Aquarium expansion to ‘immerse’ visitors in the deep blue sea—virtually

Visitors to the Aquarium of the Pacific’s massive, 29,000-square-foot expansion will get to dive into the ocean and solve its problems while sitting in a theater seat.

The expansion, set to open in spring 2019, will include an art gallery, a 4-D theater with a 180-degree curved 32-foot-tall screen, an interactive changing exhibit—double the size of the old one— and a new members lounge, among other features.

Rendering of the orientation gallery. Courtesy of the Cortina Productions.

The new wing features smooth blue whale-inspired glass outside that leads visitors into what will become an art gallery and members lounge. The gallery slowly turns into a pre-showing area that starts to envelope the visitor with a projected waterfall and gently sloping floor.

“People will get metaphorically deeper into the sea,” said Claire Atkinson, senior manager of communications for the aquarium.

At the bottom of the sloped floor is the entrance to the 300-seat stadium style theater. In addition to the curved 130-foot-wide by 32-foot-tall screen, a 30-foot circular platform sits in the middle of the floor. It can serve as a stage for performing arts, but also will tilt 5 feet up to become another screen.

The films will be included in the cost of each regular aquarium ticket.

Rendering of the Honda Pacific Theater screen. Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific

The idea, Atkinson said, is that they can’t always show things like whale migration in the middle of the ocean inside the aquarium, but they can bring immersive videos of that to visitors.

The theater seats will have rumblers, fog and scents to more completely immerse visitors. The room can also support regular movies, immersive lectures and panels.

After the show, visitors will go upstairs to the new interactive changing exhibit that will tie into what the movie was about. The area will get visitors to think of and experiment with ideas to solve ocean-related issues, Atkinson said. The area will also include some live animals too.

Rendering of the changing exhibit gallery. Courtesy of the Cortina Productions.

“It will show people that all life on the planet is tied together,” she said.

The theme for the first movie and exhibit is “exploring pathways to the future.”




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Valerie Osier is the Social Media & Newsletter Manager for the Long Beach Post. She started at the Post in 2018 as a breaking news reporter. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from the Cal State Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband and two cats.