Some fishy guests are checking into South Florida's trendiest hotels.
At The Breakers Palm Beach, porcupine puffer fish and leggy starfish greet guests from a 1,000-gallon aquarium.
Hotel officials say the aquariums entertain guests while reeling in other tourists and denizens who may be curious to see the lavish tanks. They also add a South Florida vibe to the resorts.
"These mega aquariums are more of a new thing,'' said Scott Brush, a South Florida hotel consultant.
The elaborate aquariums, which can cost at least $100,000 to build and install, help these hotels differentiate themselves from the competition, he said. They are factoring in the promotion of the hotels, and online reviews highlight them as features.
"These aquariums are something recognizable that guests will appreciate and come back for,'' Brush said. "People like looking at aquariums. They can watch them all day. They are soothing, restful."
High-end aquariums are making a splash in other ways. This year, Nat Geo Wild cable network introduced a reality show "Fish Tank Kings,'' which followed the staff of Living Color Enterprises, the Fort Lauderdale design firm behind some of the more famous local aquariums including the one at Marlins Park. The show has been renewed for a second season for 2013.
Living Color also installed the 28,000-gallon tank in the lobby of The Perry Hotel in South Beach, formerly the Gansevoort Miami Beach. On a recent evening, visitors posed for photos in front of the elongated aquarium as a handful of nurse and bonnethead sharks the size of large skateboards hovered inside.
"If you have a branded hotel, you want something that tells people where they are," Brush said. "And an aquarium helps tell people that they are in South Florida."
At The Breakers, guests marvel at the snowflake eel, pencil urchin and serpent starfish that swim inside two L-shaped aquarium bar counters in the hotel's Seafood Bar restaurant. Living Color Enterprises also built these tanks.
"The aquariums are a highlight of The Seafood Bar for many of our guests,'' said Nick Velardo, the hotel's director of food and beverage, restaurants and recreation, in an email. The hotel, which also has a 1,000-gallon aquarium in the children's arts and craft room, plans to add another one at its Asian restaurant, Echo, near the resort.
The Seagate Hotel and Spa added the shark tank inside the Atlantic Grille restaurant.
"It was definitely built with the idea that it would differentiate our property and be consistent with our sea inspired-theme in the hotel,'' said Alexandra Farnsworth, the hotel's marketing manager. "We want to give people who stay at the hotel that tropical feel."
That's obvious when a visitor stands in front of the 20-foot-long and 4-foot-high aquarium housing nine sharks, including a bonnethead and guitar shark. A lone Florida spiny lobster hangs out there too.
Some of the sharks came from the hotel's backyard — the Palm Beach coast. Others were found in the Keys, or flown in from the Pacific Ocean.
The tank joins four smaller ones, each carrying 300 to 1,500 gallons. Those have eels, lionfish, a living coral reef and jellyfish. At night, the aquariums are lit, beckoning drivers and passersby along Atlantic Avenue.
With so much marine life — 72 species in all — the hotel has its own shark caretaker, Bryan Ehlers of Magnificent Aquariums in Deerfield Beach. Ehlers also installed the aquariums at the hotel and cares for all the sealife in the tanks.
He visits three times a week to clean the tanks. A hotel engineer feeds the sharks a daily mix of fish, shrimp and squid. When they begin to outgrow the tank, the nurse sharks will be released to the wild, while the other species will be donated to the Sandoway House Nature Center in Delray Beach, Ehlers said.
"Most species of sharks live long if they are kept in the right environment,'' Ehlers said. "If you give them a large tank or a round tank and they are taken care of, they do well."