Woods Hole Science Aquarium reopens; introduces two new seals – Cape Cod Times


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 shut down March 13, 2020, and opened its gate July 5 for visitors again. The aquarium’s harbor seal exhibit is also back again after five years, featuring two new seals — Bubba, 22-year-old male, and Kitt, a 1-year-old female.
“Visitors are responding very positively, they are happy that the space is open again,” Aquarium spokesperson Teri Frady said. “We have more than 100 people coming every day.”
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The first week of July was a little slow in terms of visitors since the news of the aquarium reopening has not reached everybody, but the place quickly picked up the pace and it is getting busier every day.
“We have local visitors who grew up around here, they’re coming with their children or grandchildren now and it’s been really exciting to see that,” said Sarah Trudel, the aquarium’s curator and lead mammal trainer. “The people who are coming in are a good balance between locals and tourists, though the majority of the summer crowd are visitors in the area.”
The aquarium is also home to other marine animals including lobsters, starfish, mollusks, skates and other fish. Besides providing a permanent home to non-releasable seals, the aquarium also holds marine turtles for rehabilitation and release.
The ground floor of the aquarium includes fish tanks and the seal exhibit. On the second floor, visitors can pet the fish in a touch tank, see the top of the tanks and watch the staff working in the tanks.
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“It is a sort of behind-the-scenes area, and it is all open for the public to watch and learn,” Trudel said.
The NOAA 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 in existence since 1874, when the original Woods Hole Laboratory facility on Little Harbor 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 annual visitors.
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Seals LuSeal, 15, and Bumper, 10, greeted 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 death of the beloved two seals, the aquarium shutters the outdoor seal exhibit for renovations.
“We knew we had some renovations to do and at that point without the animals, it felt like a good time to start,” Trudel said. “We got new equipment and renovated the pool and other areas; it took about four years to get ready and then we started the process of trying to acquire seals two years ago.”
Bubba was born at a marine park and lived all his life at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island. Kitt was born in the wild, but taken into care after she was rescued after a boat accident in Maine.
In 2021, Kitt was struck by a boat propeller. Seriously wounded, she was rescued in Maine and then taken into rehabilitation by Marine Mammals of Maine, a nonprofit organization authorized by the federal government to respond to stranded mammals and sea turtles. Though she recovered quickly, the injuries took her eyesight, making her completely blind.
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Despite losing her eyesight, Kitt is very playful and active under water, Trudel said.
“Seals are really sensitive to vibrations under the water, it’s one of the ways that they can actually track fish under water,” he said. “Kitt feels those vibrations and moves around, the vibrations also help with their direction as well, so she’s doing great.”
Bubba lived most of his life in a zoo and he’s used to being around people. Kitt was born in the wild and has not been around large crowds of people.
“Kitt, being a young seal, is active and playful; she is bold and very inquisitive,” Trudel said. “Bubba, weighing just under 300 pounds, is our gentle giant.
“Bubba is a very sweet boy and he loves to play around with his new playmate. He keeps Kitt at bay and she is playing around all the time and he does not seem to mind at all.”
For now, the aquarium is focusing on the reopening so there are no specific summer programs on the schedule this year. The aquarium is planning to restart the summer internship and volunteer programs next year.
When: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday
Where: 166 Water St, Woods Hole, MA.
Admission: Free
Information: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/new-england-mid-atlantic/outreach-and-education/woods-hole-science-aquarium

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