WOODS HOLE — The Woods Hole Science Aquarium is now open to visitors after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aquarium was closed on March 13, 2020 and reopened to visitors on July 5. The aquarium’s fur seal exhibit also returns after five years, featuring two new seals — Bubba, a 22-year-old male, and Kit, a 1-year-old female.
“Visitors are responding very positively, happy to have the space open again,” said Aquarium spokesman Terry Frady. “More than 100 people come every day.”
Crazy Colorful Crustaceans:Rare lobsters wash ashore at Cape Cod markets
The first week of July was a bit slow in terms of visitors as the news of the aquarium’s re-opening did not reach everyone, but the place quickly picked up the pace and is getting busier by the day.
“We have local visitors who grew up here now come with their kids or grandkids, and it’s been really exciting to see that,” said Sarah Trudell, the aquarium’s curator and lead mammal trainer. “The people who come are a good balance of locals and tourists, although most of the summer crowd are visitors to the area.”
A sensory tank among the aquarium attractions
The aquarium is also home to other marine life, including lobsters, starfish, molluscs, skates and other fish. In addition to providing a permanent home for non-releasable seals, the aquarium also houses sea turtles for rehabilitation and release.
The ground floor of the aquarium includes fish tanks and a seal exhibit. On the second floor, visitors can pet the fish in a touch aquarium, see the top of the tanks and watch the staff working in the tanks.
tooth fairy tales:A very incomplete history of Cape Cod sharks
“It’s sort of a backstage area and everything is open for the public to watch and learn,” Trudell said.
Woods Hole has the oldest aquarium in the US
NOAA’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium is the oldest aquarium in the nation. The aquarium is owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated in partnership with the Marine Biological Laboratory.
The aquarium has been around since 1874, when Little Harbor’s original Woods Hole Laboratory facility was renovated. In 1885 it moved and shared space in the main laboratory building with a fish hatchery. The current aquarium building was completed and opened to the public in 1961. It now reports about 80,000 visitors annually.
“Ask me questions”:Cape Cod fishermen host a fun educational program at the Chatham Fish Pier
Seals LuSeal, 15, and Bumper, 10, welcomed visitors from their tank in front of the aquarium until 2017. LuSeal died of respiratory and heart failure in early June 2017, and Bumper died not long after, showing similar symptoms. After the deaths of the two beloved seals, the aquarium is closing the outdoor seal exhibit for renovations.
“We knew we had to do some renovations and at this point without the animals it seemed like a good time to start,” Trudell said. “We got new equipment and renovated the pool and other areas; It took about four years to prepare and then we started the process of trying to acquire seals two years ago.”
How Bubba and Kit Came to Woods Hole
Bubba was born in a marine park and lived his entire life at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island. Kit was born in the wild but was taken into care after being rescued from a boating accident in Maine.
In 2021, Kit was hit by a boat propeller. Seriously injured, she was rescued in Maine and then taken to rehab by Marine Mammals of Maine, a non-profit organization mandated by the federal government to respond to stranded mammals and sea turtles. Although she recovered quickly, her injuries robbed her of her sight, leaving her completely blind.
More ▼:Art of the Sea: Cahoon Museum brings together a huge exhibit of rare whalers
Despite her vision loss, Kitt is very playful and active underwater, Trudel said.
“Seals are really sensitive to vibrations underwater, that’s one way they can actually track fish underwater,” he said. “Kit feels these vibrations and moves around, the vibrations also help with their direction, so she’s doing great.”
Bubba has lived most of his life in a zoo and is used to being around people. Kit was born in the wild and was not around large crowds of people.
“A whale, like a young seal, is active and playful; she’s brave and very inquisitive,” Trudell said. “Weighing just under 300 pounds, Bubba is our gentle giant.
“Bubba is a very sweet boy and loves to play with his new girlfriend. He keeps Kit at bay and she plays around all the time and he doesn’t mind at all.
For now, the aquarium is focused on reopening, so there are no specific summer programs on the schedule this year. The aquarium plans to restart summer internship and volunteer programs next year.
If you go
When: 11:00-16:00, Tuesday-Saturday
Where: 166 Water St, Woods Hole, MA.
Admission: Free of charge