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New York Aquarium NY Aquarium Ocean Wonders Review

Discussion in 'United States' started by bigfoot410, 9 Jul 2018.

  1. bigfoot410

    bigfoot410 Well-Known Member

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    I went to the New York Aquarium today in order to view the new Ocean Wonders Sharks exhibit. A beautiful and sunny Sunday may not have been the best day to visit due to the immense lines to get into the aquarium and then into the exhibit. However; through some luck I only waited 15 minutes for each (some people waited over 45 minutes in the sun!).

    This is also going to be my first review ever on this site! Due to the crowds I cannot list every species, but I will give an overview of what I thought was a solid and very much needed addition to the aquarium, even though there are some quibbles.

    First off a brief history; the old shark exhibit had opened in 1980 and was a single 100k-110k gallon tank featuring local sharks, rays and sea turtles. It was due to be replaced beginning in 2012. However; Hurricane Sandy severely damaged the aquarium delaying construction until 2014. The sharks and sea turtles were held in the old beluga whale tank from 2015 until now where there are still 5 sand tiger sharks, 4 sand bar sharks and 3 sea turtles still in the old exhibit. The map indicates this will be a sea turtle exhibit so I am not sure if the sharks are only in until they can move them.

    Now onto the Ocean Wonders exhibit. The building's architecture is interesting with the shimmering aluminum panels a great effect in the breeze and coastal plantings throughout. The building also is lit up a beautiful and shiny blue in the evening so it really stands out on the boardwalk. There is also a nice garden on the boardwalk side with a new café. The building directly abuts one of the entrances into Sea Cliffs so I am wondering how that will work once that exhibit's lower level reopens.

    Upon entry is the donor wall with a circular bubble room indicating you are going underwater, which opens into the Coral Reef Tunnel. Due to the crowds you are a little rushed through this section; but it is a great opener with reef sharks and zebra sharks swimming overhead and dozens of different coral reef fish swimming on either side of you. This exhibit is smaller than Glover's Reef at the aquarium's entrance, but the tunnel effect works wonderfully here. There is a small side window that lets you spend some more time viewing the reef before entering the next section.

    The Sharks Up Close section is in two rooms. The first only has one tank that I recall had small coral fish; I cannot recall what species since I could not reach the mobile pads that you swipe to see the species. The next exhibit "What is a Shark" had some fun and interactive exhibits about different shark teeth and large screens showing the larger shark species while a tank displayed two bamboo shark species and an epaulette shark. The next room had some great graphics about shark overfishing and pressures on shark populations worldwide with a small window into the next large exhibit. The interactive exhibits spread throughout the exhibit were a definite highlight for children and children at hear like myself.

    New York Waters is the next large tank that looks similar in size to the old shark tank; but with smaller species. The glass curves towards you and gives a great view of rocky canyons and nooks covered with anemones and sea stars. Rays and skates seem to be the stars here with cownose rays and blunt nosed rays being the easy to see species. Sea bass, flounder, sea robins and several other species were in the tank with one lone shark; a Smooth Dog Fish. This exhibit is also viewed from the next room with a crawl through tunnel and an exhibit on how the Aquarium has tagged local sharks in the wild

    The last tank is the highlight: It begins in the ShipWreck room which has visitors in the belly of a ship with fish schooling above you and side tanks with various fish (two tanks were unlabeled) and a first view into the main tank, which had some nurse sharks resting in front of the glass. These rooms are the darkest rooms in the building, which does build to a dramatic conclusion once you enter the next room. The main tank has one long floor to ceiling window that curves into the tank. The background is very dark so you cannot make out the back of the tank; allowing the inhabitants to swim in and out of view. There is a seating area where on a less crowded day you could sit and watch. The tank has several sandtiger and sand bar sharks, nurse sharks, several schooling fish and one large sea turtle and the old roughtail ray. This was really the best exhibit in the whole aquarium and most people who were in the room were impressed. Despite how crowded the room was, the sheer height and length of the window allowed everyone to get a good view.

    The last room is an education room that goes over environmental choices one can make shopping, recycling and even ordering seafood at a restaurant. The exhibits are very interactive, but rely on technology that I hope can be maintained and updated. One involved children grabbing plastic "out of the ocean" by stomping on a mattress sized touch screen; hopefully built from some heavy-duty NASA material! There is one tank in this room for seahorses, minnows and other fish found right within view of the building; but this could almost be missed by everything around the tank.

    Once outside the path takes up onto the second story through an ecology walk. The graphics here are wonderful at explaining the protected coastal areas nearby and where some of the exhibits within Ocean Wonders are located in the "real world". The views of the Coney Island boardwalk are also a standout. However; the top floor is too small for the crowds with a bar/café and a shark touch tank. The bar looked to only have 10-15 tables (if I was able to see it all) which is not enough space for a busy day! The touch tank was so crowded you had to be given a timed entry so we skipped it. I have pet a shark before and I don't know if an hour wait would be worth it.

    Overall; this is a welcome addition to the New York Aquarium that was in need of something new. Architecturally it is a standout and the educational set pieces and conversational messages are a strongpoint. This is an enormous improvement on what was there; however is it the best shark exhibit I have ever been to? No, it is no Monterey or Lisbon Oceanarium. For the $100 million+ price tag I did think some of the tanks would have been bigger (or the building would have been bigger with more exhibits); but I also want to go back when the weather cools and the crowds lessen to really judge. There are some nice wow moments and once all the sharks are in (the sharks still in the old tank and at least white tip reef sharks are not in the coral tank yet) I'm sure it'll be even better.

    Signs indicate "Spineless Wonders" and the "Play-quarium" will be the next exhibits to open. The NY Times said 2020; but I am only seeing construction begin now. Sorry for the long-winded review (this is why I usually avoid doing these things)!
     
  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for your review. It does a great job of touring us through the new exhibit and is not long-winded at all. It sounds like it is a nice exhibit with some much-needed new content for the aquarium. With the decline of marine mammals being exhibited in aquariums, sharks are claiming their rightful place as aquarium superstars (not that they weren't always aquarium superstars).

    I visited this aquarium in 1980 and remember seeing a shark exhibit. It most likely was the one that you are describing.
     
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  3. geomorph

    geomorph Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Thank you for the very informative review, so soon after it debuted! Does the building fit in with the rest of the facility or is it an eyesore compared to the other areas? I have never been to this aquarium.
     
  4. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    I hope to visit in the next few months. I have not been to the aquarium since a few weeks before Superstorm Sandy. It seems that the WCS again focused on exhibit interpretation with this new exhibit and I imagine their is a lot of linkage with WCS's work. The old shark exhibit was really lackluster, with no educational elements and was small for its inhabitants. Come 2020 I feel the NY Aquarium will move into the top tier of aquariums, especially due to its focus on research & conservation.
     
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  5. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    Also what is the current lineup of Sea Cliffs?
     
  6. bigfoot410

    bigfoot410 Well-Known Member

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    It fits in with Coney Island in the sense it is unique and a little outlandish; very much in spirit with the area. The Ocean Wonders building is currently the largest building on campus, but doesn't loom over it. With the plantings around the base it does fit the next door Sea Cliffs in that regard. And thank you! I wanted to get there after it opened to see, especially since it has been under construction for so long!
     
  7. bigfoot410

    bigfoot410 Well-Known Member

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    Thank you David; it is certainly a nice exhibit and seeing 100's of children so excited to see the sharks was wonderful. It was also great to see people playing with the interactive elements like learning what seafood is good for the environment versus terrible for the environment (with a stereotypical Italian chef leading proceedings!). And if you were at the aquarium in 1980, I think the shark tank opened then. The old dolphin or beluga tank now just holds reef fish, so you are right sharks are becoming the highlight aquarium species.
     
  8. bigfoot410

    bigfoot410 Well-Known Member

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    100% agree nczoofan. The education elements were wonderful and everything focused on a WCS project; from conserving reefs in Fiji, tagging sandtiger sharks in the Great South Bay or the current explorations of the Hudson Canyon. The focus on environmental education should also be lauded. I hope by 2020 more of the aquarium reopens (I am doubtful and wouldn't be surprised for 2022); and think it can again be a Top 10 Aquarium; but maybe not top 5.

    And to answer your other question: Sea Cliffs line up is (from East (Sharks) to West (Aquarium exit))- blackfooted penguins, 2 sea otter exhibits, brown pelicans (in the old sea lion exhibit), harbor seals, California sea lions (in the old walrus exhibit). The lower level has still not reopened and will be fully renovated. Not being able to see the marine mammals and penguins is a major flaw right now, so I hope it will reopen in the near future.
     
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  9. ThylacineAlive

    ThylacineAlive Well-Known Member

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    Is there any set date for the reopening of the indoor section of Sea Cliffs? I never got to visit the aquarium before Hurricane Sandy and as such I've never been able to view this portion of the exhibit. I look forward to seeing large fishes mixed with penguins underwater (not that it'll be as impactful since seeing SDZ's exhibit). Also are there any more exhibits plans after the 2020 ones?

    Without the Walruses I feel Sea Cliffs needs another standout pinniped, perhaps Northern Fur Seal could do the job as they're an endangered AZA program species?

    I am very, very much looking forward to viewing this exhibit whenever I can find the time/funds to run off to Coney Island again!

    ~Thylo
     
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  10. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    Northern fur seals used to be in Sea Cliffs, but were sen't away some years ago. Walrus would be great, but they would likely need the westernmost 2 exhibits and still be unable to hold a breeding group (plus Walrus are not doing well at the moment in zoos). Really most pinnepeds are not doing well, except for Cali-sea lion and Harbor seal. Adding some African pelicans to the penguin exhibit would be nice, and these species are mixed in Maryland anyways.

    The underground area of Sea Cliff's was nothing groundbreaking, but it did have nice underwater views of all the species, octopus, seahorses and a few more species. I hope it can be reopened, but considering it would not add many new species, I understand why it be prioritized last.
     
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  11. bigfoot410

    bigfoot410 Well-Known Member

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    I can only go from some of the articles I have read that the "rest of the aquarium" would reopen in 2020 and it looked like they were doing work in Sea Cliffs too; but the docent at the sea lion show mentioned the Spineless Wonders and Playquarium being what would open so who knows. The underwater viewing areas were nice, but they did have several other tanks when it was open including the Pacific octopus, a kelp forest tank, various invertebrates (which will all likely be in Spineless Wonders) and the seahorse gallery. And yes, they used to have Fur Seals in the exhibit where the pelicans are now. The renderings of the new exhibit had shown walrus swimming underwater; but you know how that can easily change due to what's available. The lower level of Sea Cliffs will also be called "Sea Change"; but nothing else has been indicated on what it would be.

    As for after 2020 they do have space where the old restaurant was (east of Ocean Wonders) and the old shark tank could be renovated into something; but with the amount of $$ they are spending on the new exhibits I can see it being a long while until something else opens.
    When I head back to the NY Aquarium this fall (with hopefully less crowds) I will try to find out more information.
     
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