Recently Announced Clearwater Marine Aquarium Expansion Includes Large Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat


The next big project for Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a large manatee rehabilitation habitat in the old dolphin exhibit.Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Ten years ago, Clearwater Marine Aquarium was overwhelmed by visitors after being put in the spotlight by the international fame of its rescue dolphin Winter.

As attendance and awareness of the Gulf Coast Aquarium increased, the need to update many of the facility’s habitats also increased. An $ 80 million waterfront aquarium upgrade and expansion has been launched. Now, as the Aquarium celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Hollywood movie that made it famous and prepares for its 50th anniversary next year, it nears the culmination of those plans.

A standard new dolphin complex gives Winter, Hope, and their lesser-known roommates the space to thrive while allowing for easier viewing and interactions by guests. This tiered habitat is three times the size of the old dolphin house. It contains 1.5 million gallons of natural seawater, extracted and filtered from nearby Clearwater Bay. Despite opening up in the heat of the pandemic last summer, the new facility quickly proved its worth, in part thanks to its spacious and well-ventilated outdoor viewing areas.

The aquarium has rolled out its next major addition with a huge exhibition space. The first exhibition to use this space was Whales: living with giants. This 20,000 square foot interactive experience educated guests about the important research the aquarium is helping to conduct along the Florida coast. This research has led to the discovery of a newly documented whale species, Bryde’s whale of the Gulf of Mexico (rice whale), which is critically endangered and at risk of becoming extinct within our lifetimes. Guests can witness the beauty of whales in the wild through a virtual reality experience.

As of October 1, this space will host Legends of the Deep, like Whales, this exhibit will offer guests a chance to explore the sea via a 360-degree stereoscopic VR motion platform. Legends of the Deep will run until the end of January.

The aquarium has now announced its next big project, a large manatee rehabilitation habitat in the former dolphin exhibit. The transformation of the former dolphin habitat into a state-of-the-art manatee rehabilitation and research center is expected to cost $ 10 million.

“Here, where Winter’s legacy began, a new legacy will emerge as Clearwater Marine Aquarium reinforces our commitment to saving Florida’s iconic species, the manatee,” said Frank Dame, CEO of the Aquarium.

This new facility is the evolution of a manatee rehabilitation center the aquarium announced in July. This facility is part of a complex that was ready to open in late summer 2019, when a pod of pilot whales washed up in the shallows of Redington Beach. Already a leader in whale research, the aquarium once again found itself in the spotlight as it envisioned another difficult rehabilitation, having to care for two of the five whales at a facility that had opened. just a few days before the arrival of the whales.

The five whales were eventually released and the facility began treating other marine animals in need. A documentary on the success of the rescue and rehabilitation effort has its world premiere at the aquarium this month. Guests at the aquarium to attend a screening of the film in a brand new 300-seat theater. Daily projections of Dolphin tale and Dolphin Tale 2 are also performing at the theater as part of the tenth anniversary of the original film’s debut. The theater is designed to also host conferences and other in-person events.

The lesson Unusual mortality event among the manatees on the east coast of Florida has overwhelmed many manatee rescue facilities, so the Tarpon Springs Rehabilitation Center will focus on saving as many manatees as possible.

Manatees rescued with injuries that prevent them from returning to the wild will find a new permanent home in the recently announced manatee exhibit. The aquarium facility will also provide twelve additional “beds” for manatees in need. The natural-looking manatee exhibit will feature multi-level viewing windows, faux cypress trees, and opportunities for children to explore and exhibit through child-focused viewing windows.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium still has a big challenge ahead as it begins its fundraising efforts for the new facility, but the past decade has shown it to be a non-profit organization that thrives under the pressure.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is open daily. Customers are encouraged to buy tickets in advance to ensure access while the aquarium continues with limited social distancing capacity.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication Orlando Weekly.

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