Sea-ing More Clearly: A Look at the New England Aquarium’s Revamped Tank Attraction

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Posted June 29, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Business
Myrtle the Sea Turtle

Moving, as any urbanite knows, is a painful process. And a moving process that takes months? We shudder at the thought.

But somehow we don’t think residents of the New England Aquarium (NEA) will be complaining about their new digs. It’s been a long time coming, but on July 1 the Aquarium officially unveils its newly renovated Giant Ocean Tank. The massive tank, the famous multi-story centerpiece of the NEA, has undergone an overhaul that has basically doubled the number of creatures inside—and made improvements that will enhance the viewing experience for visitors.

Just in time for a summer date by the sea, perhaps? (Hey, it’s easier than a Bahamas scuba trip.)

First, a little background: The Giant Ocean Tank is so big that it was constructed first. The rest of the aquarium was built around it. Twenty-three feet high and holding 200,000 gallons of water, it has held about 800 forms of sea life, from a nurse shark to barracuda, stingrays, eels, and plenty of colorful fish that swim around like extras on the set of The Little Mermaid. Nearly every Bostonian knows the queen of the house: Myrtle the Sea Turtle, who has lived here since June 1970.

New England Aquarium

The $17 million Giant Ocean Tank renovation is part of a five-year capital campaign for the New England Aquarium, which opened in 1969. Photo courtesy of the New England Aquarium

So, what has changed? The $17 million aquarium Giant Ocean Tank transformation is the capstone of a five-year capital campaign that added several new elements to NEA, including a huge Animal Care Center in nearby Quincy. That’s where the Aquarium’s dozens of African and rockhopper penguins were moved back in September so that the NEA penguin pool could be repurposed as temporary accommodations for the Great Ocean Tank’s dwellers. (I guess you could say Myrtle and the gang subletted from the penguins.) It took weeks to complete the move.

Then, over the next nine months or so, work on the Giant Ocean Tank was underway. As this Boston Globe report describes, it took about 48 hours of draining to empty the tank. Workers then removed 60 glass viewing panels, which weigh up to 1,500 pounds each, and cut away concrete to make way for 52 larger, clearer acrylic panes. They also redesigned the coral reef inside to provide a habitat for twice as many tenants, expanded presentation spaces at the top of the exhibit, and created the Blue Planet Action Center on the first floor—an exhibit highlighting the Aquarium’s involvement in international research and conservation.

In May, inhabitants started returning to the new Giant Ocean Tank at a rate of about 50 to 100 fish per day. The tank now holds nearly 2,000 creatures (representing about 200 species), including many that New England Aquarium divers brought back from a recent collecting expedition in the Bahamas. Oh, and the penguins? They’ve returned from their Quincy vacation, too.

You’ll want to visit the NEA to get a feel for how the enhanced grand tank really changes the experience, and summer seems like a good time to do it. Whether on a family-fun outing or as part of a date (followed by waterfront dinner and drinks, perhaps?), there’s something fascinating about taking in the beautiful ocean life.

And these new digs come with an even better sea view. If only we could say that about every move.

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