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Have you been to the Maritime Aquarium lately?

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The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk unveiled its “FINtastic RefurbFISHment,” a $4 million makeover with 21 dynamic new exhibits – including 27 new species of animals – and an improved visitor experience.

“There are new exhibits to explore, new animals to meet, a new way to flow through the Aquarium and beautiful new presentations of the exhibits that you already know and love,” said Jennifer Herring, the Aquarium’s president. “We’ve even re-thought the three daily seal feedings, to make them more focused and engaging.”

The changes are noticeable immediately, with the Aquarium’s large main hall re-envisioned with an interactive introduction to Long Island Sound. This space, renamed Newman’s Own Hall, still features the harbor seals (in an all-new seal show three times a day) but also now a map of Long Island Sound the size of a school bus, with an interactive game about the Sound’s marine animals and habitats. 

“The questions are fun but also work to subtly prepare visitors for learning and discovering as they move on into the Aquarium’s galleries,” Herring said.

Videos showcase the Sound’s history and the seal species that visit each winter.

Another big change: the central staircase is gone, replaced by an elevator.

Creation of Newman’s Own Hall was made possible by a $1.25 million gift from Newman’s Own Foundation, a longtime supporter.

The exciting changes extend up into the Aquarium’s galleries, now called the Hokin Family Sound Voyage, in honor of a $1.15 million gift from Richard Hokin of Darien, a longtime member of the Aquarium’s Board of Trustees. All exhibits have been enhanced with interactive graphics and dramatic lighting. And a revised gallery, now called “Seasons of the Sound,” showcases how the Sound’s population changes through a single year.

Among the animals new to the Aquarium are a lemon shark, fiddler crabs, skeleton shrimp, Sargassum pipefish, tubeworms, nudibranchs and several species of colorful anemones, plus a snapping turtle and snakes in the Rivers to the Sound watershed gallery.

The Salt Marsh gallery has been opened up with a new balcony to Newman’s Own Hall below. And you can “birdwatch” on a new marsh boardwalk.

Also part of the work are upgrades to such amenities as restrooms, carpeting and lighting.

Herring said the removal of the staircase in Newman’s Own Hall opens up the space to make it even better for private after-hours events, such as wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs and proms.

The “FINtastic RefurbFISHment” is the largest transformation to the Aquarium since the 2001 opening of the William Ziegler III Education Center, which established a new main entrance, larger gift shop and cafeteria, group lunch room and marine-biology classrooms.

Besides the Newman’s Own Foundation and Hokin gifts, other sources of funding include CulinArt Inc., the Aquarium’s onsite food-service company; the late William Ziegler III, another longtime Aquarium trustee; and other members of The Maritime Aquarium board.

The new exhibits were designed by Cambridge Seven Associates Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., and Aquarium staff.

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