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NORWALK, CT – The opening of “Pinniped Cove,” the new home for the harbor seals of The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, represents a transformative moment for everyone.
For the five harbor seals that have resided at the Aquarium for decades, “Pinniped Cove” offers 160,000 gallons of water – eight times the size of their original habitat – and depths of 22 feet – a deeper habitat than several seals have seen in more than 30 years. The seals can explore underwater caves and crevices, and haul out to rest on a variety of rock outcroppings.
For The Maritime Aquarium, “Pinniped Cove” becomes the largest aquatic display, as well as the physical and spiritual center of the Aquarium. It offers an exhibit design and life-support systems that are state-of-the-art, with veterinary and quarantine facilities that will benefit not just the harbor seals but many species within the Aquarium.
For the community, “Pinniped Cove” offers a breathtaking view into the underwater world of marine mammals that will complement the Aquarium’s award-winning interpretative, education and outreach programs.
The exhibit’s debut comes just five months after the opening of a 169-seat 4D movie theater and redesigned main entrance, which together represent the largest capital construction project in the Aquarium’s 33-year history.
“‘Pinniped Cove’ is transformational in every way,” said Jason Patlis, the Aquarium’s president and CEO. “With its breathtaking design, its state-of the-art life-support systems, and its sheer size, ‘Pinniped Cove’ offers an unprecedented experience for our seals, our staff and our guests. Together with the 4D Theater that opened in February, ‘Pinniped Cove’ secures The Maritime Aquarium’s place as one of the premier aquariums in the nation.”
“Pinniped Cove” is named for the scientific grouping pinnipedia that includes all seals, sea lions and walruses.
“Even the name ‘Pinniped Cove’ underscores a novel approach to our longstanding mission,” Patlis said. “Very few guests will likely know what a pinniped is when they enter the Aquarium, but the harbor seals will not be hard to find, and everyone will know what a pinniped is when they leave the Aquarium. And that’s our goal: to have guests excited to come visit, but inspired to learn while they are here.”
The two-story, fully indoor exhibit was built on – and beyond – the footprint of the Aquarium’s original 19,000-gallon indoor-outdoor pool. Several of its floor-to-ceiling viewing windows greet guests as they enter the attraction’s central space, Newman’s Own Hall. In all, “Pinniped Cove” offers opportunities to view the seals from three sides and from two levels: underwater on the first floor, and above the surface on the second floor.
On the upper level, feedings and training demonstrations will be open to guest viewing three times each day, with occasional “keeper talks” offered as well. Displays explain how seals are a conservation success story, as federal protections have helped populations recover in New England.
Behind the scenes, “Pinniped Cove” features:
• a complex life-support system to maintain water quality, where constant filtering cleans and sanitizes all 160,000 gallons every 66 minutes.
• an adjacent new room for preparing the seals’ food, vitamins and nutritional supplements.
• an adjacent veterinary clinic equipped with state-of-the-art surgical and treatment facilities.
• and three small pools where a seal can be isolated for treatment or post-op care, if needed.
“As excellent as the exhibit will appear to our guests, it’s equally as excellent behind-the-scenes for the seals’ daily and potential advanced care,” said Barrett Christie, the Aquarium’s director of Animal Husbandry.
Construction of the seal exhibit and the 4D theater represent a unique collaborative effort by the State of Connecticut, the City of Norwalk, and the Aquarium to address the impacts of the coming replacement of the Walk Bridge, a 125-year-old railroad bridge adjacent to the Aquarium. The Walk Bridge Project requires razing the Aquarium’s former IMAX Theater and replacing the original indoor-outdoor seal habitat, so that the seals – and Aquarium guests – can have a secure, indoor habitat protected from the construction, just yards away. The State provided $40 million in funding, and the City managed the capital construction project for the Aquarium, to compensate for the loss of those signature assets.
“I am extraordinarily grateful to Gov. Lamont and to Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, and their respective staffs, for their partnership in this enterprise,” Patlis said. “That we completed the project in the midst of a global pandemic is a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved.”
Clay Fowler, chair of The Maritime Aquarium’s Board of Trustees, shared Patlis’ praise.
“The debut of ‘Pinniped Cove’ is the culmination of years of hard work from a large dedicated team from the Aquarium, city and state,” Fowler said. “With construction complete, we look forward to using this gorgeous exhibit to tell the story of Long Island Sound in new exciting ways, so that our guests – even from the youngest age – are inspired to understand, appreciate and protect the marine environment.”
Rilling, Norwalk’s mayor, thanked the Aquarium, its Board, and state and local partners who worked closely together on this project, ensuring its success.
“This is a great day for The Maritime Aquarium and all of Norwalk,” Rilling said. “Today’s opening is the result of ongoing partnerships and collaboration between many stakeholders. The Maritime Aquarium is the region’s premiere attraction and I know residents and guests are going to truly enjoy ‘Pinniped Cove’ when they visit Norwalk this summer.”
James Mason, Transportation Principal Property Agent for the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Division of Rights of Way, also recognized the partnership and cooperation that was required for the project.
“When you see an exhibit like this, it’s hard to imagine the planning, engineering and management needed to make it happen,” Mason said. “I appreciate the opportunity to have shared in this unique experience and I want to thank the Aquarium and the City for their collaboration.”
Design of the seal exhibit and the 4D theater was led by the architectural firm Beyer, Blinder, Belle. The concurrent projects were managed by the City of Norwalk. Construction management was a joint venture of AP Construction and O&G Industries.
The grand opening of “Pinniped Cove” takes place on June 8, designated by the United Nations as World Oceans Day.
“It is no coincidence that we are opening ‘Pinniped Cove’ on World Oceans Day,” Patlis said. “World Oceans Day seeks to raise awareness and inspire people to act on behalf of the ocean; the mission of The Maritime Aquarium is to inspire people to appreciate and protect Long Island Sound and the ocean beyond. And the story of the harbor seals and other marine mammals along the Atlantic represent a true conservation success. As we see whales, dolphins and seals return to the waters around New York and Connecticut, we can see the benefits of our laws and practices toward a more sustainable ocean. What better day than World Oceans Day to unveil a grand new exhibit to celebrate that success?”
Learn more about “Pinniped Cove,” as well as other exhibits, programs and public cruises this summer – and reserve your advance tickets – at www.maritimeaquarium.org.
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