America’s #1 Zoo Reopens Aquarium
by Kayla Hoffer
The number one zoo in America for multiple years, the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium has a lot to live up to – especially when you’ve grown up visiting it multiple times a year. So you can bet I was excited to finally be able to see the new Aquarium after its two and a half year renovation.
The building itself hails from the Works Progress Administration-era, and that exterior has been preserved for posterity’s sake. Inside, however, everything is shiny and new with more than 3,000 aquatic animals – fresh- and saltwater alike – in 178,000 gallons of water. This is almost four times the size of the old Aquarium – and let me tell you, it was definitely an amazing sight to see.
As I mentioned, the Aquarium holds a large number of aquatic animals. The freshwater creatures are mostly those found in Ohio rivers, as well as a few invasive species we’ve had to deal with in the past few years. But here at ReefNation, our focus is on marine life, so I will be primarily be discussing those tanks.
Touch Tank and Ocean Lab
One great new feature in the new Aquarium was more hands-on than the previous. Now you can pet some of the stingrays that live at the Toledo Zoo – of course, there are a few important steps involved in that process.
- Before you can pet any of the stingrays you have to rinse off your hands; this is to make sure that you don’t have any dirt or grime or anything else that may be harmful to the stingrays. Luckily, there is a rinsing station right next to the open tank where the petting takes place.
- After you’ve rinsed your hands off you can pick a spot around the edge of the tank, making sure you don’t touch anything on the way, otherwise you’ll have to rinse your hands all over again. When picking your spot you should do so strategically. There are places where you don’t have to reach down as far because of the placement of the rocks inside the tank, so be sure to pick one of those spots. Also make sure there aren’t a ton of people around the spot you’re in, otherwise you might not get the chance to pet a stingray that passes by.
- Once you’ve picked your spot all you have to do is wait for a stingray to pass by. In the time since the Aquarium reopened on March 27, 2015, these stingrays have gotten very much used to being pet. Some of them will slowly swim around the tank wherever they please, and if a hand just so happens to reach down and pet them, they certainly don’t mind. Others will swim near the edges and stop wherever a person is, staying there until they receive a pet; it doesn’t matter how many people there are in a row, they will keep stopping until every person pets them. There was even one stingray that was zooming along the edge of the tank, one “wing” sticking a little out of the water, demanding pets from each person it passed by. This stingray very obviously enjoys being pet and isn’t afraid to ask for it.
- Now, it is important to note that when you are petting a stingray you should only do so with two fingers, as opposed to a whole hand like you would with your cat or your dog.
- When you’ve gotten your fill of petting stingrays, you should at the very least sanitize your hands, and there is a hand sanitizer station near the rinsing station. There’re also restrooms nearby, so if you prefer washing your hands you can do that as well. That might even be easier, considering your entire arm will likely be very wet from reaching into the tank to do all of the petting.
While you’re petting the stingrays, if you have any questions about them you’ve always wanted answered, there are a few staff members right at the tank who can answer them for you.
Stingrays are fun and all, but if you don’t want to pet them and still want a hands-on learning experience, there is also the Ocean Lab. Here you can take a look at some sea stars and a few other critters.
The Aquarium’s largest tank at 90,000 gallons of water, the Reef can be viewed from multiple sides and houses a great number of different species. There are multiple corals, blue tangs (AKA Dory from Finding Nemo), yellow tangs, a few black tip reef sharks, and many more. When I visited there was also a diver inside, who looked like they were checking the corals.
Gulf of Mexico
This tank features rays, sharks, eels, and a sea turtle. The first sea turtle the Toledo Zoo has had in quite a few years, this one is actually a part of a conservation education program that aims to help wild turtles.
There are various other smaller marine tanks, including one with giant Japanese spider crabs (deep sea creatures rarely seen in aquariums) as well as others with clownfish, seahorses, and moon jellies.
Also included in the new Aquarium are a small gift shop, something many people enjoy, and a shark statue hanging from the ceiling. In the old Aquarium, each year the zoo would put on Santa hat on the shark, so I am personally hoping they continue that tradition with the new Aquarium.
There are a great many aspects of the new Aquarium I did not discuss, and could never hold to convey fully, so if you would like to know more you can visit the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium’s website at toledozoo.org. Or, even better, if you’re ever in the Toledo, Ohio area, visit the Aquarium itself!