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La Jolla’s Birch Aquarium reopens with social distancing and sharks

Birch Aquarium will reopen Tuesday, Sept. 15, with new COVID-19 precautions and a new exhibit on copepods.
(Courtesy)

Visitors can view new animals, including new baby sharks in tidepools.

Birch Aquarium in La Jolla will reopen Tuesday, Sept. 15, with masks and other COVID-19 protections and a chance to view some little sharks.

The aquarium, which has been closed since March except for a short stint in July, is opening to the public with its usual hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

New features include updated pandemic precautions, an exhibit on copepods — small crustaceans that are a link in ocean food webs — and a new tidepool with baby horn sharks and swell sharks, two species found in the Pacific. The displays will be open for viewing, but aquarium officials are still trying to determine whether visitors can safely touch animals in the tidepool.

Guests should reserve tickets in advance and will be given a time slot for arrival, according to Megan Medley, director of education. The aquarium has installed one-way paths to manage the flow of visitors through the exhibits while maintaining six feet of social distancing.

Visitors will complete a symptom checklist upon arrival, and all guests older than 2 must wear face coverings, Medley said.

To help prevent coronavirus transmission, the aquarium pulled out playground equipment, the interactive water table and exhibit touch screens, said Marketing Director Beth Chee. It added QR codes at some exhibits so visitors can view more information about the animals.

The aquarium also is launching virtual education activities for schools and after-school programs, Medley said.

The 30- or 45-minute school programs will be presented live by two Birch educators and align with Next Generation Science standards. They will include the chance to view some of the animals at Birch, learn about marine conservation and follow along with worksheets and other activities, she said.

The after-school program will be offered live in a series of six weekly hour-long sessions. Those will include grade-level activities, art and chances to view animals such as snails, crabs, sea hares, sea slugs and octopuses, Medley said.

For more information about aquarium visits and educational programs, visit aquarium.ucsd.edu. ◆