$22M sea lion exhibit set to open at Omaha’s zoo in 2020

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium announced Thursday its newest exhibit for sea lions is set to open spring 2020.

Owen Coastal Shores will be a new habitat for the Zoo’s sea lions. Officials say it's the next phase of its master plan. The sea lions will be in a Pacific Northwest coast inspired area with brown pelicans.

Design development for the new sea lion habitat is underway with construction slated to begin in late fall. The approximately one-acre site will be constructed near Alaskan Adventure, at the site of the former Durham Bear Canyon and Century Link Concessions. These amenities will eventually be replaced by the new plaza scheduled to open spring of 2019.

The $22.5 million project will include elements such as natural boundaries, a 40-foot-long underwater viewing window, heated rocks and underwater kelp forest. State-of-the-art holding facilities will be complete with a diet prep area, holding pools and dry resting areas. The approximately 275 thousand gallon filtered, recirculating salt water system will be seasonally heated or chilled to keep the sea lions comfortable throughout the entire year. Wave chambers will create natural waves in the pool, which ranges in depth from four to sixteen feet. The area will also include a pupping beach allowing females to give birth on land and gradually introduce their pups to the water as they would in their natural habitats.

Features such as extensive landscaping, a sandy beach area (where kids are encouraged to play), a waterfall and a descent into a flooded cavern with underwater viewing will create the immersive Pacific Northwest coast area for Zoo visitors.

“The new sea lions area will be developed with innovative facilities and features that, as always, focus on creating the best environment possible for the animals, such as shaded areas, water currents, a natural beach area and a sophisticated salt water filtration system,” said Dennis Pate, president and CEO of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. “This habitat will mirror African Grasslands and Asian Highlands in that we will be using natural elements to create an immersive environment for both the animals and Zoo visitors.”

Owen Coastal Shores will offer visitors unique viewing opportunities including a nose-to-nose experience, a hidden crevice area with underwater perspectives for kids and a demonstration beach with a sound system and shaded stepped seating that will allow for animal training observation.

“The Owen family's commitment to the Zoo has spanned decades,” said Tina Cherica, executive director of the Omaha Zoo Foundation. “Their leadership, care and support is evident throughout the park, as they believed that a world-class zoo in Omaha was not only possible, but inevitable. The Owen Coastal Shores will continue their legacy and make it possible for more than two million visitors to enjoy this incredible addition to the Zoo.”

DiVentures, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s official Ocean Health Conservation and Education Partner, has provided the funding for educational graphics that will engage youth and adults alike in understanding the challenges faced by ocean wildlife and the conservation of the ocean.