Located about four hours northeast of the region, Sea Life Michigan became the largest aquarium in the state when it opened at the end of January.

The aquarium, located in Auburn Hills, is home to more than 5,000 sea creatures, including sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, sea horses and innumerable species of fish.

Since opening at the end of January, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response, said Debbie Gibb, marketing manager for the aquarium.

“We’ve been thrilled with the number of visitors that we have had, it has exceeded our expectations,” she said.

The aquarium encompasses 35,000 square feet of space inside the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets.

Gibb said the attraction uses themed areas of the aquarium to educate as well as entertain.

“When you walk in, you’re in a room that looks like a submarine. You watch a short video and when the doors open, you’re in a forest in the Great Lakes region,” she said. “It really feels like an adventure.”

There are nine different areas, including a 180-degree ocean tunnel that makes guests feel as if the animals are swimming all around them.

There is also a touch pool, where guests can see crabs, urchins and star fish. There is also a trained educator there to answer questions and teach guests the proper way to approach the animals, she said. There are also daily feeds at the touch pool that guests can observe.

“It is a really great area,” she said.

Educators also give talks throughout the day on different animals and there are regular scheduled feedings for the sharks and the rays.

For an additional $2, guests can go on a “behind the scenes” tour, where they can see the water testing labs, the food preparation area, the quarantine area and the “life support system” that keeps the entire facility running, Gibb said.

Whether you’re interested in sharks or fish, sea horses or the octopus, the aquarium has an animal that appeals to everyone.

There are four types of sharks — black nose, black tip, bonnethead and nurse shark, three types of sting rays, two moray eels and an octopus.

She said the aquarium focuses on breeding, rescuing and protecting, and as it becomes an established aquarium, it will begin its own breeding program for sea horses and stingrays.

In the meantime, it will focus on educating guests about keeping the environment clean, eating sustainable fish and animal rescue programs.

“We want this to be an entertainment facility and we want people to come and enjoy the beautiful creatures,” she said. “But we have a big conservation message, as well.”

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Features Editor