Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab Explores the Ocean

Alabama’s Dauphin Island—a barrier island just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico—is home to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the Alabama Aquarium. Last summer, the Aquarium reopened following renovations, including a comprehensive refresh of its graphic and educational signage. The Aquarium opened in 1998 and introduces visitors to Alabama’s major coastal ecosystems and its connections with Mobile Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the world ocean. The renovations give a more integrated and extensive incorporation of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, to help visitors understand the research being conducted there.

The Rays of the Bay Touch Tank allows visitors to get up close with sting rays. Photos courtesy Dauphin Island Sea Lab

The goal of the Aquarium has always been to inspire visitors to care for the ocean and its creatures. Here, exhibits featuring more than 100 species introduce visitors to aquatic life.  In addition to the 10,000-square-foot Exhibit Hall and the Living Marsh Boardwalk, the Aquarium includes the 7000-gallon Rays of the Bay Touch Tank, allowing visitors to get up close with stingrays and other species called Mobile Bay home.  A World Ocean Day event on June 8th will promote the views of young people as they voice their concerns about ocean issues.

Educational opportunities offered by the Aquarium include informal Boardwalk Talks, which share insights into current Sea Lab projects and community awareness. Excursions scheduled year-round introduce visitors to different aspects of the coastal region, including research at the Sea Lab, home to nearly 20 research labs run by scientists studying a broad diversity of topics from hurricanes to manatees. Guided tours of the Sea Lab on certain weekdays give visitors a unique opportunity to see scientists at work.

Other excursions at the Aquarium take visitors into the habitats studied by marine scientists, researchers, and students at the Sea Lab.  The Salt Marsh Excursion features an up-close look at the inhabitants of the salt marsh and shows visitors how to collect samples and specimens.

A Family Camp allows families to explore Dauphin Island together. Photos courtesy Dauphin Island Sea Lab

The Beach, Dune, and Maritime Forest Excursion highlights native plants and explains the benefits of an intact dune system. Visitors see many coastal animals and dig for mole and ghost crabs.

The R/V Alabama Discovery Excursion includes a two-hour boat trip in the waters surrounding Dauphin Island to learn about Mobile Bay’s diverse environment and animals.

The Sea Lab’s Discovery Hall programs offer a variety of summer camps, including day camps, overnight camps, and the Residential Marine Science Class. This immersive 4-week academic class introduces high school students to the field of marine science. A weekend Family Camp, set for October 2024,  allows families to explore Dauphin Island and its habitats, guided by full-time marine educators.

The Alabama Aquarium and Dauphin Island Sea Lab are located on Dauphin Island,  accessed by a bridge south of Mobile, Alabama. For more information check the website at

Kathie Farnell
Kathie Farnell
Freelance writer Kathie Farnell lives in Foley, Alabama, ten miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, with her husband, photographer Jack Purser, and a flock of cats. She has written travel articles for print and web publications since 1992, and also produces programming for public television and radio through her nonprofit corporation, Artemis Media Project. The couple enjoy exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations and spending time on the Gulf beaches.

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