The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies is a must-see if you're on the Gulf Coast.
After Hurricane Katrina, the zoologists and vet teams from IMMS were instrumental in rescuing stranded and displaced animals all through the Gulf region. The opportunity to meet members of these teams, and hear first-hand their passion for their amazing work, was a treat!
The current IMMS facility is temporary (they're building a great new facility now), but don't let "temporary" confuse you: they have designed and installed great interactive exhibits, and the facility is easily accessible for visitors of all ages. Do be sure to map the location on-line, as signage from the highway is not terribly visible at the moment (they're aware and working on it.)
Tours are by reservation only, and start at 9:30 am and 1:30 pm Monday through Saturday, and last about three hours. With tour costs of $6 for 12-and-unders and 55-and-overs, and $8 for the 13-54 crowd, we definitely got value for our money! The inside exhibits have great climate control, and outdoor experiences have plenty of shade and a nice breeze off the water, too.
With auditorium presentations, hands-on specimen exploration, and lots of interaction, the tour was engaging for everyone in our family (kids from 4 to 16, adults from 38 to 85!). Conservation and ecological information was shared in an accessible, positive way. Even my littlest came home excited about "helping those nice creatures."
One highlight was the aquarium room. Live-animal touch tanks containing horseshoe crabs, two species of ray, and other neat creatures, are centered in a room ringed with aquariums that duplicate the water ecosystems of the region, from freshwater streams, to brackish bayous, to shoreline and deep-sea tanks. We really enjoyed seeing first-hand the personalities of each animal, and even started nick-naming particular rays in the touch tank.
Our tour guide was a young zoologist; he was passionate and enthusiastic, and easily adapted his presentation to suit our group. He was also very open to questions about his profession, and answered a lot of off-the-wall animal questions with a great sense of humor and fantastic depth of knowledge.
All four of our kids had a fun time in the marine fossil dig (part of the regular tour). Our guide stayed close to talk about the different shells and teeth they sifted from the sand. Each child got to keep one souvenir find, which was then attached to an information card to take home.
Another highlight was our visit to the dolphin presentation! IMMS is home to two retired US Navy research dolphins (Bo and Buster), as well as other rescue dolphins currently in rehabilitation, therapy, and training. It was so neat to hear all about the dolphins, watch them perform, and then have a question-answer session with our guide and the dolphin trainers, too.
One way IMMS supports and funds their work is through individual guided dolphin encounters ($45/person, splash-safe clothes needed) and guided dolphin experiences ($90/person--and you're in the water with the dolphins!) Our group did not take advantage of these two options, but those who did seemed to have a great time, too!
Do take time to explore the small museum/education center and gift shop. We picked up several little books as souvenirs for our little girls. They had a range of sea-related topics, with a reading level just right for the elementary grades. For $5, it was great to get a truly memorable memento! They also stock some lovely regional jewelry and decorative items.
I really can't say enough good things about IMMS. We enjoyed our visit tremendously, and were surprised when 4:30 rolled around, and we realized we'd been engaged and enjoying ourselves for three full hours!
Call before you go to reserve your spot. Visit the website (www.imms.org) to get a feel for the programs and research. In addition to the marine animal tour we enjoyed, they also offer bird and reptile presentations, so repeat visits can definitely go on the calendar.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.