Winter 2011

Getting bored with winter? Connecticut's  Norwalk Maritime Aquarium has a suggestion.

Come aboard the research vessel Oceanic with Aquarium educators for a unique outing, a Winter Creature Cruise to spy some of the harbor seals, gray seals and the sea birds that regularly winter in Long Island Sound. These invigorating outings are held many weekends through early April, the season when the seals come down to Fairfield County for shelter from much colder northern waters. Cruises are timed for low tide, when the seals are most likely to be spotted hanging out and basking in their favorite spots, exposed rocks, shoals and shoreline on and near the Norwalk Islands.

Educators tell all about the seals' natural histories and use artifacts to discuss the anatomy that lets them survive nicely in winter. They also fill in passengers on what happens in winter on the Sound, who migrates in, who migrates out and who stays put.

Staff members also point out some of the plentiful winter waterfowl, including buffleheads, mergansers, Old Squaw and other feathered seasonal visitors.

When the cruise ends, there is plenty to see inside the Aquarium, including a delightful Meerkat exhibit through the end of February and a new permanent exhibit, Go Fish: Long Island Sound & Beyond, featuring interactive displays and a new 30,000-gallon tank stocked with fish found in the Sound, including cod, striped bass, Atlantic salmon, the wolffish and spiny dogfish sharks. Exciting IMAX movies being shown on the giant  screen include Island of the Sharks, Everest and one Hollywood entry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Winter Creature Cruises are scheduled on Saturdays and Sundays. January dates are January 15 and 16, 29 and 30 at 1:00 p.m. In February, dates and times include the 12th  at 11:00 am, 13th at 11:30 a.m., and 27th at 1 p.m. March sailing times are the 12th at 9:30 am, 13th at 12 p.m., 16th at 11 a.m. and 27 at 12 p.m., while April cruises are set for 9 a.m. on the 9th and 10 a.m. on the 10th.

Bring binoculars, cameras and -- because there is limited cabin space -- warm clothes. The 2 1/2-hour cruises are good for ages 8 and older.

Tickets are $20.50 and advance ticket purchases are strongly recommended, though walk-up tickets will be sold, space permitting. Get advance tickets by calling (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206, during weekday business hours or by going online at www.maritimeaquarium.org.