Aquarium home to indigenous marine life

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n the underbelly of the beast gapes a mouth. The mouth moves as the odd-looking creature chomps on its prey, unaware it is being watched.

Clams and mussels disappear into the orifice where heavy dental plates do their job, as inches away, we huddle together -- mesmerized.

It was feeding time at the Maui Ocean Center, and the eagle ray was working on his appetizer while two scuba divers moved about the 750,000 gallon tank with gray reef sharks, black tip sharks, stingrays, whitemargin unicornfish and myriad other fish.

An eagle ray at the Maui Ocean Center works on his appetizer.The center is entering its fifth year of educating the public about Hawaii's oceans with the aid of digital audio guides and brochures identifying all of the fish. Every fish in the aquarium is native to Hawaii.

My favorites were the dragon eels and garden eels. Both are rarely seen in their native ocean habitat. Dragon eels are scarce, and garden eels disappear into the sand when frightened.

But here at the aquarium, one-way glass lets them believe they go unobserved as they sway in the manufactured current and nibble on plankton.

A highlight was watching the naturalist feed the green sea turtles, which can pack on up to 500 pounds over the course of a lifetime.

We also enjoyed the Hawaiians and the Sea cultural section, and lingered for a long time in the interactive Whale Discovery Center, learning about whale songs and migration habits.

One of the most impressive features is the clear walking tube that allows visitors a 240-degree view of nearly 2,000 underwater creatures.

Also at the Maui Ocean Center is a 6,000-square-foot retail store and a restaurant and cafe. The center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $19 for adults, $13 for children ages 3 to 17. Children under 3 years old are admitted free. Seniors and members of the military and their families get a reduced rate.

For additional information or to make reservations, call (808) 270-7000 or visit www.mauioceancenter.com.

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