The Aquarium of the Pacific Opens a New Wing This Week and It’s a Stunner

May 20, 2019 by Brian Champlin
The new Pacific Visions wing at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
© 2019 Tom Bonner

This Friday, May 24, the Aquarium of the Pacific opens Pacific Visions, a two-story, 29,000 square-foot expansion featuring a state-of-the-art immersive theater, an art gallery, interactive consoles, touchable wall screens, and new live animal exhibits. It’s a stunning new addition to what is already the fourth most attended aquarium in the nation.

“After more than a decade of planning and building, we are excited to open Pacific Visions to the public,” Dr. Jerry R. Schubel, Aquarium of the Pacific president and CEO, stated in a release. “Pacific Visions is unlike any other aquarium expansion project. We are taking a unique, unconventional approach in creating a space where the focus is on the one species that is affecting all others on Earth: humans. Pacific Visions is a place where scientists, policymakers, and the public can come together to explore solutions to create a better future for all.”

Pacific Visions art gallery at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
© 2019 Tom Bonner

Guests enter Pacific Visions from the existing aquarium great hall into a 2,800-square-foot art gallery layered with video projections and soundscapes, a touchable coral sculpture wall, glass sculptures inspired by plankton, and a collection of mirrored exhibits called Infinity Coral.

From there visitors continue to a 2,600-square-foot orientation gallery highlighted by an 18-foot-wide virtual waterfall and a 26-foot-wide by 8-foot-tall LED screen. The screen plays a pre-show film that primes you for what comes next, and is the true jewel of the new expansion: The Honda Pacific Visions Theater.

Honda Pacific Visions Theater at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
© 2019 Tom Bonner

The 300-seat theater features a 130-foot-wide by 32-foot-tall curved screen that wraps around a 36-foot-wide tilting floor projection disc. To see it in action is, no exaggeration, like witnessing something out of Star Trek. Among the technological innovations utilized in the theater are ‘Virtual touch’ devices that add to the experience for visitors who are deaf or blind. The devices control ultrasound waves to create tactile sensations in mid-air that mimic the flow of the film in real time, whether it’s ocean waves or bubbling air.

Initially the theater will offer an 8-minute experience called Designing Our Future, but there are plans in place to expand the experiential content offered by the theater and use the space as a live music venue in the future.

To finish up a tour of Pacific Visions, guests exit at the top of the theater to the culmination gallery, which helps contextualize the overall visitor experience.

Culmination Gallery inside Pacific Visions at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, CA
© 2019 Tom Bonner

The culmination gallery features a 50-foot wide motion sensitive media wall, several interactive game tables, and live animals on display including the delta smelt, an endangered species of fish native to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in California. The smelt have been critically affected by modifications to the local ecology, non-native species introductions, and water diversion programs. In some ways, the inclusion of the smelt echo highlight the true mission of Pacific Visions.

Although the overall tone of the exhibits and experiences offer notes of optimism about humanity’s future, there is an underlying theme of environmental urgency that binds together the visitor experience of the new wing.

“This is really serious. It isn’t just about feeling good,” Dr. Schubel told a gathering of press at a preview event on May 16. “This is about the ecosystems that make it possible for human beings to thrive on this earth,”

Indeed, with the effects climate change accelerating and the need for awareness and action at an all-time high, the opening of Pacific Visions couldn’t come at a more important moment in our species’ evolution. With the new wing expected to boost annual aquarium attendance by 200,000 visitors, this expansion presents a unique opportunity to not only entertain, but spread a vital educational message.

The planning and construction of Pacific Visions was supported through a $15 million matching grant by the City of Long Beach in addition to a $5 million matching grant from John, Michelle, Mario, and Therese Molina, and $5 million from American Honda Motor Co., Inc. The expansion was designed by Designed by the San Francisco-based architecture and design firm EHD, the same firm that built the original Aquarium of the Pacific structure.

The Pacific Visions wing opens to the public this Friday, May 24. Check the Aquarium of the Pacific’s official website for visitor and ticketing information.