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Beneath the Seas, Atop the Trees

Several times a day, employees of the aquarium’s education staff encourage kids (and adults, too!) to interact with such residents as boa constrictors and tarantulas.

In Dallas’ bustling West End Historic district, some of the rowdiest merrymakers make their presence known with whoops and roars. Other denizens strut like Las Vegas showgirls, adorned in multicolored plumage. Look closely, and you’ll see drifters, industrious taskmasters, homemakers, consummate loafers, opportunists, and masters of disguise. Weekend revelers and tourists exploring the West End’s historical and cultural offerings? No doubt. But we’re talking about howler monkeys, yellow-knobbed curassows, moon jellyfish, giant tarantulas, Antillean manatees, and the hundreds of other creatures that call The Dallas World Aquarium home. In the drama that is the animal kingdom, everybody plays a role.

To Dallas World Aquarium founder and director Daryl Richardson, his role is to educate people—about sea life, ecology, conservation of the world’s reefs and rainforests, and geography. A successful Dallas caterer with a zeal for biology when he purchased the first of two abandoned warehouses in the early 1990s, he opened the doors to his first displays of saltwater fish and reef inhabitants in 1992. (“My goal,” he says, “was to open the aquarium before I turned 30.”) When the adjacent warehouse came up for sale in 1996, Daryl didn’t miss a beat—he could finally build the rainforest he’d dreamed of. Today, in a gorgeously designed structure that occupies a city block, The Dallas World Aquarium houses an incomparable representation of the world’s water-dependent habitats, from a Venezuelan treetop canopy to a coral reef off the Fiji Islands.

If you were led blindfolded to The Dallas World Aquarium, you’d never suspect you were in Dallas’ West End. Bamboo bridges span palm frond-imprinted walkways, and golden squirrel monkeys cavort in a canopy of trees. Waterfalls roar from above, and rainbow-hued toucans waddle about freely. Looking content in their spacious habitats, red howler monkeys and cotton-top tamarins swing from springy branches, screeching on occasion. The jaguars—Cody and B.J.— merely lift an eyelid now and then to evaluate the scene. Nearby, a pair of 10-foot Orinoco crocodiles do the same. Outside, a group of black-footed penguins (which hail from the Cape of Good Hope) clamor for lunch.

When you visit The Dallas World Aquarium, spend a few moments at the Continental Shelf tunnel exhibit, which provides a spectacular view of reef life.Inside, dozens of aquariums, including a spectacular, 22,000-gallon walk-through tunnel that represents reef life, also vie for your attention. Beautifully illuminated, these water-worlds teem with some of the most glorious and bizarre aquatic species you’ll likely see under one roof.

This is the West End? Yep. Owner Daryl Richardson, who built the aquarium five years ago and recently added a Venezuelan rainforest, has created a wildlife wonderland in the heart of downtown Dallas. Dozens of species—aquatic, mammalian, avian, and insectival— from such far-flung locales as Australia’s Lord Howe Island (in the only such exhibit in the world), Indonesia, Tasmania, British Columbia, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands will take your breath away. If you’ve never marveled at the beauty of a moon jellyfish or the clever adapta-tion of a leafy seadragon (which looks like drifting seaweed), you owe it to yourself to visit.

The Dallas World Aquarium, at 1801 N. Griffin St. (75202), opens daily 10-5 (closed Christmas and Thanksgiving days). Admission (not including tax): $10.95, $6 age 60 and older and ages 3-12, free age 2 and younger. Wheelchair accessible. Call 214/720-2224.

During the school year, The Dallas World Aquarium is a popular site for field trips; weekday mornings can be noisy with the sounds of excited schoolchildren. Visit after 1 p.m. if you prefer a quieter setting.

The aquarium has two restaurants. The Jungle Cafe (sandwiches, sodas, cookies, and other light snacks) opens 11-4. The upscale eighteen-O-one (unusual, ethnic-inspired entrées) opens 11:30-2:30; reservations are recommended.

For more information, write to The Dallas World Aquarium, 1801 N. Griffin St., Dallas 75202, or call 214/720-2224. Web site (be sure to check out the live images of the manatees via the "Manatee Cam"): www.dwazoo.com.

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