|Date opened||July 16, 1988|
|Location||Norwalk, Connecticut, CTCoordinates:|
|Land area||140,000 sq. ft.|
|No. of animals||2,000|
|No. of species||300|
|Public transit access||South Norwalk|
The aquarium has harbor seals, river otters, sharks, jellyfish, loggerhead turtles, and hundreds of other animals living in re-creations of their natural Long Island Sound habitats. Two touch tanks feature smooth stingrays, nurse sharks, crabs, sea stars, and other coastal creatures.
The aquarium also has an IMAX Theater with a screen six stories tall and the equivalent of eight stories wide. It was opened in October 2007 to show regular feature-length movies on weekend evenings. Part of the upgrade was the installation of a 10,000-watt, digital, proprietary, surround-sound system. The aquarium features educational programs, year-round study cruises on its 40-foot (12 m) trawler, Research Vessel Oceanic, special exhibits, and fun 3-D simulator/adventure rides.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is one of Connecticut's top tourist attractions. Annual attendance averages 500,000 visitors, about 100,000 of whom are from New York state. The Maritime Aquarium's estimated statewide economic impact is almost $42 million; it contributes approximately $25 million to Norwalk's economy every year.
The aquarium's budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year was about $10.7 million. More than $4 million came in from admissions, with 36 percent coming from out-of-state visitors. Demonstrating increasing regional appeal, out-of-state attendance revenue has increased 55% since 2002.
Additional revenues are generated from educational programming fees, the gift shop, catering, business dinners, and other events and donations. The state gave it a grant of $675,000 to promote tourism.
The "Maritime Center" opened July 16, 1988. The name was changed to the "Maritime Aquarium" in 1996 to emphasize the live animals featured there.
It first opened by renovating a former 1860s iron works factory and building the IMAX Theater. Visitors, as they walk past the Ray Touch Pool toward the Marine Lab, still tread on the original wood floors under original wood beams of the iron works. Occupying approximately 100,000 gross square feet, the first animal exhibits included Harbor Seals, Open Ocean and Touch Tank.
The cultural section of the aquarium originally explored boat building and human exploration of the sea, but the boat-building activities were eliminated in early 2007. In the last seven years of its 19-year run, the boat-building program constructed about 500 boats, and 20,000 children took part in classes that created more than 5,000 model boats, but aquarium officials said the shop only served 3 to 5 percent of patrons.
The boat-building shop was replaced with a new Marine Lab with baby seahorses, jellyfish, and other new animals, as well as information on aquaculture, sustainable seafood, and responsible home aquarium keeping.
In recent years, the Maritime Aquarium has emphasized helping visitors understand the ecology of Long Island Sound and its watershed. The aquarium participates in and directs local scientific research on Long Island Sound's animal residents, including a counting and tagging program for horseshoe crabs and annual counts of harbor seals. The Maritime Aquarium also helped create a Long Island Sound Biodiversity Database, which is open to the public.
In 2006, the aquarium became a partner in SeafoodWatch, a program that encourages consumers to make responsible seafood choices that have a low impact on the environment and promote sustainable fisheries.
The Maritime Aquarium is approximately 140,000 square feet (13,000 m2) and has more than 177,000 gallons of water in its live animal exhibits. On exhibit are more than 2,000 marine animals and reptiles, representing in excess of 300 species. Its 93 exhibit tanks range in size from 10 to 110,000 gallons. There are two exhibit pools: seals and ray touch. Off-exhibit are more than 30 additional tanks and a small pool.
The aquarium has a display of detailed ship models with 14 in cases, as well as charts and interpretive signs. In the ship model area and throughout the Cascade Cafe are signs describing the nautical origins of many popular sayings, for example, "bitter end," "scuttlebutt," "let the cat out of the bag," "under the weather," and "three squares a day."