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Author: Howard Norfolk
Title: A Visit to the National Aquarium of Cuba
Summary: The Acuario Nacional de Cuba displays fish and corals from the tropical Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Its dolphin and sea lion shows are popular with the local people. Lots of photos.
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Date first published:  January 2004
Publication: Original to Aquarticles
Reprinted from Aquarticles:
February 2004: Translated into Spanish, for Aquarticles, by Armando Olaechea of the National Aquarium. See:
Una Visita al Acuario Nacional de Cuba
March 2004: Posted by Roland Seah on his website in Singapore:
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A Visit to the National Aquarium of Cuba
Acuario Nacional de Cuba

by Howard Norfolk
Original to Aquarticles

Havana (La Habana) is the capital city of Cuba and is the largest city in the Caribbean. The old part of the city has a beautiful setting, surrounded on three sides by water.

t-001 El Morro Castle.jpg (20117 bytes)
La Habana, as seen from El Morro Fort.


A visitor can spend days exploring the picturesque old squares, castles, museums and churches that are to be found throughout Havana.

t-004 Square.jpg (22187 bytes)   t-003 Statue.jpg (15896 bytes)   t-002 Inside Capitol.jpg (23263 bytes)
A typical city square; a statue; and the interior of the Capitol building. (Cuban girls don't all dress like this! These flower sellers are in traditional costume for the tourists).

There are some modern buildings and monuments that are worth looking at too, including some commemorating the revolutionary government formed by Fidel Castro in1959.

But when you've had your fill of museums, churches, monuments and statues, what can you do? ...Well, I suppose like Ernest Hemingway (who used to live here), you could have a few drinks of rum, a good Cuban cigar, and go marlin fishing in the ocean.... But if you are reading this article I would guess you might be just as interested in visiting the National Aquarium!

The Acuario Nacional is located on the waterfront in a suburb to the west of the old city, and is about a US$6.00 taxi ride from anywhere in town.

t-01 Entrance.jpg (21802 bytes)  
Dolphins grace the entrance of the Acuario Nacional.

Founded in 1960 and run by the Federal Government, its "main field of focus is research and environmental education," and one of its stated aims is "to exhibit organisms of the tropical marine flora and fauna, in order to connect visitors with the main landscapes and ecosystems of the Cuban Archipelago." In other words it concerns itself mainly with saltwater creatures from the surrounding Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It does not display freshwater fish.

Admission for tourists is US$5.00, but locals pay considerably less. The Aquarium is a popular day's outing for the people of Havana. I visited on a Sunday (in January 2004), when the Aquarium was particularly busy with local families and their lively children. On weekdays it is not so crowded.

Let's take a tour!

t-13 Turtle pool.jpg (25416 bytes)   t-13b W turtles.jpg (25615 bytes)   t-13f Pelican.jpg (24076 bytes)
Near the entrance is a semi-circular 'stream' with lots of large turtles.The island in the middle is guarded by a pelican.

t-11e Seal pools general.jpg (23562 bytes)   t-11f Seals.jpg (20823 bytes)
Opposite is a group of enclosures for sea lions and other marine mammals.

t-12 El mundo de mar.jpg (26745 bytes)
Entering "El Mondo del Mar al Alcance de Todos" - "The World of the Sea Available to Everyone."

t-14d Ocean pool.jpg (12808 bytes)   t-14b Megalops atlanticus Tarpon.jpg (22101 bytes)
A picturesque grotto keeps these Atlantic tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) partly in the shade.

t-15c Viewing open pool.jpg (28222 bytes)
When you're in the Tropics you can keep tropical fish outside! This pond has three sides of glass, and contains saltwater fish.

t-16c Large tanks general.jpg (21318 bytes)
An open-ended corridor contains a row of large aquariums, set at an angle so that they can each be viewed from two sides.

t-21d Ramajal sign.jpg (20749 bytes)   t-21c Ramajal general.jpg (19838 bytes)
One angle of the display gives general information about its contents, and the other shows pictures of its fish and invertebrates, together with their common and scientific names.

t-19f Caranx w boy.jpg (21227 bytes)   t-25d Caranx tank.jpg (21928 bytes)   t-19 Caranx latus.jpg (20753 bytes)
Jack fish species, including the horse-eye jack (Caranx latus) on the right.

t-20b Coralino  tank.jpg (27900 bytes)   t-21f Corals w fish.jpg (26709 bytes)   t-21d Corals.jpg (27531 bytes)

t-23c Corals.jpg (26217 bytes)   t-23b Fish w corals.jpg (27475 bytes)
The aquariums contain a variety of corals...

t-25c Lutjanus anilis.jpg (24211 bytes)   t-21f Panuliras argus Spiny Lobster.jpg (28994 bytes)
...and of course fish, such as this mutton snapper (Lutjanus analis). On the right is a spiny lobster (Panulirus argus).

t-22b Myripristis jacobus.jpg (26401 bytes)   t-22d Myripristis jacobus close.jpg (26162 bytes)
The blackbar soldierfish (Myripristis jacobus) is a colourful fish.

Three times each day, loudspeakers ring out all over the Aquarium announcing "Espectaculo con Delphines!!!" - the Dolphin Show!

Everyone hurries over to the new amphitheatre with its circus-like atmosphere, where Latin music plays and an announcer excites the crowd. The dolphins show off their amazing intelligence and co-ordination.

t-08b Jump.jpg (23793 bytes)   t-09 On deck.jpg (26413 bytes)
The dolphins perform many tricks during their half-hour show.

t-07 Crowd.jpg (23437 bytes)
The crowd is large and enthusiastic...

t-10 Hula hoops.jpg (21868 bytes)   t-03 Dolphins swimming.jpg (29538 bytes)
...and the dolphins appear to enjoy showing off.

Should dolphins be kept in captivity?

They are very intelligent and seem to like co-operating with their trainers, and I believe these ones have an enjoyable life here. Might one similarly ask "Should dogs be kept 'in captivity'?"

Provided they are kept under humane conditions, I think dolphins such as these educate the public to have respect for their cousins in the wild, which will encourage further efforts to stop the real crimes, which are using them as food and catching and drowning them (accidentally or otherwise) in commercial fishing nets. (Although I am advised that this does not happen in Cuba).

t-59 Landscaping.jpg (25307 bytes)   t-26b Anchor.jpg (23460 bytes)   t-26 Anchor.jpg (19041 bytes)
After the Dolphin Show I strolled through the landscaped grounds towards the seafront, passing by a couple of old Spanish (or pirate?) anchors on the way.

t-28 Lagoon.jpg (24383 bytes)
A lagoon protects the walls of the Aquarium and provides docking for the Aquarium's small boats. The Dolphin Show used to be held in a large pool near here until it was damaged by a hurricane in 1998, and the new stadium was built and opened in 2000. (By the way, how would you like to live in one of those apartments in the background?!).

t-31 General fr roof.jpg (23926 bytes)   t-30 Turtles fr roof.jpg (24925 bytes)
From the roof of a building can be seen a small dolphin pool and a turtle pool.

t-29 Tanks fr above.jpg (25503 bytes)
Going down the stairs I spotted the 'workings' of the next group of tanks. Their waters are open to the sky.

t-33 Tanks general.jpg (25273 bytes)
Two fairly large tanks have small viewing windows.

t-33c Sign w people.jpg (22000 bytes)  
Yes, some people actually do read the signs!

t-33b Looking.jpg (26125 bytes)
This boy was examining everything very intently. Will he keep fish at home one day?

t-33g Caranx crysos shoal.jpg (19976 bytes)
...I'm sure he enjoyed looking at this shoal of blue runners (Caranx crysos) in the next tank.

t-35 Small tanks general.jpg (21488 bytes)
Next, there is a long row of medium-sized aquariums.

t-38 Gymnothorax moringa.jpg (20629 bytes)   t-36 Pomacanthus paru.jpg (21279 bytes)
They contain livestock such as Cuba's moray eel (Gymnothorax moringa), and a French angel fish (Pomacanthus paru).

t-37c Equetus acuminatus E punctatus above.jpg (24051 bytes)
Drumfish are good looking fish with their high flying dorsal fins. Several hi-hat drumfish (Equetus acuminatus) are here accompanied by a jack-knife drumfish (E. lanceolatus) swimming above them.

t-39 Young nurse sharks.jpg (24830 bytes)
These are young nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum), which the Aquarium had collected a month before. They were just 18" long (50cm.), but they had already grown quite a lot and will eventually be over 6' (2m.) long.

t-35c Small tanks general.jpg (22516 bytes)
There is a further row of smaller tanks.

t-44c Condilactis gigantea.jpg (26035 bytes)   t-44b Condylactis gigantea anemones.jpg (22904 bytes)
This gold-coloured anemone is Condylactis gigantea, the giant anemone.

t-41 Hippocampus reidi Seahorse.jpg (23719 bytes)   t-44e Eucinostomus sp.jpg (17738 bytes)   t-44h Diadema antillarum w shrimp.jpg (21168 bytes)
The seahorse is the Brazilian seahorse (Hippocampus reidi). The fish are Eucinostomus sp., and the spiked coral is Diadema antillarum, the long-spined urchin.

t-42 Puffer.jpg (21843 bytes)   t-42d Puffer puffed.jpg (20295 bytes)
This striped burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi) didn't like me poking my camera in his face! I think he thought that his camouflage hadn't fooled me and that my round camera lens was another fish's mouth, so he puffed himself up to an enormous size to show that I couldn't possibly eat him!

t-47 Photo wall.jpg (20051 bytes)   t--46 Large mural.jpg (25053 bytes)
A building in the centre of the complex contains some photographic displays and a large mural. Every year in April, 500 children attend the "Children's Scientific Journey" and paint murals such as this for the Aquarium.

t-49 General view.jpg (22965 bytes)
Going upstairs, I had a fine view looking out to the ocean.

t-50 Mural near Teatro.jpg (23688 bytes)   t-48 Teatro sign.jpg (20379 bytes)
At the top of the stairs was another mural (murals are popular in Cuba), and a sign leading to the theatre and meeting rooms. The theatre shows mainly educational films for children.

t-51c Library.jpg (26864 bytes)   t-51b Librarian.jpg (25257 bytes)
But I really went upstairs to find the Library!...and met a nice librarian as well as aquarist Armando Olaechea.

The Library is accessible to the public, and has an adjoining study room complete with computers for students. In the Library I met one of the Aquarium's aquarists, marine biologist Armando Olaechea. He showed me the Aquarium's book collection, which includes titles in both Spanish and English languages. There were Spanish versions of some of Dr. Axelrod's identification books, and copies of Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine, amongst others.

Armando helpfully answered some questions I had about the Aquarium and its livestock. On the screen of my digital camera I showed him some of the photos I had taken, and he said that the Aquarium might be interested in using some of them on an educational CD that they are making. (Since this visit I have kept in touch with Armando, and he later translated this article into Spanish and linked Aquarticles to some Spanish language websites).

Whilst I was talking to Armando another announcement came over the loudspeakers - "Espaculos con lobos marinas!!!"  The sea lion ("sea wolf") show!

t-54b Sea lion crowd.jpg (25865 bytes)
I arrived a little late and the stadium's seats were all full. But they let me stand below at the side.

t-56b Sea lion show.jpg (21501 bytes)   t-55c Sea lion on wall.jpg (26278 bytes)
The well-trained sea lions performed lots of tricks.

It was now well past lunch-time and I was very hungry...

t-45c Food stand.jpg (20820 bytes)   t-45 Cafe.jpg (27165 bytes)   t-45b Cafeteria.jpg (23986 bytes)
...The snack booth did not have what I wanted, and the open air cafeteria had long line-ups. The air-conditioned Cafeteria "La Isla" looked nice, but all the tables were full. (I went back twice just to make sure)...

t-60 Info.jpg (23958 bytes)   t-62 Stamps.jpg (21910 bytes)   t-62b Stamps.jpg (22952 bytes)
...So I decided to leave the Aquarium and have lunch somewhere else. On my way out I passed by the Buro de Informacion to look at the souvenirs they had. There were very few souvenirs for sale, but I did buy a folder of Cuban stamps with fish on them, and four  sets of notebook/pen/stamps as gifts for some children back home. Prices were very reasonable: the folder was US$1.00, and the notepads only 45c each.

t-51 Program.jpg (18670 bytes)
...I went out of the main gates of the Aquarium and was waiting for a taxi when I happened to look at this "Programa de Actividades" notice. At the very bottom I noticed the words "Restaurante Subacuatico - consumo minimo 8.00 USD adultos - 5.00 USD ninos."

t-53 Restr entrance.jpg (18404 bytes)
...This looked promising, so I went back into the Aquarium to the Information Booth and asked about the "Restaurante Subacuatico." Indeed it was another restaurant, and the lady pointed me to a door behind the dolphin stadium.  In typically Cuban fashion the entrance was completely unmarked, and I had passed by it twice on my way to the Dolphin Show with no idea that it was a restaurant!

...When I went through the door I was amazed! First there was an entrance hall, and then a long bar which fronted a large cool dark room set with elegant dining tables. One wall looked right into the dolphin pool!

t-52d Restr.jpg (22421 bytes)   t-52m Restr.jpg (17229 bytes)
Restaurante Subacuatico

I proceeded to have one of the best lunches I have ever had, and in the best surroundings! Prices were very reasonable. I spoiled myself with garlic shrimp for US$4.50 (which cost $14.50 in my tourist hotel), a beer for $1.00 ($3.50 in my hotel), ice cream for $2.00 ($4.00), and a coffee for 50c ($1.50). Even then I only just managed to spend the "$8 minimo" that the sign suggested! The restaurant was not crowded (it is expensive for Cubans) and the service was very good. Photographs were "not allowed," but the staff let me use my camera as long as the flash was turned off.

t-52g Restr.jpg (18039 bytes)   t-52i Restr.jpg (20629 bytes)   t-52h Restr.jpg (18534 bytes)
Whenever new diners arrived they first walked up to the window, and the curious dolphins swam over to look back at them. I took these photos while sitting at my table.
The window is of 12" (30cm) acrylic. It is 40' (13m) long, 10' (3m) high, and weighs one metric ton.

t-52o Dolphin.jpg (11919 bytes)
I went to the window, and this dolphin came to get a close look at me...

t-52p Dolphin up.jpg (14424 bytes)
Then he swam back up towards the sunlight...

...And that was the end of my memorable visit to the Aquario Nacional de Cuba.


The Cuba National Aquarium's web site (in Spanish) is at

I also discovered a small freshwater public aquarium in Havana:
My Visit to the Freshwater Public Aquarium in Havana, Cuba.