Since the first major public aquarium was built in the 1800's people have been captivated by the spectacle of housed tropical fish. While many people have come to own their own fish, public aquariums and the associated tourism is still an expanding industry.
Today's public aquariums can consist of many standard size fish tanks, extremely large fish enclosures or a combination of both.
Where many standard tanks are used an aquatic zoo is created where individual aquariums are often species specific. Sometimes these aquatic zoos may be part of a larger animal zoo.
Larger scale fish enclosures are more like a wildlife park for aquatic inhabitants. Usually marine in nature, the specimens are collected from the ocean or obtained through successful captive breeding efforts. Sharks are often the stars of the show. Particularly large public aquariums are also home to small whales.
An agile beluga whale performs for the public at the Georgia Aquarium. The animal seems aware of the attention it is attracting from the other side of the clear wall.
Enclosures may be set up to be viewed from the surface, through a glass wall and sometimes via a clear walk through tunnel. The clear walls or domes of modern public aquariums are manufactured from acrylic because of it's superior advantages over glass.
A further element of much public aquaria are shallow pools where visitors are encouraged to touch selected inhabitants. Sting rays, urchins, cucumbers can be handled in an aquatic petting zoo of sorts.
Large public aquatic facilities also support scientific research. The contained environments are useful places for marine biologists to observe sea life behaviors and conduct other experiments.