Public aquariums have been a popular tourist attraction since the mid-1800s. The first-ever public aquarium was inaugurated in May 1853 inside the London Zoo, the oldest scientific zoo in the world.
It was commissioned by Philip Henry Gosse, a British naturalist who first coined the term ‘aquarium.’ During its initial days, the aquarium was more like a greenhouse.
It mainly displayed smaller marine species such as rudd, seahorses, and a wide variety of coral reef species – copperband butterflyfish, clownfish, and red-bellied piranhas.
Modern aquariums or oceanariums (another word for large aquariums) hold millions of gallons of water and contain large marine animals, including sharks and whales. They are much-much larger than home aquariums.
The size of an aquarium is measured by the total capacity of its water tanks. In many cases, large aquariums are ranked by the size of their main tanks, but in this article, we will rank them based on their total tank capacity.
Table of Contents
14. Lisbon Oceanarium
The Lisbon Oceanarium | Image Courtesy: Joaquim Alves Gaspar/Wikimedia Commons
Total Tank Capacity: 1.85 million U.S. gal
Located In: Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon Oceanarium is the third-largest aquarium in Europe by total tank capacity. It is situated in the Parque das Nações, one of the 24 civil parishes (districts) of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.
The aquarium is known for its peculiar architectural design. From the top, the building appears as an aircraft carrier as the facility is surrounded by an artificial lagoon.
The building was designed by Peter Chermayeff, a famous American architect known for designing public aquariums across the world. Chermayeff was also the mastermind behind the Osaka Oceanarium Kaiyukan (the 11th largest aquarium in the world).
Lisbon Oceanarium’s main tank has a capacity of 1.3 million U.S. gallons and covers 11,000 sq ft of area.
The main tank is surrounded by four smaller tanks, each exhibiting a unique habitat with their native species. These habitats include – The coastal antarctic, the Atlantic coast, the Temperate kelp forest of the Pacific, and Tropical coral reefs.
Here you can find thousands of marine animals from 100 different species, including barracudas, sharks, and rays. You can also find penguins, seahorses, starfish, and sea anemones.
The Lisbon Oceanarium is also one of the very few public aquariums that have rare ocean sunfish, the largest bony fish on earth.
13. Antalya Aquarium
Total Tank Capacity: 1.9 million U.S. gal
Located In: Antalya, Turkey
Antalya Aquarium is the largest tunnel aquarium in the world. It is located a few meters away from the famous Konyaaltı beach in the city of Antalya, the fifth most populous city in Turkey.
The Antalya Aquarium was inaugurated on August 15, 2012. It has a total floor area of 12,000 square meters, while the entire facility is situated over an area of 30,000 square meters.
The aquarium’s main tank has a capacity of more than 1.3 million gallons (5 million liters). Inside the tank is a 430 ft. long and 10 ft. wide tunnel that allows visitors to explore the unseen underwater life from a close distance.
The tunnel is located on the ground floor of the facility, where you can see an underwater cave and a pirate shipwreck. There is also an amphitheater where you can watch sharks roaming around.
On the first floor, there are several smaller tanks that showcase different marine ecosystems from ocean waters, rivers, and the seas of Turkey.
What You Can Find Here –
In Antalya Aquarium, you can find a wide variety of marine animal species, from moray eels, porpoises, and clown fishes to lion fishes, seahorses, octopuses, and sturgeons.
However, the biggest attraction of this aquarium is the sharks which have a large dedicated section.
12. Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium
A diver cleaning the fish tank at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Total Tank Capacity: 2.5 million U.S. gal
Located In: Okinawa, Japan
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, previously known as Okinawa Ocean Expo Aquarium, is the second-largest aquarium in Japan by total water capacity. It is situated within the famous Ocean Expo Park in Okinawa prefecture, Japan.
While the current aquarium facility was opened to the public in 2002, it was initially built in 1976. After more than two decades, the old facility was renovated and extended to accommodate more visitors.
After its re-opening in 2002, the Okinawa Churaumi became the world’s largest aquarium. It remained the largest aquarium until 2005 when it was replaced by the Georgia Aquarium.
The name ‘Churaumi’ (beautiful ocean) is derived from two separate words, ‘Chura’ and ‘Umi.’ Chura means ‘beautiful’ in the Okinawan language, one of the indigenous languages in the Japanese archipelago, while Umi stands for ‘ocean’ in Japanese.
The Okinawa Churaumi is one of the world’s most advanced and highly-rated public aquariums. It regularly conducts behavioral research and breeding experiments on marine animals.
In 2017, the aquarium reported the first-ever successful birth of a bottlenose dolphin in captivity.
It also contributed towards the discovery of several new marine species – Synactinernus churaumi and Hexagonaloides bathyalis.
11. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
A Scalloped hammerhead shark at Osaka Aquarium | Image Courtesy: Kimon Berlin/Flickr
Total Tank Capacity: 2.6 million U.S. gal
Located In: Osaka, Japan
The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is the largest public aquarium in Japan, slightly larger than the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It is located in the city of Osaka near Osaka Bay. The aquarium is easily accessible by Osakako Station on the Osaka metro Chūō Line.
It was inaugurated in May 1990. At that time, it was the largest public aquarium in the world.
The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan was a part of the redevelopment project of the Osaka Bay Area in the 1990s, in which the local authorities were looking to build facilities with high commercial value. And it proved to be a huge success as it attracted more than 1 million visitors in less than two months.
The aquarium features more than two dozen water tanks, each exhibiting a unique habitat and its native species. It includes the Great Barrier Reef, Japan Deeps, Monterey Bay, the Gulf of Panama, and Antarctica.
Here you can find marine mammals and fishes from over 400 different species, from Japanese giant salamanders and spider crabs to California sea lions, red-bellied piranhas, and Sardinops.
The largest tank at the aquarium has a total capacity of 1.4 U.S. gallons (or 5.4 million liters), where you can find the largest marine species, such as scalloped hammerhead sharks, reef manta rays, and even two whale sharks, who are the real rockstars here.
10. The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo (Dubai Mall)
Dubai Mall Aquarium and Underwater Zoo | Image Courtesy: Frank Seiplax
Total Tank Capacity: 2.7 million U.S. gal
Located In: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is located inside the Dubai Mall, the world’s second-largest mall by total land area.
The entire facility is divided into two sections – the main aquarium and an underwater zoo. The main tank is located on the ground floor of the mall and is accessed by a 158 ft (48 meters) long aquarium tunnel.
The main tank has a total capacity of about 2.6 million U.S. gallons (10 million liters) and is home to thousands of marine animals from about 140 species. It includes nearly 400 sharks, rays, and giant groupers. Dubai Aquarium contains one of the largest populations of sand sharks in the world.
Visitors can also use its scuba diving facility (for a fee) to explore marine life more closely.
Above the main aquarium tank is an Underwater zoo that takes you through three different ecological regions – rocky shore, deep ocean, and rainforest. The zoo features smaller marine species, including seahorses, paddlefish, archerfish, lionfish, giant spider crabs, and otters.
The aquarium is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums or WAZA, an environmental organization that supports the development of aquariums around the world.
9. Nausicaá Centre National de la Mer
Coral reef tank at Nausicaa | Image Courtesy: Michal Osmenda
Total Tank Capacity: 4.5 million U.S. gal
Located In: Boulogne, France
Nausicaa Centre National de la Mer, or simply Nausicaa, is the largest public aquarium in France and the second-largest in Europe by total tank capacity. The aquarium is located in the coastal city of Boulogne in northern France.
Nausicaa is built on the grounds of an old casino, which was demolished and repurposed in 1987. The project was initially named the National Sea Center. But after the inauguration of the aquarium on May 18, 1991, it was renamed ‘Nausicaa’ after a princess in Greek mythology.
Between 1998 and 2018, the Nausicaa went through at least three major expansions. In 2018, the aquarium added a massive 2.6 million U.S. gallon (10 million liters) tank that contains a large population of pelagic fish and some large species, such as manta rays, scalloped hammerheads, and sandbar sharks.
This expansion increased the total tank capacity of the aquarium to about 4.5 million U.S. gallons.
Today, the entire aquarium is situated over an area of 160,000 sq ft. and features over 58,000 animals from about 1,600 different species.
Apart from the newest large gallery, the aquarium has several permanent exhibits, including –
- Sea Lion Reserve
- Shark Aquarium
- The Touch Tank
- Penguin Beach
8. Shedd Aquarium
The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago | Image Courtesy: Sea Cow/Wikimedia Commons
Total Tank Capacity: 4.9 U.S. gallon
Located In: Chicago, United States
Shedd Aquarium is the third largest public aquarium in the United States, with a total tank volume of almost 5 million U.S. gallons. It is located on Lake Shore Drive, which runs alongside the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois.
The aquarium is part of the Museum Campus Chicago that also feature two public museums – the Field Museum of Natural History (one of the largest such museum in the world) and the Adler Planetarium. It was named after John Graves Shedd, one of the most prominent businessmen in the history of Chicago.
Shedd is also one of the oldest-operating aquariums in the United States. It was inaugurated on May 30, 1930, initially with about 130 water tanks. Because of its location, the aquarium had to rely on specially built railroad cars to transport diverse saltwater fish species.
In 1971, Shedd acquired an advanced research vessel to explore and collect specimens from the Caribbean Sea. A decade later, it was replaced with the current vessel named “Coral Reef II.”
In 1987, Shedd Aquarium was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
What You Can Find Here
The aquarium has five permanent exhibits, each of which features a unique marine habitat. One of the most popular and largest exhibits of the aquarium – the ‘Wild Reef’ recreates coral reef habitat on Apo Island near the Philippines. It contains a total of 525,000 gallons of water.
Apart from ling coral, the Wild Reef features a wide variety of fish species, such as white-spotted guitarfish, Japanese and spotted wobbegongs.
Another popular exhibit of the aquarium is called the ‘Amazon Rising.’ The exhibit feature over 250 animal species that are commonly found in the Amazon basin. Some of the species that are found here are – red-bellied piranhas, yellow-spotted river turtles, Arapaimas, and mata matas.
Shedd also has a separate Oceanarium (Abbott Oceanarium) where you can find larger marine mammals, including Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters, and beluga whales.
7. Aqua Planet Jeju
Aqua Planet Jeju aquarium entrance | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Total Tank Capacity: 5.28 million U.S. gallon
Located In: Jeju Island, South Korea
Aqua Planet Jeju, officially known as Hanwha Aqua Planet Jeju, is the largest aquarium in South Korea and the seventh largest in the world. It is located in Jeju Province (Jeju island), the largest island in South Korea.
The entire facility is divided into three sections – a performance hall, where you can enjoy dolphin and walrus shows; a science museum; and a dedicated aquarium hall.
The main tank at the aquarium has a capacity of 1.4 million U.S. gallons and houses some of the larger fish species, such as Giant guitarfish and Sand Tigers. Visitors explore this section of the aquarium through a long acrylic tunnel.
Aqua Planet Jeju is focused on developing strategies and long-term projects to conserve marine life, including regular bleach cleaning nearby seas. It has developed a specialized medical center for its marine population.
The Aqua Planet Jeju is owned and operated by Hanwha Group, one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea, with assets in the chemical industry, construction/engineering, financial services, and leisure. Apart from this facility, the group operates four more aquariums (smaller ones) across the country.
6. The Seas with Nemo & Friends
The Seas attraction at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Jedi94
Total Tank Capacity: 5.7 million U.S. gal
Located In: Bay Lake, Florida
Unlike other aquariums on this list, The Seas with Nemo and Friends is not an independent facility. It is part of the Epcot theme park located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida.
The Seas is a single-tank aquarium with a total capacity of 5.7 million U.S. gallons or 21.5 million liters. It was initially opened on January 15, 1986, as ‘The Living Seas.’ However, in 2005, the aquarium underwent a remodeling when it was re-themed based on the popular animated movie Finding Nemo.
The aquarium is divided into two main sections. The first section is dedicated to the Finding Nemo theme, where visitors explore the world of Nemo through a coral reef onboard a special ride called ‘clamobiles’. Here you can enjoy beautiful animated effects and even robotics at work.
The second section is the main aquarium which consists of several smaller tanks. Some of the marine populations you can find here are – North American manatees, bottlenose dolphins, a variety of mid-sized sharks, and cowtail stingrays.
5. Moscow Oceanarium
Moscow Oceanarium | Image Courtesy: Dmitry Ivanov
Total Tank Capacity: 6.6 million U.S. gal
Located In: Moscow, Russia
The Moscow Oceanarium (Moskvarium) is the fifth largest public aquarium across the globe and is located in Moscow, Russia. It was opened in 2015.
Moscow Oceanarium is divided into three zones or sections, the first section consists of about 80 water tanks which are home to more than 12,000 marine animals. The second section is the center for swimming with dolphins, where visitors swim and interact with dolphins.
The third section is a large hall where you can enjoy a variety of water shows. In fact, these shows are one of the most popular shows in the city.
One interesting attraction of the aquarium is an exhibition dedicated to the Jurassic period. Mostly through graphics, this exhibition allows visitors to better know the marine life during the Jurassic times millions of years ago.
In the Moskvarium, you can find a variety of marine species from all across the world, including Baikal seals, which are only found in Russia’s Lake Baikal, and alligator gar, a freshwater fish found in North America.
4. The Oceanographic
The Oceanographic | Image Courtesy: Steven Lek
Total Tank Capacity: 10.9 million U.S. gal
Located In: Valencia, Spain
Valencia’s L’Oceanogràfic (the Oceanographic) is the largest aquarium in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It is situated over a massive area of 1.2 million sq ft. and has the capacity to hold almost 11 million U.S. gallons of water.
The aquarium is a part of the City of Arts and Sciences, a specially designed architectural and cultural complex in Valencia, Spain. The entire complex has been a major tourist attraction in the country.
L’Oceanogràfic is widely popular among tourists mostly due to its unique structural design. The distinctive hyperbolic paraboloid (or hypars) roof design gives it a grandeur look. Moreover, the entire structure is made of steel-fiber reinforced concrete.
Like any other large aquarium, the Oceanographic is divided into several sections based on the natural habitats of its inhabitants — a separate area for tropical marine species, Mediterranean species, and so on.
There is also a dolphinarium that houses dolphins, beluga whales, walruses, and other species.
3. Georgia Aquarium
A whale shark in Georgia Aquarium | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Total Tank Capacity: 11 million U.S. gal
Located In: Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Georgia Aquarium is located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. It is one of the largest and most popular public aquariums in the world.
For a period of seven years, from its opening in 2005 until 2012, Georgia Aquarium was the largest aquarium in the world and is only eclipsed by S.E.A. Aquarium (Singapore) and the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (China) since then.
How this massive public aquarium was built in one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods in the city has a story of its own. The idea of such an aquarium in Atlanta was first put forward by billionaire businessmen Bernard Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot.
He later donated about $250 million for the construction of the aquarium. Moreover, the land for the aquarium was donated by The Coca-Cola Company, which was valued at around $24 million.
It is home to various marine mammals, from African penguins and California sea lions to beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins.
The Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium outside Asia that have whale sharks, which were imported from Taiwan.
In a recent expansion in 2020, the aquarium added a 1.2 million U.S. gallon capacity water tank dedicated to different species of sharks and rays.
2. S.E.A. Aquarium
Sharks at S.E.A. Aquarium | Image Courtesy: Smuconlaw/Wikimedia Commons
Total Tank Capacity: 11.9 million U.S. gal
Located In: Sentosa, Singapore
The S.E.A. (South East Asia) Aquarium is the world’s second-largest aquarium, with a total tank capacity of nearly 12 million gallons. The aquarium is part of Resorts World Sentosa (R.W.S.), located on the island of Sentosa, Singapore.
The R.W.S. is one of the earliest licensed integrated resorts in the world. It includes two casinos, an Universal Studios theme park, a waterpark, as well as the S.E.A. Aquarium. It was inaugurated in 2012.
The entire aquarium is divided into eight sections or zones. It is home to 100,000 marine animals from over 1,000 different species and 40 habitats.
Perhaps the most spectacular section of the S.E.A. is the massive 4.8 million U.S. gallon ‘Open Ocean’ tank that houses hundreds of larger fish species such as reef manta rays and leopard whipray.
In total, the aquarium contains almost 12 million U.S. gallons (45 million L) of water.
What Can You Find Here –
A white potted jellyfish at the aquarium | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The aquarium is home to more than 100,000 marine animals. This is what you expect from the world’s second-largest aquarium.
Here you can find a wide variety of sharks and rays species, including zebra shark (females), sand tiger shark, whitetip reef shark, and the vulnerable Javanese cownose ray and Leopard whipray.
In 2021, the aquarium reported that a female zebra shark has given birth to two”miracle babies” through parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction).
1. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom
Beluga Theater at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom
Total Tank Capacity: 12.8 million U.S. gal
Located In: Hengqin, Zhuhai, China
With a total capacity of more than 12 million U.S. gallons, China’s Zhuhai Chimeling Ocean Kingdom currently holds the title of the largest aquarium in the world.
The Ocean Kingdom is a part of Chimelong International Ocean Tourist Resort, a 20 billion Yuan project that currently includes three hotels, two entertainment theaters, and a theme park (Chimelong Ocean Kingdom).
It is owned and operated by Chimelong Group, which owns several theme parks, restaurants, and hotels across China.
According to AECOM, a U.S-based infrastructure consulting firm, Zhuhai Chimeling Ocean Kingdom was the 9th most visited theme park in the world, with over 11.7 million annual visitors in 2019 (pre-pandemic).
The aquarium has separate sections for dolphins, whale sharks, manta rays, and belugas.
World’s Largest Aquarium based on Single Tank Capacity
Below is the list of the six largest aquariums based on the capacity of their main tank.
|Aquarium or Oceanarium||The volume of the Main Tank (In liters)|
|1. Georgia Aquarium (U.S.)||6.3 million U.S gallons (23.8 million L)|
|2. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (China)||5.9 million U.S. gallons (22.7 million L)|
|3. S.E.A. Aquarium (Singapore)||4.8 million U.S gallons (18.1 million L)|
|4. Aqua Planet Jeju (South Korea)||2.85 million U.S gallons (10.8 million L)|
|5. Nausicaä Centre National de la Mer (France)||2.6 million U.S gallons (10 million L)|
|6. The Dubai Mall (U.A.E.)||2.6 million U.S gallons (10 million L)|
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Most Popular Public Aquarium in the U.S.?
As the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is, without a doubt, the most popular public aquarium in the United States. The Georgia Aquarium is the only public aquarium in the U.S. large enough to house gigantic whale sharks.
Unlike the largest oceanariums and aquariums, the Georgia Aquarium publishes its annual report, where they disclose details about new species in its facilities, volunteer works, conservation efforts, and sponsorships. The report also reveals the aquarium’s financial status.
Another widely famous public aquarium in the U.S. is Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. First opened in 1984, the public aquarium focuses on the regional marine habitats of Monterey Bay.
It has a total capacity of 2.3 million U.S. gallons and features about 35,000 animals from more than 500 species. Here you can find marine creatures such as sea otters and a wide variety of birds and turtles.
As it stands, Monterey Bay Aquarium received about 2 million visitors annually.
What is the Oldest Running Public Aquarium in the U.S.?
The oldest continuously running public aquarium in the United States is the New York Aquarium located in Coney Island, Brooklyn. The aquarium was originally established in Battery Park, Manhattan, in 1896, but it was relocated to its current location in 1957.
While the oldest currently running aquarium in the country is the New York Aquarium, the first-ever public aquarium to be opened in the United States was the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., which was established in 1873.
The aquarium was located on the lower levels of the Herbert C. Hoover Building in D.C. and is not to be confused with The National Aquarium in Baltimore, which was founded in 1981.
On September 30, 2013, the National Aquarium was closed after 140 years of operation.