Two baby swell sharks, a handful of slowly waving strawberry anemones, and one young garibaldi fish that's as vividly orange as a prison jumpsuit, among other sea creatures, have found a new home in the recently remodeled exhibits at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.
Using $380,000 in grant money, the Sea Center put the final touches on a new shark cove exhibit on Friday as part of a center-wide facelift in honor of its 10-year anniversary in April. The remodeled exhibit now houses a touch tank retrofitted to more accurately replicate the coastal habitat, a larger display for the egg cases holding shark embryos, and a better viewing area.
“We wanted to keep and improve upon the exhibits that we know people love,” said Amanda Allen, the director of the Sea Center. “We are hopeful that people will be better able to witness and explore our resources and learn a little bit about the challenges the marine life in the area faces.”
The remodel also includes a four-times-larger tide pool exhibit that has been open since November, refurbished life-support systems such as new pumps and filters, a new photography exhibit on marine life from Alaska to the equator opening March 14, and an exhibit that will be opened in the coming months on Marine Protected Areas — the details of which will be kept secret until then.
Allen said the Sea Center exhibits were built to try and balance the reality of dire environmental issues with optimism about natural wonders so that visitors leave the center with newfound “natural creativity.” For example, the new tide-pool exhibit now has enough room for an entire elementary class to wrap around it.
For Kimberley Ray, a volunteer who has worked at the center for a year and a half, the remodel has brought “more life” to the shark exhibit where she worked on Friday morning, helping children pet the backs of the docile swell sharks. “Before, the exhibit looked kind of unfinished," she said, "but now it looks more natural, and there’s more room to move around.” Ray said children seem especially excited to see the two new baby sharks.
Every year, about 7,000 school children visit the center, Allen said, and are able to attend for free thanks to fundraising galas by the Museum of Natural History. One of those annual galas took place Friday night, for the first time at the Sea Center.