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Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row to reopen after 13 months

A penguin kisses a woman.
A penguin named Rey — as in Monterey — kisses aviculturist Madeline McCuen, 25, while taking a stroll in the closed Monterey Bay Aquarium last August.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium is set to reopen in May after being closed for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will the sea critters notice?

“For a lot of our animals — say, the sponges and sea urchins — it is very hard to tell,” said Julie Packard, the aquarium’s executive director. “But for sure, the sea otters absolutely love to have human interaction. ... I’m sure it’ll be enriching for them to have all those people back in the building.”

The aquarium on Monterey’s Cannery Row will reopen to members only for two weeks beginning May 1, then to the public May 15.

The facility is able to open — at 25% capacity — because of declining numbers of new coronavirus cases and rising vaccinations in Monterey County, which earlier this month moved out of the most restrictive, purple, tier of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.

The aquarium shut down March 13, 2020. A grand reopening was planned for last July 9, but it was scrapped a few days beforehand because Monterey County had just been placed on the now-defunct state coronavirus watchlist.

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In the end, the aquarium — an international tourist destination and pillar of the Central Coast economy that typically draws 2 million visitors a year — did not reopen for a single day.

“There has been much anticipation for the reopening of the beloved Monterey Bay Aquarium from both visitors and the community, and its opening is an important step in Monterey County’s economic recovery,” Rob O’Keefe, chief executive of the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said in an email. “The aquarium has always been an asset for our destination both nationally and globally, and plays an important part in our multiyear tourism recovery plan.”

Since its closure, the aquarium has lost $55 million in revenue, it said. Although it offset some losses through reductions in operating expenses, layoffs, pay cuts and donations, it had to spend $1.3 million every week to care for more than 81,000 animals and maintain the facility.

The aquarium laid off or furloughed 40% of its pre-pandemic staff of around 580 people, including a round of job cuts in January. Because the nonprofit had more than 500 employees last year, it did not qualify for a forgivable coronavirus aid loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, Packard said.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard
Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“We are extremely excited about being able to reopen. ... It’s just not right to have the aquarium be empty. It’s there to be full of people,” Packard said.

Admission for members and the general public will be by advance registration through the aquarium’s website.

Member reservations from May 1 through June 30 will become available at 9 a.m. on April 26. General admission tickets for May 15 through June 30 will be available at 9 a.m. on May 5. Ticket availability for later dates will follow.

The facility will have timed entries and one-way paths; guests will be required to wear face masks and confirm twice that they are showing no symptoms of COVID-19.

The aquarium initially will be open Thursdays through Mondays. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, it will resume operations seven days a week.

Among other attractions, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach reopened its indoor exhibits March 15 after Los Angeles County exited the purple tier. After closing in March 2020, the aquarium reopened in mid-June only to shut down 19 days later amid rising coronavirus cases. Its outdoor exhibits remained open.

The Los Angeles Zoo welcomed back guests in February. After closing early last year, it reopened with safety precautions in late August but was forced to close again amid the winter surge in cases.


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