After a four-month closure, the New England Aquarium is opening to the public again, albeit with some changes.
Starting July 16, visitors will once again be able to head inside the 80,000 square foot facility in the heart of the city and come face-to-face with everything from tiny damselfish to giant octopuses, penguins to sea turtles.
“We’re super excited,” said Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of the New England Aquarium. “We’re looking forward to welcoming back our visitors.”
While state and city guidelines allow for the aquarium to now open at up to 40% of capacity, Spruill said the aquarium will begin by reopening at just 15 percent capacity out of an abundance of caution.
“The safety of our employees and our visitors is our top priority,” said Spruill. “We feel like we’ve mastered [safety] for our employees and we feel like we’re prepared to welcome back visitors now.”
Visitors will be required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Guests will experience contactless entry and one-way-only flow through the aquarium’s exhibits. Most of them will be open, including the popular Giant Ocean Tank and Penguin exhibits.
A few exhibits will be closed, as will the café. There will be no live presentations, and the Shark and Ray Touch Tank will, for now, be a “no-touch” tank.
Still, Spruill is confident that they’ll be able to offer visitors a safe and memorable experience that she called, “good for our souls right now.”
“We don’t want to lose sight of this being a fun and joyful and inspiring experience,” Spruill said.
Tickets, which went on sale today, are timed and must be reserved in advance online or over the phone.
“It’s going really well,” said Spruill of the initial sales. “We’ve had steady calls throughout the day.”
The closure has taken a financial toll on one of the city’s most popular cultural institutions, leading to what Spruill called “painful” layoffs and furloughs, and a host of other cutbacks.
“There aren’t many scenarios that have almost all of your revenue gone in one day with no end in sight," she told WGBH News in May.
Despite not welcoming a single visitor since March 13, the aquarium has still had to care for some 20,000 animals. Throughout the closure, a core team of 30-40 professionals has continued daily feedings, cleanings, and training — an undertaking that doesn’t come cheap.
“For every month that we’ve been closed, it has cost us about $2.5 million dollars,” said Spruill. And while opening at 15 percent capacity means they will continue to operate at a loss, she said, “some revenue is better than no revenue.”
Spruill said that she doesn’t expect the aquarium to be operating at full capacity until well into next year. But thanks in part to some creative belt-tightening and a fundraising effort, she believes the aquarium is on firm financial footing.
“The future of the aquarium is my North Star and what has been keeping me going,” she said. “I definitely see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Vikki Spruill's last name. It is Spruill, not Sproule.