An exhibit at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the National Aquarium each earned a prestigious Exhibit Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums at the association's annual awards this past weekend in San Diego.
The awards—akin to the Oscars of the zoo and aquarium industry—feted our zoo for its new Penguin Coast exhibit and the aquarium for its new Living Seashore interactive display. The gong honors exhibits that successfully educate and inspire visitors through unique design and interactive experiences. It is given in two categories: to institutions with an operating budget of less than $5 million and to institutions with an operating budget greater than $5 million. The aquarium and the zoo were the only two winners in the over $5 million operating budget category.
This was the first win for the zoo and second win for the aquarium in the awards' 42-year history. The aquarium won best exhibit in 2008 for its Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes exhibit.
The Penguin Coast exhibit, which opened in the fall of 2014, reimagined the environment of the zoo's colony of African black-footed penguins, an endangered species native to the coast of Namibia and South Africa. The new exhibit boasts an 185,000-gallon pool, underwater viewing window, and more room for breeding programs, educational activities, and animal demonstrations, which has allowed the zoo's colony to thrive.
"African penguins called Rock Island home for 45 years, so Penguin Coast marks quite a departure for us," said zoo president and CEO Don Hutchinson. "The Maryland Zoo maintain one of the largest colonies and has the most successful breeding program of African penguins in North American and the new environment will enable us to continue with out efforts on behalf of these birds."
The aquarium, meanwhile, won for its Living Seashore exhibit, which opened in May 2015 and highlights the local—but no less extraordinary—natural beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. The 2,700-square-foot exhibit guides visitors through the various parts of the shore and features a replica of a sandy beach, a digital multi-touch table showcasing objects washed in my the tide, and two touch-pools stocked with Atlantic stingrays, clearnose skates, horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, and moon jellyfish.
Touch tanks in the Living Seashore exhibit -Courtesy of The National Aquarium
The exhibit is part of the aquarium's move toward a more conservation-minded approach to its mission that includes relocating its Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to an outdoor, seawater sanctuary by 2020.
"As the highest honor for new exhibits, this award recognizes the National Aquarium's innovation and commitment in designing a dynamic, immersive habitat that provides the best in animal care and public education to help connect people with nature," said Keith Winstein, chair of the AZA's Honors and Award Committee.
We couldn't agree more and offer our hearty congratulations to both the zoo and the aquarium. But if you suspect that this post is mostly an excuse to post cute penguin videos, well, you're right.