Tucked away at the west end of Dodecanese Boulevard, past the Greek restaurants, natural sponge displays, and sightseeing cruises that mark the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, is a small but mighty aquatic zoo.
The Tarpon Springs Aquarium features a 120,000-gallon tank where large and amazing predators prowl a coral reef. Getting ready for Shark Week on the Discovery Channel? Narrated alligator- and shark-feeding shows provide unique opportunities to see the bad boys of the seas and rivers up close.
For a family-friendly admission charge of $5.75 per child and $7.75 for adults, visitors can pet a 125-pound Burmese python and peer right into the crabby face of Shrek, an alligator snapping turtle that looks like a small plated dinosaur.
Mary Hoskin of Hudson was visiting the fish and reptile resort with her husband, daughter and two grandchildren.
"We were looking for things to do that don't cost too much and this is fantastic for the price. The kids are having a spectacular afternoon and it's such a good learning experience."
Guests are encouraged to rub the osteoderm plates of a 3 ½-foot gator named Rufus while a trained staffer holds tight to make sure no one gets a free ear piercing.
Touch tanks are brimming with diamondback terrapin turtles, sea urchins and other amiable creatures that live in the brackish 80-degree water.
A dollar will buy a cup of shrimp to feed the stingrays. The soft and silky creatures have their barbs (bonelike spears with serrated edges) removed periodically for visitors' safety.
One of the tanks, covered with wire mesh, is home to baby nurse and cat sharks as well as an aggressive cubera snapper who is serving a time out for bad behavior.
Feed the babies shrimp on a stick if you dare but be prepared for their powerful sucking action. They will snatch the morsel and dispose of it in the blink of an eye.
Scott Konger, 54, opened the 6,400-square-foot facility in 1990. He met his wife, Jenni, shortly after, and they've been running it together ever since.
They have six children who help out too, including their daughter Paige, 19, an Oklahoma City University sophomore who assists during the summer.
On this day, Paige is the star of the dive show, tossing out food to make the tarpon leap to the surface and cradling a nurse shark to give it a tummy rub.
Placing her hand inside the mouth of Oscar, a hefty 125-pound goliath grouper, she runs her fingers run past several rows of needlelike teeth before she gives his tongue a tickle.
"That grouper has eaten three bonnethead sharks," said Paige's mother. "It's a little scary seeing her in the tank but she's grown up watching her father dive, so it's natural for her to want to do the same."
Contact Terri Bryce Reeves at [email protected]