If you visit the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) next fall you might be surprised to find a sand tiger shark, Myrtle the green sea turtle, and 800 different fish residing in the penguin exhibit. You will not, however, find any penguins. They will be at an off exhibit facility in Quincy, while the
inhabitants of the aquariums iconic Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) will be moved into the current penguin lodgings. Why the switch? Because the aquarium’s central structure, a 200,000 gallon tank, around which the entire building was constructed, was not built to last much longer.
The GOT is desperately in need of the upcoming renovations to repair concrete siding, replace lights and windows, and completely redesign the current artificial coral reef. The changes began last month with the construction of a ramp to create handicapped accessibility to the topmost level of the GOT. A total of $15 million in restoration work is to be completed with funds raised through a capital campaign from donations by companies and individuals alike.
“Visitors might not care,” says the NEAQ’s curator of fishes Steve Bailey, “but it’s bloody darn important that there will be a GOT for another forty years.” The reconstruction is necessary for the tank to survive. Also, says Bailey, “the new architectural elements will bring a dramatically different look.”
Dan Laughlin, NEAQ’s assistant curator, says that the unique setup of the GOT is an iconic part of the aquarium, and that visitors will definitely notice the changes. “The top of the tank will be much more interesting.” The additions will include a new dome ceiling, a visitor accessible feeding platform, brand new exhibit space, and many new species of fish. Most of the construction will not commence until the penguins and GOT animals are moved next September.
Christine Sinnigen, a volunteer for both the dive and penguin departments, says, “the nine-month absence of the penguins will be difficult for visitors because they are one of the main attractions.” She comments that, although the aquarium might decline in visitor numbers at first, once construction is completed the new additions should significantly increase pubic interest; sighting the record high number of visitors achieved when the new shark and ray touch tank debuted.
Aquarium member Michelle Lenk says she will be disappointed by the lack of penguins, as they are a significant part of visitor’s experience. She would hope for the possibility of a live feed video of the birds in Quincy, which is something she would be very excited to see.
Becky Grubb, another aquarium member, says she will not mind the renovation period. “It will be a different view of the animals from within the penguin basin, and you might get to see some fish who usually hide.” Grubb admits that children do love the view of the fish in the GOT and is glad they will not be absent for too long.