Visit Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium While in Longboat Key

If you’re looking to get an up-close view of the marine life in and around Longboat Key during your vacation to this beautiful coastal Florida town, be sure to visit the Mote Laboratory & Aquarium.

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is one of the area’s top attractions and among the best things to do in Longboat Key for the whole family. As you navigate the exhibits, virtual reality experiences, and educational programs, you’ll meet creatures from aquatic turtles to sea otters.

The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is conveniently located near many Longboat Key condo rentals, so you won’t have to travel far for your day of fun and adventure. Without further ado, let’s explore the history of this remarkable aquarium and what you can expect when visiting. 


Opening in Placida, FL, in 1955 as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, the facility moved to Siesta Key in 1960 and in 1978 to its current location on City Island, Sarasota. In 1967, the name was changed to honor William Mote and his sister, Elizabeth Mote Rose, who were major financial supporters of the laboratory and that year named president and secretary, respectfully.

Today, the aquarium is a nonprofit research facility focusing on conservation and restoration. Their programs strive to learn more about marine inhabitants such as manatees, sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins, to name a few, and the impact of humans and changes to ecosystems affect these creatures. 

Armed with that knowledge, the laboratory hopes to better understand and improve the aquatic environment in which these creatures live. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the facility’s educational and rehabilitation programs grew as they began to educate the public about environmental concerns and the lives of many marine animals in the area. 

The rehabilitation of injured and ill animals began in 1992, and since then, a large number of manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles have been cared for and released. That same year, the Mote Aquarium decided to remain open seven days a week as visitor attendance grew.

Today, tens of thousands of people visit the aquarium yearly (more than 300,000, according to 2021 statistics), making the site one of the most popular destinations for Longboat Key vacationers.


Couple looking at stingray in aquarium

From a Shark Zone to virtual reality experiences that allow you to swim with whales and explore subsea environments, the Mote Laboratory & Aquarium promises an exciting day for adults and children alike.

Of course, a must-see when you visit the aquarium is to stop and say hello to Buffett, the resident manatee. He has called Mote Aquarium home since 1996. He loves a visit where you can take his picture and watch him eat heads of romaine lettuce for lunch. However, Buffett also serves another purpose: he helps researchers better understand manatee behavior and physiology to aid in their quest to preserve and protect these wondrous creatures.

Home to the only designated shark research center in the U.S., the Shark Zone is where you can see and learn more about these often misunderstood creatures. See them move about in the 135,000-gallon Shark Habitat and find out fun facts such as how sharks migrate and can actually be trained!

The Florida Watershed exhibit is where you’ll meet sea otters, a tortoise, spoonbills, and Rose the American alligator. These and other animals in the exhibit thrive in areas where rainwater falls and collects, and freshwater moves through the land to the sea.

An exhibit dedicated to sea turtles features residents Hang Tough, Dalton, and two female loggerheads named Montego and Shelley. You’ll not only learn a lot about how these creatures nest and migrate, but you’ll also find out about the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital, where sick turtles are treated and returned to health as well as to their ocean homes. There’s also a Hatchlings Hospital where they are cared for and set free into the wild when ready.

Some exhibits introduce you to the animals that call seagrass beds and coral reefs home: jellyfish, seahorses, angelfish, spiny lobster, and sea urchins. They house freshwater species and walk you through a live coral exhibit. There are also exhibits covering coastal environments and their inhabitants, including tarpon, trunkfish, and pigfish, as well as mangrove trees and seagrasses.

There’s even an exhibit dedicated solely to babies of area species. What are the reproduction habits of marine life in this area? How do babies survive? Learn the answers to these questions, visit a baby shark pool, and see other baby marine animals. The exhibit also features a reality show-type game the whole family can join in on.

Don’t miss the stingray touch tank, the opportunity to find actual shark teeth in a jar of sand, or to take part in the new interactive coral reef exhibit, where you’ll go on a scavenger hunt and find clues like a detective as you learn about coral reefs.

In virtual reality experiences, you’ll go on a shark dive, ride on a skyscraper-sized VR coaster, swim with a humpback whale, and get up close and personal with subsea creatures. Complete with sound and movement, you’ll feel as if you’re actually IN the worlds explored in these adventures. Through Mote Aquarium, you can also book boat eco-tours.


With a limited number of tickets available at the aquarium and many days where tickets are sold out, it is best to purchase tickets online. General admission tickets get you into the aquarium and the exhibits. Adult admission and children ages 13 and up is $29; children between 3-12 years of age, $21; and children 2 and under, free.

On Veterans Day, the aquarium offers free admission to U.S. veterans and their dependents. Parking at the Mote Laboratory & Aquarium is free.

Plan Your Visit

Ready to experience Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s wonders for yourself? Browse our entire inventory of Longboat Key rentals to start your adventure!


The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is open year-round, 7 days/week, from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. This includes holidays; the aquarium does, however, close at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.


The Mote Laboratory & Aquarium is located at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway at the northern tip of City Island, Sarasota. From Longboat Key, it is less than 8 miles from the facility. Take Gulf of Mexico Drive onto John Ringling Parkway, then make a left onto Ken Thompson Parkway.

Where to Stay

For the best vacation rentals in Longboat Key, FL, look no further than the Diplomat Beach resort! Our Longboat Key, Florida rentals promise the perfect blend of comfort and convenience to make your vacation nothing short of spectacular. Each rental at The Diplomat Beach Resort is Gulf-facing, so you can be sure to wake up to stunning views no matter which unit you choose.

These are studio, one-, and two-bedroom condos that sleep up to 6 guests and feature fully stocked kitchens, king- and queen-sized beds, flat-screen TVs with DVD players, free Wi-Fi, a balcony or patio, comfortable furnishings, and carpeting/tile flooring.

At The Diplomat Beach Resort, you’ll be just steps away from the white-sand beach and the blue Gulf waters. You can also stay on the grounds and relax in Gulf-facing lounge chairs in the sun or take a shady spot in a custom tiki hut. There’s also an oceanfront heated swimming pool. Contact us today to get started on the getaway of your dreams!