By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun
7:15 PM EDT, March 25, 2013
The National Aquarium's new $12.5 million "Blacktip Reef" exhibit, a replica of an Indo-Pacific coral reef that replaces the "Wings in the Water" exhibit, will open July 10, officials announced Monday.
Once it is completed, visitors will be able to view the 260,000-gallon self-contained ecosystem through a 27-foot viewing window, as well as from platforms above the water. Visitors also will be able to observe diver demonstrations and feedings.
"You're sort of transferred into their world," Jack Cover, the aquarium's general curator, said. "You're seeing it from their viewpoint."
The centerpiece of the exhibit will be a school of blacktip reef sharks, known for the prominent black tips on their fins. "Blacktip Reef" will feature 16 marine life species — more than 60 types of fish, many of them new to the aquarium. The reef will also be home to aquarium favorite Calypso, a green sea turtle and holdover from the "Wings in the Water" exhibit, and zebra sharks Zeke and Zoe.
New creatures on exhibit, in addition to the blacktip sharks, will include 5-foot-wide whiprays and wobbegong sharks.
The "Blacktip Reef" exhibit is part of an effort to revitalize the National Aquarium, one of Baltimore's most popular tourist attractions, which draws 1.4 million visitors annually. It replaces the "Wings in the Water" exhibit, a home for rays, sharks and large fish, in a space that has remained largely unchanged since the aquarium opened in 1981.
"As our name implies, creating exhibits and programs that are indeed national — in scope, importance and impact — is a significant part of our work. 'Blacktip Reef' is an excellent example of this," aquarium CEO John Racanelli said in a statement. "This is the first in an ambitious series of innovations here at the National Aquarium, all of which underscore our commitment to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures."
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