Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, located on Okaloosa Island in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida, is embarking on a large, multimillion-dollar expansion project this winter.
The project will add a brand-new dolphin habitat to the park. Construction is scheduled to commence in late December of this year and will take roughly 14 months to complete. Park operations will continue as normal throughout the construction process, as the new habitat will be located on undeveloped land on the north side of the park. Dolphin Oasis will debut just in time for the 2023 Spring and Summer seasons.
“Our main dolphin habitat was one of the first of its kind and has stood proud for over 65 years,” states Will Merrill III, President of the Gulfarium. “A pioneering habitat in the 1950s, built with robust battleship steel, it has allowed us to provide dolphins the top-notch animal welfare that we offer all of our resident animals. Today we are excited to build expanded habitats fully suited to an animal’s long-term needs through all stages of their lives, and so the time has come to create something new.”
After many years in the making and two years of design engineering through a team of individuals from Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park; MIG|Portico, a design firm based in Seattle, Washington; and PCL Construction, a company based out of Orlando, Florida, the work to construct the brand-new habitat has begun.
Dolphin Oasis will be an immersive, natural-themed experience reflecting the Emerald Coast and consisting of three large, interconnected habitats, totaling over one million gallons of gulf salt water designed with animal welfare, the guest experience and conservation education in mind.
The new environment will be dynamic, possessing the ability to suit each animal’s welfare needs in a variety of ways, such as offering the animals the option to move throughout the many different areas of the Oasis, providing various social groupings. There will also be a large maternity suite and nursery for mothers and calves as well as multiple locations for animal care specialists to interact and play with the dolphins, utilizing the additional enrichment features included in the design.
Each of the three main habitats will differ in size and depth, one habitat being the deepest, one being shallower, and one having a sloping beach, all mimicking areas dolphins would naturally venture to in the ocean. Dolphin Oasis will also have three husbandry habitats connected to the main areas, as well as a medical lift for the animals. Additionally, the new habitat will be supported by a life support system using Defender Filters in addition to sand filters, lowering energy usage by 50 percent. The Defender Filters will also provide the ability to cut oxidants from the water, allowing the habitat to house live fish for further animal enrichment and welfare.
Dolphin Oasis was designed around the desire to continue to provide education and inspiration, as well as fun and relaxation for Gulfarium guests. The new presentation habitat will provide seating for 480 guests, while still providing the intimate, up-close presentation experience that visitors have come to know and love. The exhibit habitat, which will serve as a nursery for the birth of new calves, will also feature split-level viewing through a 27-foot acrylic window where guests will be able to observe the dolphins from above and below the water’s surface. The encounter habitat will provide new and improved interaction opportunities for guests of all ages to play and learn through interactive, in- and out-of-water, hands-on experiences with the resident dolphins.
“We may have opened our doors more than 65 years ago, but our story is just beginning,” exclaims Patrick Berry, Gulfarium’s Senior Vice President. “We look forward to the enhanced welfare opportunities the new habitat will offer our animals. We are grateful to be able to move forward with this expansion and look forward to welcoming our guests into Dolphin Oasis in 2023.”