Touch tank is very popular at New England Aquarium in Boston

BOSTON (Day four or four) — Do you know the difference between a seal and a sea lion?

The nine and 10 year-olds attending the New England Aquarium’s summer Harbor Discoveries Camps enlightened me.

“Sea lions can walk but seals can’t,” said nine year-old Sydney, adding that seals just have a hole where their ears are while sea lions have an external flap.

“It’s hard to choose which one I like better,” added Emma, 10.

You don’t even have to go into the Aquarium to see the Atlantic harbor seals, said Cori, 10.  They’re right out in front, while the California sea lions and Northern fur seals are outside in the back. “The seals come up close to the glass,” she said.  “It’s really cool!

Did you know harbor seals eat as many as 90 fish a day?  A big California Sea Lion might chow down on 500 fish.  Wow!  The exhibit compares activities marine mammals do to what kids might to burn calories.

A Harbor Seal relaxes at the New England Aquarium in Boston

This has been a big summer for the New England Aquarium, with the transformation of the iconic Giant Ocean Tank with thousands of new animals as well as favorites like Myrtle the sea turtle and the giant Pacific Octopus.  Myrtle, noted Emma, has a camera on her “so you can watch where she’s going.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this!“ said  Mahlon Page, 10, visiting from Indiana.

The kids at the museum camp advised making sure to go all the way to the top of the tank to get a different view and see some unusual fish.   Eight year old Richie said to look for the fish that “looks like a butterfly!”

There are also some wonderful interactives along the tank so kids (and grownups) can search for fish by color or shape and then click when they’ve found a particular one. 

But the first thing kids like to do when they head to the Aquarium, these avid Aquarium lovers said, was visit the touch tanks, especially the one with rays and sharks, the largest such touch tank on the East Coast .

Sharks?  “They’re not scary,” said Caroline, 9.    But the rays may feel “slimy,” added nine year-old Owen.

“It’s really cool,” promised Cori.

There is a second  Edge of the Sea touch tank the kids like as well with hermit crabs, sea stars and the chance to meet a lobster.  Another favorite are the penguins.  “It’s exciting to watch them dive for food,” said Emma.

“And they are sooo cute,” added Caroline.

Make sure not to miss meeting Dory from Finding Nemo in the Pacific Reef Community.  You’ll love all the bright tropical fish.  There are 70 different kinds.  See one of the IMAX nature movies on the largest screen in New England: Great White Shark, Penguin or The Last Reef.

Spend some time at the Gulf of Maine Exhibit.  The Gulf of Maine includes Boston Harbor and Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary where you go on whale watches and it stretches all the way to Canada.  Here’s where you’ll see creatures that live nearby—lobsters and giant sea stars, crabs, halibut and cod, the Massachusetts state fish.

The Aquarium campers said visiting kids should be sure to go out on a whale watch.  The New England Aquarium partners with Boston Harbor Cruises for whale watches that guarantee you will see whales in Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, a rich feeding ground not only for whales but for dolphins, sea birds and other marine life.

The campers said they’d seen humpback whales, finback whales and minke whales that morning.

“Keep your eyes open on the whale watch,” said Sydney.

“Bring a camera and keep it handy,” added Cori.

But don’t eat too much before you go—in case you get sea sick, suggested Richie.

Besides, after visiting the Aquarium, it’s just a short walk.  Check out the fountain you can jump through in front of the aquarium on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway  to the famous  historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace  where you’ll be entertained by the street performers outside and have your choice of food—everything from Chinese, Indian and Japanese to lobster rolls and clam chowder, burgers and some of the best pizza in Boston from North End’s Reginas.

Regina Pizzeria in Boston's North End
Regina Pizzeria in Boston’s North End

“Their pizza is really famous,” said 13 year old Maeve, who lives in a Boston suburb.

“I never had clam chowder before. It was really good,” Laci, 14, visiting from North Carolina told me.

And when you’re done eating, there’s the shopping—individual kiosks selling all kinds of souvenirs.  “I bought Harvard stuff,” said 14-year-old Henry, here with his Pennsylvania summer camp.   “There’s a lot of good stuff here to eat and to buy,” he said.

You might learn a little history too.  Faneuil Hall after all, is often referred to as the Cradle of Liberty because during the years leading up to the American Revolution, the Great Hall on the second floor was the scene of many meetings where Bostonians voiced their dissent against the taxes being imposed by British parliament.  It’s on the famous Freedom Trail.

But Boston is one place where learning—whether about sea life or American history—isn’t boring at all.

Just the opposite, promised the local kids spending part of their summer at the New England Aquarium’s Harbor Discoveries Camps.

“Really fun!”  they say.