GRAPEVINE -- Three kinds of people will be fascinated by the Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium.
People whose passion for finny pets has driven them beyond the goldfish-in-a-bowl stage will be agog at the variety -- about 5,000 creatures.
Anyone who fondly recalls sitting in cool darkness in the Fort Worth Zoo's aquarium as scaly monsters glided past a massive glass pane will be awed by more than 30 displays that dramatically expand that concept.
Someone who wants a way to occupy a kid's mind for about an hour -- and maybe even pump some smarts into it -- will find a two-story, 45,000-square-foot world of entertainment and education.
Opening Tuesday, the attraction, next to Legoland at Grapevine Mills mall, is the 35th of its kind built by the United Kingdom-based Merlin Entertainments Group, said Iain Scouller, general manager.
"This one benefits from what we learned in the previous 34," he said.
The most obvious thing Merlin learned is how to show off its menagerie.
A tank completely surrounds a room so that more than 500 barred flagtails (silvery fish with black-and-white-striped tails) swim ceaselessly around visitors.
A 160,000-gallon ocean tank has an acrylic tunnel that turns the tables on guests, making them the objects of watchful sharks, rays and dozens of other species.
In the Tropical Bay of Rays, kids crawl through a cave where observation ports get them face to face with about five species of the graceful animals. Above the tank is a platform with a transparent floor that gives guests an overhead view of the beasties.
Touted as the largest jellyfish display in the United States, an oval tank gently moves the water so that several of the ghostly animals drift by and take on the colors of dim lights that shift from green to blue to red.
It's hard to imagine an angle that Sea Life hasn't taken advantage of.
Tanks are concave to put guests into the fishes' space and convex to bring the fish into the visitors' space. Acrylic domes let the adventurous pop their heads into the midst of the fishes' environment.
There's even an area where visitors go mano a mano with the animals.
Terrible Tide Pool invites guests to touch and be touched. They can pick up hermit crabs, snails, urchins and starfish or just hold their fingers in the water until a cleaner shrimp moves in for a manicure.
It was one of the high points for Emma Logan, an 11-year-old from Coppell and one of 15 Young Environmentalists who signed on to test the interactive exhibits and tours and help the Sea Life staff deal with opening-day crowds.
"The shark walk was the coolest thing," she said.
"They're going over you and under you so you really get to see them. I've never seen anything like that before."
Jenny Noviello leaned over one of the tide pools Friday helping Young Environmentalists and members of the news media become acquainted with its inhabitants.
"I've developed a newfound respect for all ocean creatures since I started working here," said Noviello, who until recently was a teacher in Houston.
She was hired by Sea Life three weeks ago as an educator.
Educating the public about the aquarium's denizens and about environmental issues is important at Sea Life, said Phil Royle, operations manager.
On virtually every wall are fact boxes about nearby animals and quizzes to check how well those facts sink in.
"The facts on the walls are read more by the parents, because the kids are running from tank to tank," Royle said.
But the company is serious about protecting the environment, and that dedication extends to the way Sea Life's collection is gathered.
Most creatures are born in captivity in the company's breeding programs, Scouller said. Species captured in the wild are generally in danger from overfishing or other threats.
"We'll soon bring in a rescued sea turtle," he said.
"It was hit by a boat and can't use its back legs. We've put weights on its back end [to stabilize it], and it uses its front legs to move."
Anyone who's into fish should find that yet another amazing aspect of a fascinating facility.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620