Fish, Fossils, and Fun at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo has had a good start to the summer season. In May, the zoo earned the No. 1 rank among the U.S. zoos after reviews by visitors were submitted on the world’s largest travel website, TripAdvisor; and all of the new features—including the recent renovation of the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium—have been drawing in crowds from near and far.
Opened April 5, 2012, the newly renovated Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium continues to feature naturalistic displays of aquatic habitats from polar, temperate, and tropical regions; however, visitors can expect to experience 10 new exhibits during their visit. The aquarium received a $6.5 million dollar facelift with new carpets, air-handling systems, ceilings, wall finishes, flooring, interpretive graphics, and digital monitors. Special lighting, curved wave walls, and wider paths help usher visitors through the exhibits with each area having its own specific sound represent the natural environment.
The renovation also included a completely redesigned gift shop, kids coral reef area with multiple learning opportunities, and a hi-tech digital infrared projector that re-creates the ocean floor, including ocean fish that react to visitors’ movement. Mitch Carl, Curator of Aquatics at the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, has received many positive responses from guests to the aquarium so far. Some of the responses were: “The new aquarium is amazing!...The jellyfish were absolutely beautiful…I loved how there were so many different shapes, colors, and movements of the jellies…It looks like a brand-new aquarium!” Here are some of the new and expanded features at the aquarium:
- • Tide-Pool Touch Tank: a 500-gallon touch tank featuring anemones, starfish, and sea urchins with staff for hands-on viewing
- • Open Oceans: a 40-foot racetrack tank with schooling fish
- • Ocean Birds: an above- and below-water exhibit featuring a 20-foot-high cliff nesting site for tufted puffins and common murres; a 60-foot-long, 25-foot-high window with above and below water viewing of Antarctic penguins, including Emperor King, Gentoo, Macaroni, and Little Rockhopper
- • Cold Pacific Waters: featuring Japanese giant spider crabs, coldwater fish and invertebrates, swell sharks, horn sharks, and several species of rockfish
- • Tropical Beaches: featuring brightly colored fish, live coral, and invertebrates typical to Sulawesi Beach in Indonesia
- • Staff Picks: six tanks featuring animals that the staff have chosen because of their specific interest
- • Shark Reef: an oval-shaped, 70-foot-long tunnel at the bottom of a 17-foot-deep exhibit containing 900,000 gallons of circulating salt water that allows visitors to experience being on the ocean floor with sand tiger sharks, zebra sharks, and stingrays
- • Ocean Drifters: featuring five species of jellyfish, including Pacific sea nettles, Lion’s mane, moon, upside-down, and East Coast sea nettles
- • Saving the Reef: an area highlighting Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium’s conservation work with Caribbean corals with dozens of reef fish
- • Eel Reef: featuring honeycomb eel, undulated eel, green moray eel, and purple mouth eel
- • Scuba Reef: seven exhibits featuring octopus, bowmouth guitarfish, garden eels, seahorses, cow-nosed rays, bonnet head sharks, and brightly-colored reef fish (expanded 30 percent from the previous area)
- • Amazon River: a freshwater tank, which now includes stingrays, piranhas, armored catfish, pacu birds, and special lighting
Also recently updated and expanded was the Red Barn Park. The goal of the park is to provide visitors with an interactive animal experience. For example, visitors can now view the goats demonstrating their natural agility by executing trained behaviors on cue. The area showcases how training and environmental enrichment help to enhance the daily lives of the animals and how visitors can apply the same techniques they see at the zoo to their animals at home. The Red Barn Contact Yard features exotic and domestic farm animals—such as chickens, goats, zebu, donkeys, and others—giving children an up-close view of their favorite farm animals. The Education Barn on the complex houses a number of electronic displays, including a life-size replica of a dairy cow demonstrating the milking process, “Cal-C-Um” showing milk’s importance to bone growth, and other hands-on activities.
New to the Red Barn’s complex is the Prehistoric Play Park and Fossil Dig, which opened in May. In cooperation with the University of Nebraska State Museum, the site is a replica of Nebraska 12 million years ago when it was a savannah similar to present-day Africa. The area has two main features: a fossil bed and a play park. The Fossil Dig is an interactive 20-foot by 30-foot active excavation area where kids can discover over eight replicated skeletons of animals (whose fossil have been found in Nebraska) using tools just like a paleontologist would on a real fossil dig. These tools include brushes, small shovels, small brooms, magnifying glasses, and more. A fossil bone guide will assist kids in identifying the bones they find.