KURE BEACH, NC (WWAY) — Move aside, Maverick the bald eagle. The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is getting furry new animals to greet guests and they are “otterly” adorable!
Construction is expected to begin in January to build a home for a group of Asian small-clawed otters.
The exhibit will also allow 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.
“The aquarium cares about saving animals locally and globally,” Aquarium Director Hap Fatzinger said. “Caring for these otters, helping our visitors understand the threats the animals face will help inspire action for wildlife and wild places.”
The exhibit, “Otters on the Edge,” will include interactive water elements, living space for separate family groups and behind-the-scenes care areas. The 3,000 square foot exhibit will be located within the aquarium’s freshwater conservatory as a renovation of existing space.
This renovation has added benefits for the rescued bald eagle in aquarium care, who will be relocated to a new, outdoor habitat in the attraction’s garden in late spring.
“From the beginning the primary focus of the otter project and new habitats has been animal care and welfare,” Fatzinger said.
Initially, the aquarium expects to care for two to three otters. The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan (SSP) 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.
Plans for the new exhibit have been ongoing for several years, with construction initially planned for early 2019. The project was delayed due to the impacts of Hurricane Florence.
The habitat build is expected to take approximately six months.
Paragon Building Corporation of Wilmington submitted the winning construction bid for the $1.8 million project. Funding was secured through the North Carolina Aquarium Society, private donations and aquarium receipts.
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.
Aquarium general admission is reduced by $3 during the conservatory closure to $9.95 adults, $8.95 seniors (aged 62+) and military, $7.95 children (ages 3-12); children aged 2 and younger are free. The aquarium is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Christmas, Dec. 25.