If one were writing a very D.C. horror movie, it might begin exactly this way: Tourists and bureaucrats wander around a chamber deep beneath a federal building — a chamber swimming with deadly reptiles, sharks and piranhas. Tucked inside the Department of Commerce building, D.C.’s National Aquarium (which has been affiliated with the National Aquarium in Baltimore since 2003) is, in fact, a fun and unexpected place to meet some new finned and web-footed accomplices.
Backstory: The National Aquarium was established in 1873 in Woods Hole, Mass. It moved to D.C. in 1878, where it bounced around like an unwanted pet for five decades. In 1932, the aquarium landed in the Department of Commerce building, which then had the Bureau of Fisheries under its jurisdiction.
What’s Inside: About 250 species are squeezed into the 13,000-square-foot space, divided into tanks based on their native ecosystems. Pufferfish and Moray eels putter around shipwreck decorations, while other creatures lead more solitary lives — like the electric eel, because no one wants a roommate who can electrocute you. One tank glows with bioluminescent plants and claims to contain clownfish, but we couldn’t find Nemo.
Must-See: The aquarium’s main attraction is a newly acquired female albino alligator, which came from Florida and will stay through February. Albino gators are rare (fewer than 100 exist today), largely because their color makes them easy to see (and eat). The aquarium is taking name suggestions on its Facebook page. Whatever the outcome, she’ll always be White Fang to us.
Update: On Nov. 1,
White Fang the alligator was officially named “Oleander.”