VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - More than 8,000 animals are front and center as locals and tourists flock to the Virginia Aquarium for its busy season.
"We're really excited to welcome people back to the aquarium for their vacations or just fun things to do if they already live here," said Cynthia Spanoulis, the aquarium's Executive Director.
Throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Aquarium kept in-line with COVID-19 restrictions on distancing and capacity.
Spanoulis says visitors will notice some of those measures still in effect this summer, despite Virginia lifting most restrictions in May.
Although not required for vaccinated guests, masks are still encouraged for everyone. The aquarium is also keeping its social distancing measures in place with a one-way track through exhibits and people are being asked to avoid touching previously interactive exhibits, like the sting ray pool.
Tickets can be bought at the door but with time-specific tickets still sold online, Spanoulis says getting them in advance is the best option.
"You won't be crowded in with a lot of other people. It allows us to keep that social distancing as well as it creates a really great experience for people," she said.
While managing traffic inside, the aquarium is also keeping busy on a number of projects.
Spanoulis tells News 3 that nine sea turtles have been brought in for rehabbing in the last week alone, part of the aquarium's ongoing conservation efforts. They will be released in the future.
A one-year-old harbor seal is also now calling the aquarium home following three rescues by the National Marine Life Center in Massachusetts. According to a Facebook post, human and dog interaction kept the young seal from being able to thrive on its own.
The seal will be is currently in quarantine away from the aquarium's other two seals. A naming auction is underway through June 25.
Elsewhere, the aquarium's South Building is still under construction with a Fall target for reopening.
"(It's) a 200 percent expansion," said Spanoulis. "You're going to see a lot of new animals. You're going to see a giant Pacific octopus, you're going to see jellies. You're going to see animals that have superpowers and then of course our otters are going to be returning and everyone loves the otters."
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