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Rain or shine, head for this aquarium

It was fortuitous that Virginia Beach was selected as the site for the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center because where else would throngs of beachgoers go on a rainy day?

“You’ll get to see the aquarium on one of its busiest days of the year,” said the Virginia Beach CVB’s Jim Coggin, laughing. We met with Joan Barns, the facility’s public relations manager for a tour and the crowds were enormous.

“The aquarium was begun by an educator 26 years ago,” she said above the din. “It tells the story of the journey of water through the state of Virginia.”

Two of the aquarium’s newest residents are land-based reptiles. They have two Komodo dragons that originate from one region in the world: the islands of Indonesia. These huge lizards reach up to 10 feet in length and weigh up to 250 pounds. In the wild, they take down prey as large as water buffalo and deer. Not surprisingly, this display was as busy as any, rivaling the shark tank and a few poisonous snakes as the biggest stars of the facility.

Another favorite of everyone was the sea turtle exhibit. The aquarium is very active in the ongoing rescue missions undertaken to help recently hatched sea turtles make it at least as far as the ocean before encountering any of nature’s predators.

“We have an annual visitation of around 600,000 guests,” said Barns, “including lots of local school groups and charter groups of all ages. As part of our mission, we’re very involved in conservation, preservation and research, and we’re active in stranding response for wildlife such as sea turtles, seals, dolphins, etc.”

True to its mission as an educational facility, the Virginia Aquarium is also the leading operator of wildlife cruises in the ocean. Depending on the season, visitors can book dolphin-watching cruises and, on a more sporadic basis, whale-watching cruises.