This summer, the Aquarium of the Pacific will be celebrating its 20th anniversary by highlighting the animals that have been there since its grand opening on June 20, 1998. It’s a time to celebrate everything that’s been accomplished and to look forward to the future.
Back when it was just a shell of a building under construction with a dirt floor, Dr. Sandy Trautwein, vice president of animal husbandry at the Aquarium of the Pacific, helped design exhibits and fill them with the animals you now see today.
“It’s been one of the greatest adventures of my life being a part of this Aquarium,” Trautwein said.
Every year seems to bring something new at the Aquarium of the Pacific, but this summer is particularly momentous. The Aquarium of the Pacific will be celebrating its 20th anniversary by highlighting the animals that have been there since its grand opening on June 20, 1998. It’s a time to celebrate everything that’s been accomplished and to look forward to the future.
Trautwein first came to Long Beach from Charleston, South Carolina, and arrived in 1997 to aid the Aquarium’s inception.
“I remember it was this terrible El Niño year—we had so much rain yet we were trying to build the Aquarium, but I was just so excited to be a part of this new cutting-edge aquarium,” Trautwein said.
Exhibit corals that fish tank hobbyists originally donated have bloomed exponentially since the Aquarium was built, and the Aquarium has expanded also. It has increased its attendance every year and has welcomed nearly 29 million visitors since its opening. Trautwein says that all of these years later, it is a joy to watch kids play on the interactive playgrounds and be amazed by the animals, some of which have been there since the beginning.
Visitors this summer will notice exhibit plaques that designate the 20-year anniversary animals, and each charter animal tells a unique story. Like Fern, the Aquarium’s oldest zebra shark who arrived as a juvenile prior to the Aquarium’s opening. Fern has been trained to voluntarily participate in medical exams and has given birth to two zebra sharks via artificial insemination—a first at any aquarium.
“We’ve seen many firsts along our 20-year history and we are really proud of that,” Trautwein said.
Another example of a storied first is the giant sea bass that inhabit the Blue Cavern dwelling, one of the largest and most iconic exhibits at the Aquarium. There are three sea bass, two of which have been there since the beginning.
“They are a critically endangered species that live off the coast of California,” Trautwein said. “The Aquarium of the Pacific has the only pair that is actively spawning in any zoo or aquarium. We raised a little one which is now in our Southern California gallery.”
Entertainment value has always been a way to teach people about sea life and ocean conservation at the Aquarium. Another pair of charter animals, named Charlie and Brook, exemplify this notion well. They came to the Aquarium as sea otter pups through a recovery program and are now 21 years old. Charlie will be inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest sea otter living in any zoo or aquarium.
Embossing machines around the Aquarium will allow visitors to stamp an emblem of the charter animals into their visitor guide to keep as a souvenir, making visitors feel like they have a piece of the story to take home with them.
“Kids get really excited to collect them all,” Trautwein said.
The Aquarium will also be highlighting some of their newer animals, including the cephalopod exhibit, frog exhibit, leafy sea dragon exhibit, and the Moon Jellies touch lab, where visitors can have a “hands-on” viewing experience with the jellyfish—just make sure to use two fingers when touching them!
Trautwein says that volunteers have contributed much to keeping the Aquarium afloat all these years. For example, when the Aquarium first opened, local divers were very enthusiastic to volunteer to help keep the tanks clean.
“Now, we have one of the top volunteer dive programs in the country,” she said. Trautwein also pointed out that there are many former student volunteers who go on to work at the Aquarium. People like Adrian Samora, who volunteered while in college and now works in public relations.
“I remember coming here when I was 10 years old when the Aquarium first opened,” Samora said. “It was a lot different than this. Exhibits have changed, but the people have always been so welcoming here and have taught me a lot.”
Samora says the summer-long anniversary celebration will include cultural festivals, art contests, social media fun, and much more. In celebration of its dive volunteers, for example, the Aquarium will place a platinum sculpture of “Bob the Diver” in a different exhibit each day. The first three people who find Bob each day, post it on Instagram, and show their post to the staff at the Aquarium Information Desk, will receive a limited-edition 20th anniversary prize, along with two VIP access tickets to the Pacific Visions wing of the Aquarium, opening in 2019.
“The centerpiece of Pacific Visions is a 300-seat theatre with a 180-degree screen and a stage that tilts up on the floor—it’s a very beautiful, immersive theatre to showcase the stories associated with ocean conservation,” Trautwein said. “This is going to be very special and another great icon for Long Beach.”
For more information about fun summer activities and special events at Aquarium of the Pacific, visit aquariumofpacific.org or call (562) 590-3100.