It’s pretty hard to miss the giant octopus in Branson, MO. This shimmering silver sculpture overlooking the 76 Strip marks the entrance to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, one of Branson’s newest and most enchanting attractions.
Image courtesy of Aquarium at the Boardwalk
Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk to facilitate my posts, but no payment was received and all opinions are my own.
The Aquarium at the Boardwalk opened in late 2020 and invites visitors to explore underwater wonders with more than 10,000 creatures from over 260 different species showcased in over 400,000 gallons of water.
While it’s easy to simply stroll through the exhibits wonderstruck by the fascinating fish that surround you, I wanted to put together a list of fun facts for people like me who delight in the details. The aquarium’s director of husbandry was kind enough to share his wealth of knowledge with me and answer a few million of my endless questions to help me create this post filled with fishy facts to keep in mind while visiting the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson for an even more memorable experience.
It’s not every day you see a 34-ton octopus. (Actually, if you *do* see one every day, I have questions.) The massive steel sculpture that decorates the aquarium entrance certainly sets the mood for the wonders inside. This 55-foot tall structure was created by the art studio Demiurge in Colorado and transported to Branson in pieces on a fleet of 27 flatbed trucks, which stretched the length of three football fields. (Am I the only one who thinks football would be more interesting with a giant octopus on the field?) After arriving in Missouri, the sculpture took six weeks to assemble. It instantly became a Branson icon and a popular spot for photos.
The giant octopus sculpture outside is just the beginning! Inside the aquarium, you’ll encounter Aquarius the Giant Pacific Octopus at the souvenir photo spot and in the 5-D movie, as well as meeting the real deal in one of the first exhibits you come to. I’m a huge octopus fan, so I can’t think of a better way to begin your journey through the Aquarium at the Boardwalk!
Wondering about that tube that connects the two tanks? An octopus can fit through pretty much any hole that’s larger than their beak, which is the only non-squishy part of their body. This makes them experts at escape, since they can slip through any tiny opening in their habitat. Above, you can see Aquarius stretching an arm through the tube to decide if the seagrass is greener on the other side!
The octopus is a master of camouflage, though, so be sure to keep an eye out for Aquarius as you travel through the aquarium! There are nine hidden octopus sculptures to find as you explore, and spotting them is both surprisingly challenging and a lot of fun!
If you read my other post about the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, you’ll have a good idea of where this one might be hiding!
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The first time I visited Branson’s Aquarium at the Boardwalk, I actually didn’t even notice the spellbinding soundtrack until I got home and looked at the videos I’d taken. It enhances the experience without being intrusive, which isn’t surprising since it was created by Jay Flood, an award-winning composer who has worked on movie and video game soundtracks. When you first enter the building, you’ll hear current pop music that amps you up and fits the boardwalk theme, but once you reach the Grand Aquarium, you’re immersed in an original score that makes the beautiful visuals feel even more cinematic.
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The perfect soundtrack for a sharky shipwreck!
If fresh seafood gets you excited, you might be a little jealous of what the fish here get to eat every day. Restaurant-quality ingredients ranging from tiny brine shrimp to fresh leafy greens make up the menus, which are designed to mimic what each species would eat in the wild as closely as possible. As you can imagine, that can be a bit of a challenge when you live in a landlocked state!
Many of the aquarium residents, like the sharks and stingrays, are carefully observed by one team member as another feeds them so that detailed records can be kept about exactly what and how much each individual animal eats. These records make it easy to spot changes in appetite and watch for food preferences. Want to know what this particular cownose ray ate for breakfast a year ago? That info is filed away somewhere!
I had the opportunity to peek into a few different “backstage” rooms where the water is transformed from ordinary tap water to fish-friendly saltwater with the perfect temperature, PH levels, and salinity to keep the aquarium residents happy and healthy. If you’ve ever had an aquarium at home, you have an idea of just how tricky keeping everything balanced can be, but imagine having to fine-tune water conditions for hundreds of different species! There are more than two miles of pipes beneath the building, ultraviolet sterilization, a whole separate system for the touch tanks to handle water that hundreds of human hands go into each day, an entire life support team in charge of water quality, and even smart technology that can send an alert to staff members if something goes wrong in the middle of the night.
Complex social lives aren’t just for reality TV and vague social media posts. While many people think of fish as very simple creatures just swimming through life, their social lives are often more intricate than you might imagine!
When designing the Grand Aquarium, which is home to more than 100 species and over 2,000 total fish, the aquarium team had to choose fish that could live together in harmony for their entire lives, which meant picking species that wouldn’t eat each other (always a plus), wouldn’t aggressively compete for food and territory, and would gravitate towards different parts of the exhibit.
The structure was designed to mimic a natural habitat as closely as possible so that, for example, smaller fish who would naturally spend their time hanging out in the shadow of a coral shelf can do exactly that, while others like sharks and rays have plenty of open water to glide around in. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience it takes to choose fish who not only meet all of the above criteria for getting along but are also beautiful, fun to watch, and able to be obtained from ethical sources? I hope they’re incredibly proud of the thriving underwater community they’ve put together because it seems to be a huge success. It’s almost impossible to pry me away from this exhibit, which has multiple viewing points throughout the aquarium.
Majestic Sea Flap Flap (That’s definitely a scientific name.)
But it gets much more intricate than just sharing space and food! I became an instant fan of these colorful creatures:
On Wednesdays, they wear pink.
While their bold fashion choices definitely get a thumbs-up from me, what makes the Two-Spotted Anthias so cool is their social structure, which is common among several Anthias species. They have an intricate social hierarchy that influences their coloring (They become more vibrant as they climb the social ladder), they’re all born female, and if there’s no male around, one of the large dominant females will just become male. Problem solved!
This fish is just daring you to challenge her place in the social hierarchy. Bring it on.
Image courtesy of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson
As a person who spent their last birthday flying 1,100 miles to go to an immersive art exhibit with my BFF I might be a little biased here, but the incredible artwork that decorates the aquarium really adds to the experience. I was chatting with Dani, one of the awesome aquarists who works so hard to take care of the animals here, and she mentioned that all of the amazing artistic details almost make it feel like an art gallery filled with fish! (Be sure to check out her Instagram – amazing fish photos and you’ll learn so many fun facts!) If you’re curious about the artists who made the aquarium so beautiful, check out this page on the Aquarium at the Boardwalk website to learn all about who created each aspect of the overall design.
The Mermaid Palace (pictured above) is decked out in gold leaf, custom-designed flooring, hand-painted murals, and hand-carved statues. It’s even prettier in person with the lighting and the music and the swirling sardines in the center display!
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The beauty isn’t limited to just this room, though, you’ll spot gorgeous design details all throughout the aquarium.
And speaking of artwork…
I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to notice the BACK of the aquarium. It’s easy to get distracted by the giant silver octopus out front, but the more time you spend examining the mural on the other side of the building, the more amazing you realize it is!
This spectacular optical illusion was painted by John Pugh, who specializes in Trompe l’oeil images (which literally translates to “deceiving the eye”). This acclaimed artist is also an underwater enthusiast, and he used the Giant Pacific Octopus’s reputation for being a skilled escape artist to create this captivating mural of an octopus literally breaking out of the building!
We discussed the gorgeous Mermaid Palace back in #6, but the incredible art isn’t all there is to see in that room!
If the central cylinder of sardines was one of those games where you guess how many jellybeans are in a jar, I would have lost. Terribly.
This fantastic fishnado is actually home to almost 3,000 sardines – by far the most of any species in the building!
The seahorse exhibit in this room is also noteworthy! Most aquariums have fairly small seahorse tanks since they don’t get very big (lined seahorses like these only grow to about 6″ long), but the Aquarium at the Boardwalk wanted to give these beautiful animals a palatial residence! Be sure to keep an eye out for a the Mandarin Dragonet fish that share this tank with the seahorses. They’re gorgeous!
From sparkling clean glass to happy, healthy animals, so much work goes into making the aquarium both beautiful and a place you can feel good about visiting. It actually reminded me a bit of my Walt Disney World cast member days because just like at the theme parks, there are a million things going on “backstage” to make the guest experience great that you’d never think about – chopping up ingredients for meals in the fully-equipped kitchen, testing water samples, and even scuba diving into the big tank for regular cleanings.
This is also a good place to mention what goes into bringing the fish to their new home at the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson! Every single fish you see was ethically sourced and transported as quickly and carefully as possible to ensure their health and safety. This involved some long road trips, including one to pick up the resident sea turtle, who was injured by a boat and not eligible to be released into the wild after she was rehabilitated. Since sea turtles are endangered, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has incredibly strict regulations for facilities that care for them (Yes, I read through their entire document on care requirements – #nerd), so you know she’ll be living her absolute best life while hopefully inspiring visitors to protect the oceans and their inhabitants!
Your visit to the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson helps to support the Coral Restoration Foundation, which is using innovative methods to restore the devastated colonies in Florida’s Coral Reef. Coral reefs are incredibly important – They’re complex ecosystems that support around 25% of all marine life, reduce coastal erosion, and are even being used to develop new life-saving medicines for humans! Without them, the fishing industry would collapse, the loss of habitat would be devastating to countless plants and animals, the tourism around snorkeling and diving would drastically diminish, and weather events like typhoons and hurricanes would wreak even more havoc on coastal cities.
Image courtesy of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson
You can see dozens of different kinds of coral in the aquarium and learn more about how amazing corals are and how the we can support them in this interview on the Coral Restoration Foundation’s website! (No seriously, it’s a great read! Go learn things!)
Which of these 10 fun facts got you the most excited to visit the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson? Leave a comment and let me know! And as great as it looks in all of the photos here and over on my Instagram, it’s definitely something you have to see in person! If you’re planning a trip to Branson, be sure to put the aquarium on your must-do list!
Check out my other Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson post for Branson Aquarium prices, ticket deals, and other handy info that’s helpful to know before you go!