Myrtle, a green sea turtle and undisputed queen of the New England Aquarium, has a new home along with some new neighbors. After 10 months and at a cost of nearly $18 million, the aquarium’s star exhibition, the Giant Ocean Tank has just reopened. When Myrtle was returned to her throne in early July, she joined more than 2,000 aquatic animals comprising nearly 140 different species—approximately three times the number of animals previously on display.
The new tank is 26 feet at its deepest point, 40 feet wide, and holds 200,000 gallons of water, kept at approximately 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature for its biodiverse inhabitants. When it was first constructed in the late 1960s, the tank was so large that the rest of the aquarium had to be built around it.
Along with Myrtle, a denizen of the aquarium since June 1970, many previous inhabitants of the Giant Ocean Tank are on view again, among them Kemp’s ridley and loggerhead sea turtles, barracuda, reef fishes and stingrays. Now estimated to be somewhere between 80 and 90 years old, Myrtle is the oldest animal at the aquarium and a perennial favorite among visitors, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01). At 580 pounds, Myrtle is impossible to miss.
Dozens of species are new to the exhibition, such as scrawled filefish, midnight parrotfish, trumpetfish, guitarfish, and yellowfish, as well as a shark species previously not represented, the blacknose shark. The new habitat also features more than 3,000 handmade coral carefully painted and installed by aquarium artists. Divers and researchers went on regular expeditions to tropical Atlantic coral reefs to replicate the coral.
Diablo, one of five balloonfish housed in the Giant Ocean Tank. Photo by Madeline Rae
The iconic four-story spiral now has 67 new windows and 52 viewing bays, affording plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the myriad fish swimming by. Keep your eyes open and you may spot one of the tank’s moray eels or Diablo, one of five balloonfish housed in the tank.
See a really cool-looking creature you can’t quite identify? No problem—mounted around the viewing windows are iPads with interactive fish ID applications to tell you the name of the fish, where it comes from, and some interesting basic facts. You can also take advantage of the aquarium’s new technology by checking out the Blue Planet Action Center, which documents the aquarium’s conservation and research programs around the world. Using huge interactive touch screens, visitors can click on an image of an endangered species to learn about the challenges confronting them, such as climate change.
Of course, the fish have received some high-tech enhancements of their own. A 21st-century reflective ceiling dome that changes colors has been installed above the tank, providing an enhanced aquatic ambiance. At the top of the Giant Ocean Tank sits the brand-new Yawkey Coral Reef Center. Glass railings provide a view of the tank from the top. If you’re lucky, you can watch aquarium staff feed Myrtle a healthy helping of lettuce. Educational presentations about the many fish species found in the tank are held several times a day in the center.
Several smaller tanks were added as part of the renovations. A seven-tank exhibition in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center gives visitors a closer look at some of the smallest organisms in the reef, including pipefish, garden eels, and spiny sea urchins. The Blue Planet Action Center has a shark nursery and a lobster lab, where you can watch these species hatch and grow to full-sized adults.
The New England Aquarium is open Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $24.95 for adults, $20.95 for students with a BU ID, $17.95 for children ages 3 to 11, $22.95 for seniors (60+), and free for aquarium members and children 3 and under. By public transportation, take a Green Line trolley to Government Center and walk 10 minutes towards Boston Harbor, or transfer at Government Center to the Blue Line towards the airport and get off at Aquarium.