The Smithsonian-affiliated Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39 in San Francisco has reopened for visitors starting 1pm Monday, September 21.
The regular hours from Tuesday will be 11am to 6pm.
George Jacob, president & CEO of Bay Ecotarium, the umbrella nonprofit that oversees six branches including the Aquarium of the Bay and the Sea Lion Center on the San Francisco Embarcadero, told indica News that it was encouraging to reopen after 27 weeks of shutdown for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jacob, the first person of Indian origin to head Bay Ecotarium, said he expected tourism projections to continue to be low.
“The Aquarium of the Bay had to remain operational given the 24,000 animals in our 750,000-gallon saltwater tanks. It’s a 24/7 activity,” said Jacob.
Did they feel the animals missing the visitors?
“Indeed some of our terrestrial species, especially the California river otters, have missed being the darling of attention,” Jacob said.
“They eagerly tap on the glass panes as we walk by — almost like they’re checking on where the visitors have vanished!”
Explaining the challenges they faced and how they managed the centers, Jacob said the March shutdown led to the collapse of revenue streams.
It impacted five other branches that “our nonprofit organization support — including the Sea Lion Center, the Bay Model, the Bay Institute, Studio Aqua and the Bay Academy.”
“And it was difficult to furlough our dedicated staff — some had been there with the aquarium for over two decades,” said Jacob. “Meeting payroll obligations and fulfilling the animal-care mandate in our mission were two of the biggest challenges.”
The Bay Ecotarium has come up with face masks for kids and adults carrying prints of fish and sea animals,. It has also launched a number of e-learning modules, live cams, podcasts and social media messaging shifting gears during the pandemic to online platforms.
“While our international collaborative Ocean Conservation and Educational Partnerships are progressing on schedule in Jamaica, Norway, Japan and Trinidad & Tobago, we are launching multiple outdoor nature conservation awareness programs, both at the aquarium site on Pier 39 and at added locations in the Bay Area, involving virtual and real field trips as part of our outreach initiatives called BayEcotarium Ed-Ventures,” said Jacob.
He said it was designed for global audiences, featuring live interactive exploration of underwater wetlands and uses remote operated vehicles, drones and surface cameras, and guests will be able to ask questions in real time.
For visitors, he said the comprehensive re-opening plans include a menu of measures that address visitor traffic, capacity, time-ticketing, sanitization frequency, masks, shields, cashless transactions, CCTV messaging, revamped retail, socially distanced navigation, and ventilation measures, to name a few.
“We are also exploring the possibility of deploying robots in the aquatic tunnels in the near future,” said Jacob, who also serves on the boards of directors of International Council of Museums, US, Cal-Travel, Bay Area Council and Chief Advisor to UN Environment on Climate Museums (Caribbean).