Press Release

Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121 sstone@calacademy.org
Kelly Mendez (415) 379-5133

STEINHART AQUARIUM FACT SHEET

Project Description

The new Steinhart Aquarium is one of the most biodiverse and interactive aquariums in the world. Home to an estimated 38,000 animals representing more than 900 separate species, it offers guests an unprecedented view of underwater life and provides insight into the critical role that aquatic environments play in life on Earth.

Ties to the Past

The original Steinhart Aquarium opened in Golden Gate Park in 1923. It quickly became world famous for its novel exhibits and unusual animals, and was the model for many of the public aquariums that opened in the years that followed. Several components of the old Steinhart Aquarium have returnedin the new aquarium, which opened back in the park in 2008, including the dramatic entrance columns, the vaulted ceiling, the sea horse railing, and the Swamp (alligator) exhibit.

New Exhibits

More than half of the public exhibit space in the new California Academy of Sciences is devoted to Steinhart Aquarium. New technologies and advances in animal husbandry have made it possible for the Steinhart to create a suite of stunning new aquarium exhibits, including the world’s deepest living reef tank, a four-level rainforest display, and a unique, ever-changing Water Planet exhibit.

Philippine Coral Reef
  • The Coral Reef tank, which is the second largest living coral reef display in the world, will measure 12,000 sq feet and hold 212,000 gallons of water.
  • At a depth of 25 feet, the new coral reef display is the deepest exhibit of live corals in the world. Visitors are able to view the exhibit from the surface as well as from five underwater windows.
  • The exhibit houses a broad range of aquatic life from the coral reefs and mangroves of the Philippines, one of the most diverse reef systems in the world. These animals  include delicate soft and hard corals, sharks, rays, and more than 2,000 colorful reef fish representing over 100 species.
  • All of the animals for the reef exhibits are captive bred, or come from sustainable wild sources, highlighting the importance of in-country research and conservation programs.
  • The special needs of the fish and corals are met by a sophisticated life support system that filters the entire tank volume about once an hour. 120 metal halide lamps emitting the ideal wavelengths for photosynthesis have been strategically placed to create an energy-efficient lighting system. Skylights in the roof also allow natural sunlight to reach the corals.
  • A glass “bridge” allows for close observation of black-tip reef sharks, bamboo sharks, cownose rays, and a honeycomb ray cruising just inches below the guests.
  • A jet system simulates ocean movements and stimulates the corals.
  • The exhibit also incorporates interactive displays, and regular in-tank diver presentations. To support its dive programs, the new Steinhart is recruiting over 40 volunteer divers to help maintain the large exhibits, feed the fish and interact with the public.
Rainforests of the World
  • The Rainforests of the World exhibit is contained within a glass dome that is 90 feet tall. Guests move through the exhibit by circling up a gently sloping ramp. After reaching the top, they descend through the trees inside a glass elevator.
  • The multi-level living rainforest exhibit takes visitors on a journey through four distinct and diverse rainforest environments: the Amazonian Flooded Forest; the Borneo Rainforest Floor; the Madagascar Rainforest Understory; and the Costa Rica Rainforest Canopy.
  • Plants and animals have been carefully chosen to represent specific habitats in nature.
  • Temperatures are maintained at 82-85°F, and humidity is maintained at 75% or above using a special misting system. Lighting is provided from skylights in the roof and metal halide lamps.
  • Interactive programs will be provided by the Aquarium’s biologists and docents, explaining the importance of rainforests and their threatened status.
  • The rainforest studies of the Academy’s research scientists are also highlighted, as they race to catalogue – and hopefully preserve - the world’s biodiversity before it disappears.
  • The flooded Amazon rainforest features a tunnel through a 100,000 gallon tank containing arapaima, giant catfish, vegetarian piranhas and tiny schooling tetras. Other live animals include a giant anaconda, piranhas, and freshwater sting rays.
  • The Borneo rainforest floor includes flying lizards, gliding frogs, fruit-eating bats, and various insects from the forest floor.
  • The live animals in the Madagascar rainforest exhibit include species that are unique to this threatened environment, including colorful forest frogs, bright green geckos and chameleons, and endangered Malagasy freshwater fish.
  • Under the domed skylights, the Costa Rica rainforest canopy features reptiles, amphibians and insects, as well as free flying birds and butterflies.
California Coast
  • The new California Coast exhibits, which present a range of habitats from salt marshes to turbulent rocky inlets, contain a wide variety of native birds, fish, and invertebrates from these incredibly rich and diverse environments.
  • The main tank – an exhibit featuring the marine habitats of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary – is a 100,000 gallon tank with large viewing windows and a specially created wave surge system.
  • A walkway along the surface of the main California Coast tank allows visitors to smell the seawater and peer down at the creatures below as waves roll into a salt marsh.
  • A Discovery Tidepool allows visitors to interact with live plants and animals, as well as the Aquarium’s specially trained biologists and docents.
  • Magnifiers, tiny cameras, and special viewing ports reveal the tiniest residents of the diverse habitats, including crabs, geoducks, fat innkeeper worms, and saltwater boatmen.
  • Other displays in the California Coast exhibit include the Tank of Giants, which holds huge sea bass and halibut, and the Southern California Kelp Forest, which houses colorful Garibaldis and other fish as they glide through strands of giant kelp.
The Swamp
  • Alligators and alligator snapping turtles have once again made their home inside the Swamp’s beloved sea horse railing.
  • Visitors can view the swamp inhabitants from the surface as well as from an underwater window.
  • Supporting exhibits feature alligator gars, rattlesnakes, frogs and salamanders.
  • A special story time area will allow Aquarium docents to inform guests about the natural history and human culture of the swamps of the Southeast United States.
African Penguin Habitat
  • The Steinhart’s colony of African penguins can be found at the end of African Hall.
  • A colony of twenty African penguins can be viewed through a window that is 26 feet wide and 16 feet tall.
  • The 25,000 gallon tank has a jet system designed to simulate wave action and stimulate the activities of the birds.
  • The life support system for this exhibit filters the water every 30 minutes, and maintains the water at a chilly 50°F.
  • Steinhart’s penguins are part of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Species Survival Program, aimed at conserving this species in the wild.
  • African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) live off the coast of South Africa and Namibia. In 2010, the IUCN classified the species as endangered, or at very high risk of extinction in the wild.
Water Planet
  • Dozens of tanks, from five to 5000 gallons in size, explore what it takes to survive under water – in an environment that is very alien to humans.
  • Fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates are displayed, and a wide range of interactive media are used entice, amuse, and inform people of all ages.
  • This exhibit area has been designed to be infinitely flexible, allowing Steinhart biologists to change the exhibits frequently and display species that have rarely been seen before, providing reasons to visit again and again.
  • The exhibit also features a video about the importance of water on the planet. The show, which is narrated by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, outlines the properties of water, its link to the origin of life on Earth, and the need to conserve this precious resource.
Life Support Systems
  • Over 7.4 miles of piping deliver fresh and salt water to Steinhart’s tanks.
  • Natural systems are used to purify nitrate wastes, ensuring that aquarium water can be recycled.
  • 20 sand filters, and three carbon and sand filters remove impurities from the aquarium’s salt water, which is piped directly from the Pacific Ocean.
Project Team

Architecture: Renzo Piano Building Workshop (Genoa, Italy); Stantec Architecture (formerly Chong Partners Architecture) (San Francisco, CA). Exhibit Design: Thinc Design (New York, NY). Aquarium Life Support: PBS&J (San Diego, CA). General Contractor: Webcor Builders (San Mateo, CA). Aquarium Project Manager: Rhodes/Dahl, Charleston, SC.
 

Steinhart Aquarium Director

Bart Shepherd