two staff members closing doors to exhibit gallery

A Ship(wreck)’s Log

January 13, 2014

Opening an exhibit is a very exciting adventure. There are many moving parts with the development of an exhibit for Great Lakes Aquarium, from designers, researchers, construction, and animal husbandry. I would like to share this experience, and offer a behind the scenes look as this exhibit begins to surface.

The ceremonial closing of the doors, on November 8, was the proverbial switch that started the construction of the exhibit.

If you are an avid reader of “Just Add Water” you may be aware of the work that has been accomplished such as moving animals from the Masters of Disguise,  the removal of the exhibit pieces and cleaning out the room.

Here is where we are now.

Though we don’t have water in the new exhibit yet we have to start collecting animals many months before we open. There are various reasons for this. First, we have to be prepared for animals when they are available, not at our leisure. The smooth hound sharks, for example, were donated from the Indianapolis Zoo and other fish we received in trade for the animals that we had in the Master of Disguise exhibit.

Smooth hound shark
Cownose ray acclimating to his temporary home.
Cownose having a swim around his new home.

Having these animals early gives us the opportunity work with them as well. Currently we are training our sharks and rays to be target fed by hand. Target feeding means we actually “target” each animal to ensure that each one receives food. This is especially important for the sharks and rays because we want to make sure that they get a specialized vitamin that is essential for a good diet. The other training that we are working on is letting the fish know when it is time for them to eat. We have different shapes and designs that we place in the water to let the rays or sharks know when it is time to eat.

Barb with stingray “target”.
Smooth hound shark “target”.

 This is critical for the rays who have to eat three times a day, as opposed to the sharks who are fed three times a week.  These steps will  ensure that each of the sharks and rays will be fed, and give our husbandry staff an opportunity to observe the animals, once they are on exhibit.

Darin feeding sharks.

As we are busy coordinating the animal collection other gears are moving to make this exhibit come alive.
If you’re a frequent guest to our aquarium, you will not only have a close encounter with the amazing animals, but your experience will be enhanced by in-depth information about habitat, natural history, or just an amazing story about the exhibits. This is achieved by eye-catching signs and graphics, video, or hands-on interactives.
Well, Shipwrecks Alive! will be no exception. In order for us to develop these pieces we must do our homework. As we speak our research team is diving into the subject, immersing themselves with information on the animals that we are displaying, and shaping the unique story that the shipwrecks have.

Director of Education Sarah Erickson and Volunteer Coordinator/Educator Mary Pensak developing shipwrecks story.

Last, but not least, is the construction. In the last couple of weeks we have finalized and ordered a 10,000 gallon saltwater aquarium. We are putting the finishing touches to the floor plan and tying up some loose ends in the exhibit hall before any construction can begin. A big part of this exhibit is going to be water. We plan to have about 15,000 gallons of saltwater in this exhibit. In order for us to manage this volume of water we need an equally large storage container to mix and store the saltwater. The tanks are 6 feet in diameter and 10 feet high and each tank holds 1500 gallons of water.
Luckily for us these tanks are not very heavy because due to their size they were a little awkward getting into the aquarium.

This is just the beginning. In the next couple of weeks we will begin construction of the exhibit, install the filtration system for the aquariums, and finalize the story.
I look forward to sharing more of this exciting adventure on the next Ship(wrecks)’s Log.