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Freshwater Fauna

On July 29, the Great Lakes Aquarium officially opened in Duluth, MN. Some 3,000 visitors were among the first to experience the only all-freshwater aquarium in America.

Great Lakes Aquarium on opening day.

Opening day at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN. The new aquarium provides a look at some 70 species found in and around Lake Superior.

The aquarium uses Lake Superior as the “lens” though which the world’s large bodies of fresh water and global freshwater issues are examined. Executive Director David Lonsdale believes aquariums must get beyond highlighting flashy species in distant oceans to exciting adults and children in the Midwest about the water and water creatures closer to home. In doing so, he believes, people are taught how to make a difference where it counts: where they live. “I had felt we had ignored fresh water (in aquariums) for too long,” he said. “It was time to think about stewardship of fresh water.”

The more we know about precious freshwater resources,” said Lonsdale, “the better prepared we will be to deal with and manage the challenges that will arise throughout this country and the world.”

The aquarium, which is located on the waterfront of the Duluth-Superior harbor, is expected to draw 400,000 visitors annually, and bring a $5 million boost to the area’s economy.

Minnesota Sea Grant has been a partner with the project since the planning stages began 11 years ago. A small staff was in place and educational programs began even before the dream of the $34 million facility was realized. Minnesota Sea Grant’s staff:

  • participated in discussions about which fish species should be featured in the aquarium, exhibit themes, and educational messages
  • provided tourism market information for feasibility studies
  • along with Michigan Sea Grant, worked with several Canadian and U.S. organizations in 1993, including the Great Lakes Aquarium, to organize Superior Lakewatch, a program that uses over 50 volunteers around Lake Superior to measure water clarity
  • sponsored the annual Great Lakes Beach Sweep clean-up effort since the aquarium organized it in 1996
  • provided an “Exotic Aquatics” traveling trunk for teaching purposes on long-term loan
  • gave $25,000 for environmental education programs in 1997, which was used to develop the “Lake Matters” curriculum and HarborWatch program
  • co-sponsored Operation Pathfinder in 1997, a program where 20 elementary and middle school teachers from five midwestern states received hands-on experience with marine and aquatic science. These teachers are infusing an estimated 1,800 students per year with the excitement of science
  • printed a joint publication, “Superior Pursuit,” which features facts about Lake Superior
  • provided information for the aquarium’s interactive conference table exhibit and photos for other exhibits
  • provided informational publications for visitors
  • named the aquarium’s director, David Lonsdale, to our advisory committee in 1999

And if this weren’t enough, our editor’s Lake Superior-inspired pottery is for sale in their gift shop.

The hallmark of the aquarium is, of course, fish. A 120,000-gallon, two-story Isle Royale exhibit features deepwater species. Nineteen satellite tanks highlight other noteworthy fish and creatures. The birds have an aviary, and the otters play in their own waterfall. Besides Isle Royale, four other habitats around the lake are featured: Baptism River (fast-flowing stream), Pictured Rocks (a bird exhibit), St. Louis River (a slower river), and Otter Cove (otter habitat). It also exposes visitors to Lake Baikal in Russia and Lake Victoria in East Africa.

It will take awhile for the water in the tanks to “age” enough to be safe for all the fish, but in the future, visitors can expect to see a mix of native and introduced species such as coaster brook trout, coho salmon, deepwater sculpin, lake sturgeon, lake trout, muskellunge, rainbow smelt, and sea lamprey. There will also be birds, amphibians, reptiles, and a couple crustaceans. Besides people, otters will be the lone mammals. (For a full listing of species, click here.)

To move all the water that is needed, five miles of pipe were installed. Regular city water is used. It is treated to remove the chlorine and ozone is added. The filtering system uses sand and bio-rings. There’s a back-up system in case of problems.

Baptism River display.

The Baptism River exhibit recreates a fast-flowing trout stream.

In the future, Sea Grant plans to host public science lectures in the aquarium’s auditorium, and possibly help them develop an interactive water quality-monitoring exhibit. We will also consult with them on updating and creating an interactive Web-version of the “Lake Superior Game,” which is a staple of the aquarium’s educational activities.

Admission is $10.95 for adults, $8.95 for kids, and children under 4 visit free. For more information, call 218.740.3474 or visit www.glaquarium.org.


By Marie Zhuikov
September 2000

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