By Russ McCaskey

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – The Dallas World Aquarium first opened its doors in 1992. It was relatively small back then, but that would soon change.

Carolina Arruda, who works with animals at the aquarium, gave us a tour. We started with a fan favorite. “So the manatee, she came from Venezuela. She was a rescue baby. She was raised by one of our keepers and he still works with her over here,” Arruda explained.

From there, Arruda detailed how the aquarium expanded. They added the rainforest five years after opening, That included a massive waterfall, and a host of animals that call the rainforest home. It was an addition that changed the aquarium.

These days, the aquarium has all kinds of animals. In fact, many of the staff refer to it as a zoo instead of an aquarium.

Another major expansion in 2004 put a focus on the Mayan culture. It also included a new 40-foot long enclosure for a shark tank, which is a signature exhibit.

We spoke to a number of kids who were on a field trip as walked through the shark tunnel. “The sharks is the best part because you get to see different kind of sharks,” 3rd grade student Brayden Holdman said excitedly.  When asked what his favorite kind of shark was he responded resolutely “hammerhead.”

Third-grader Dennis Murtic also has a love for sharks. “They are one of my favorite animals. I like how they move. I like how they look. I like their habitat and stuff.”

Next was a stop by to see the giant otters, that seemed somewhat preoccupied since it was feeding time. The fish-eating mammals are an example of a number of endangered species at the aquarium, but workers say one family of four seem to be doing well.

From otters, to toucans, flamingos, kids posing as flamingos… this isn’t your typical aquarium.

You can’t help but notice that the animals seem to really respond to crowds. “Yes. It’s like a zoo for them too,” Arruda said laughing.

Looking to the future, workers are focused less on expansion and more on conservation and breeding. It’s something that will likely keep the Dallas World Aquarium as a prime spot to visit for years to come.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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