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Date opened: July 29, 2000
Great Lakes Aquarium is the only aquarium in the United States that focuses on freshwater exhibits. It is housed in a three-story building in Duluth, Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior and has numerous large and smaller satellite tanks that comprise the 120,000 gallon facility. Construction took 3.5 years and cost around $34 million.
All of the main exhibits of the 62,000 square foot Great Lakes Aquarium (GLA) are based upon actual habitats in the Lake Superior basin. "Slices" of the St. Louis River, Baptism River, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Kakagon Slough, Isle Royale and Otter Cove can all be viewed up close.
85,000 gallon Isle Royale is the main exhibit located in the very center of the building, and it extends to both the first and second floors allowing visitors to view it from many different angles.
Baptism River is a fast-moving exhibit featuring a waterfall. It contains rainbow, brown, and brook trout, as well as sculpin and longnose suckers.
St. Louis River
The St. Louis River exhibit is a slow-moving river habitat with perch, walleye, gar, sturgeon, channel catfish, and other native species.
Pictured Rocks / Kakagon Slough
Pictured Rocks and Kakagon Slough are inside of a netted area and feature sandstone cliffs, live songbirds, ducks, and wetland plants.
Otter Cove is an exhibit that houses two river otters and was designed after a cove in Pukaskwa Provincial Park. Directly to the left is an exhibit containing a live bald eagle.
Other Permanent Exhibits
19 satellite tanks are at various locations and contain animals such as fish, frogs, salamanders and snakes. There is also a wide variety of interactive electronic exhibits located throughout the museum. Great Lakes Aquarium also features a local history center, a science center and cultural exhibits.
As of May 25, 2007, Great Lakes Aquarium is currently hosting the traveling exhibit "Seahorse Secrets" in the Sandra and Roger Karon Exhibit Hall. Prior to this date, traveling exhibit "The Abyss: the Great Unknown" occupied this space. It explored deep-ocean exploration and was GLA's first foray into saltwater exhibits. The Abyss is based on the research of Bob Ballard and houses over forty interactive displays and live marine animal exhibits. This seems to be the beginning of a trend of saltwater exhibits in this area. Other traveling exhibits of the past include "Africa's Lake Victoria," which ended October 2003 and "Hunters of the Sky," which ended September 2001.
Holt Hinshaw had the original vision and Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Inc. (HGA) made it a reality. An office area at the rear of the first floor has been cleared out to host birthday parties and other pre-arranged events. There is an incredible harbor view from this area to say the least. When visitors enter the museum, they are encouraged to ride the escalator to the upper level first through Sensory Immersion Experience and continue onto the lower level later.
The main floor contains the following features:
- Traveling Exhibit
- Gift Shop
- Otter Cove
- Bald Eagle
- Great Lakes Water Table
- Isle Royale
- Wow of Water
- Touch Tanks
- International Lakes
- Amazon River
- Harborview Suite Party Room
- Learning Labs
- Behind the Scenes
- Lake Superior Deep Water Benthic Explorer
- Human Migration
- World of Water
- Harbor View
- Baptism River
- Isle Royale
- St. Louis River
- Weather Station
- Pictured Rocks
- Kakagon Slough
- Marketplace (interactive exhibits)
- Lake Superior Cafe (defunct)
The basement of this building is not accessible to the public. This level contains large quarantine and life support equipment rooms centered beneath Isle Royale. Hallways wrap around these large rooms. The husbandry kitchen, exhibit technician's office, workshop, electrical and temperature equipment control rooms, and autopsy lab are on the west hall. The east hall contains the breakroom, restrooms, and other rooms. The south hall is very short, but it gives access to the computer control room, a storeroom, and a garage. There is also a large office area located below the part of the building that has a red exterior.
Like most aquaria, Great Lakes Aquarium was not immune to initial financial hardships. Though temporarily closed in the fall of 2002, GLA reopened that winter on weekends and soon resumed operations 365 days a year. Daily operations of GLA were contracted out to Ripley's Entertainment, Leisure Entertainment Management division, best known for their Believe it or not museums. Ripley's management reduced staff from a high of 90 down to 30 and cut costs in other areas bringing the Aquarium back from the immediate threat of permanent closure. According to a report aired on WDIO-TV in Duluth in June 2007, each successive year since Ripley's management of GLA has shown a notable drop in attendance from the previous year with projections dropping even more rapidly in the future. Even though it operates at a significant loss, GLA receives subsidies from Duluth so it could last indefinitely.
"A Walking Tour of Great Lakes Aquarium" volunteer orientation manual