The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher will be home to a few new furry residents.
Construction is expected to begin in January on the 3,000-square-foot exhibit that will be home to Asian small-clawed otters, North Carolina Aquariums announced Tuesday.
This new exhibit will enable the aquarium team to help the semi-aquatic species native to southeast Asia and listed as vulnerable on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species,
A renovation of existing space in the aquarium’s freshwater conservatory, the exhibit, “Otters on the Edge,” will include interactive water elements, living space for separate family groups and behind-the-scenes care areas. The renovation will also benefit the rescued bald eagle in aquarium care, who will be relocated to a new, outdoor habitat in the attraction’s garden in late spring.
Paragon Building Corp. of Wilmington is building the $1.8 million project expected to be complete in about six months. Funding was secured through the North Carolina Aquarium Society, private donations and aquarium receipts.
“The aquarium cares about saving animals locally and globally,” said Aquarium Director Hap Fatzinger in a statement. “Caring for these otters, helping our visitors understand the threats the animals face will help inspire action for wildlife and wild places.”
The aquarium expects to care for two to three otters. The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan for Asian small-clawed otters will help the team scientifically identify specific animals to ensure a healthy, genetically diverse and demographically varied population of otters.
“From the beginning the primary focus of the otter project and new habitats has been animal care and welfare,” said Fatzinger.
Plans for the new exhibit have been ongoing for several years, with construction initially planned for early 2019, but the project was delayed due to the impacts of Hurricane Florence.
The aquarium’s conservatory building closed to visitors in November to accommodate roof and fire suppression repairs and will likely remain closed into late spring 2020. However, the aquarium remains open during the construction, as all saltwater galleries, touch pools and outdoor gardens are accessible. Educational activities, daily dive programs and feedings continue, while sharks, jellies and sea turtles engage and inspire guests.
The Fort Fisher aquarium is one of three state aquariums in North Carolina administered by the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.