With a transparent 35-foot-long tunnel, the first of its kind in North America, guests are totally amazed by the experience of being eye-to-eye and nose-to-nose with the majestic sea lions swimming all around them. This is the kind of immersive experience that instills a sense of awe. The Saint Louis Zoo credited the new attraction with helping to set it's highest annual attendance record in its history.
Inspired by the Pacific Northwest Coast and by exhibits they have previously created for sharks, whales and other sea creatures, the PGAV Destinations design team created a 1.5-acre, $18 million new state-of-the-art habitat and arena for numerous California sea lions and harbor seals.
The design challenge was to replace a Sea Lion Basin built in 1917 and to present seals and sea lions in a natural setting with sufficient water volume for a thriving existence. The new attraction consists of a large exhibit pool and an 811-seat presentation amphitheater with a show pool, all designed to show off the sea lions natural abilities.
A large flat acrylic panel provides above and below water views and the walk-thru acrylic tunnel provides an immersive experience. Theming and signage were created to enhance the exhibit and the guests interaction with the animals. Adjacent restaurant seating is repositioned to take advantage of views to the exhibit. Back-of-house holding pools, staff support, and indoor training areas are provided. Training is an important part of the animals daily lives and their opportunity to interact with keepers and other animals in an organized and meaningful way.
This exhibit enables guests to see the animals walk on dry surfaces as well, furthering the guests understanding of the two lives of pinnipeds (seals & sea lions); above and below water. Impromptu, amplified and narrated presentations by curators educate guests about the lives and behaviors of individual animals.
A significant positive result of the project design is that the Saint Louis Zoo is making a major sustainable improvement to the earths water system by avoiding the dumping of 215,000 gallons of water weekly. By filtering and recalculating the new exhibits water, the sea lions are living in salt water that is temperature controlled. Curators are now able to regulate the temperature of the water year-round, giving the animals what they like and what is best for them to thrive at the Saint Louis Zoo.