibit, was a bright display of Red-bellied piranhas. Their eyes looked soulless, they were green with bright red stomachs and round like miniature blimps. I watched as they seemed to all swim together in a group. Something I was able to truly see first-hand, the patterns among groups of fish like Larry had been explaining to me earlier “smaller fish feel safer in numbers.”

The next exhibit took me upstairs via escalator, I felt like I was inside of a shopping mall, but instead of looking down into stores I was looking into the exhibits below. When I got to the top floor I was amazed at how much more there actually was to look at, and the first thing I was able to see was in a half land, half water enclosure. It housed two river otters that had cuddling in a small corner of their huge exhibit, they seemed busy sleeping and cuddling, so I decided to move forward. I walked over to the next exhibit and it seemed to be another touch tank, except this time it was full of ocean critters.

Starfish, sea crabs, sea snails, and sea urchins occupied this exhibit, the older male who was working the exhibit named Robert explained how none of these animals were harmful, but to be very careful when touching them because of how sensitive they are, he also explained their importance in the ecosystem and how these were creatures that overall help maintain aquatic stability in the oceans. I reached my hand in to explore the different textures of the animals and was shocked, to say the least. The Starfish felt like it was made of rubber, the sea urchins were hard, pokey, and tried closing their little pinchers softly around my finger, and the sea shrimp used their little feelers in what felt like an attempt to clean my cuticles.

Walking away from the tank I went and washed my hands again when I saw something big, bright, and blue that caught my eye. It was a smaller aquarium way off to the side with a giant blue lobster in it, he had his own private display. The lobster was named “Lord Stanley” after the Stanley Hockey Cup that the St. Louis Blues won this past hockey season. It was mesmerizing to see that my city had named this brilliant creature in tribute to our hockey team’s hard-earned Stanley cup. After ogling over the Stanley a bit, I made my way down to another dark hallway where it led to the next and final exhibit, this time the hallway was much darker and the only lights I could see were the red exit signs above the hallway entryways.

Curious as to what else was down the hallway I walked faster until I saw what looked like a window but was really an inside look into a huge shark tank. I stood there speechless and in pure awe because I had never seen such big sharks so close to me. I walked further down the hallway which was filled with more windows that let you peer into the shark tank, I was so stunned I was probably standing there for thirty minutes just watching the sharks swim peacefully. After I had spent a good amount of time gushing over the sharks, I continued to walk further down the hallway, not knowing what would come next. The long drawn out hallway led me to the bottom floor where there was another tank about twelve feet high, inside were many different types of fish and sharks. The fish were all small in size and the majority of them were small silver colored fish called Blue Fin Tuna, they swam together in a condensed circle leaving little room for predators or other fish to get inside, which to me back to old Larry’s “safety in numbers” comment about the fish from the first exhibit.

The sharks in the tank that had my attention more than anything else because of how unreal it felt to see these ocean creatures up close. I stood there and observed the sharks some more so that I was able to get a better view of them, their small eyes and slanted mouths made them look grumpy, and their tough-looking silver fins looked rubbery. The exhibit worker here kept explaining how the sharks and the fish could both co-exist in this habitat because the sharks prefer meatier, more carnivorous meals, and not the small silver school fish that resided with them. It seemed though as if not even two minutes later one of the smaller sharks seemed dive towards some of the smaller fish that were swimming together in a circle, and in the blink of an eye, the fish each darted in a different direction, all meeting back up in a different area from the sharks, this time it seemed their circle was even tighter than before, making it difficult for the sharks to dive through.

I laughed and walked on, I never realized fish were so tactical. At that point, I also hadn’t realized I had walked through the whole aquarium and had now found myself deep in the middle of the gift shop. Walking back to my car I couldn’t help to think how much like art those animals were, but also how intelligent and significant lot of them were. Most importantly, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of different kinds of fish and other water wildlife, both native to Missouri, and some not so native.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Impressions of St Louis Union Station Aquarium. (2022, Apr 06). Retrieved from

Impressions of St Louis Union Station Aquarium essay
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