Sharks are moving to their new Living Planet Aquarium tank in Draper
Loveland Living Planet Aquarium • New facility is scheduled to open March 25.
Published: March 19, 2014 09:12AM
Updated: April 1, 2014 09:12AM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Deana Walz, director of animal husbandry at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper, Utah, stands in the penguin exhibit Monday, March 17, 2014.

Draper • It’s moving days at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium — and there’s a lot more involved than putting the fish in a plastic bag full of water, sealing it off with a rubber band and then dumping them in their new home.

For one thing, there are about 5,000 animals making the move from the older, much smaller aquarium in Sandy to the new 136,000-square-foot facility in Draper, which opens next week.

For another, it would be tough to get a 130-pound shark into a plastic bag.

“This is a very big project,” said Deana Walz, the aquarium’s director of animal husbandry and the woman in charge of making sure all the animals are moved safely.

The sharks themselves are movin’ on up to a deluxe tank — their old home was 15,000 gallons; the new one is 300,000 gallons.

“But the first priority is we try to keep it as calm as possible,” Walz said.

The moves are meticulously mapped out. Walz and the 21 members of her staff do dry runs — no pun intended — to practice. They treated smaller fish like they were sharks, practicing for the sharks themselves.

Using what looks like a mesh hammock, the sharks are lifted from their old homes to a tank in 30-foot truck, which transports them to Draper. Then it’s back in the hammock, which gently deposits them in their enormous new home. There are divers in the tank and spotters for the divers and everyone in constant radio contact.

“We make sure everybody knows their role,” Walz said. “We try to anticipate any problems.”

So far, so good, although there’s still a long way to go — some of the animals won’t move to the new location until after the official opening on Tuesday, March 25. But the sharks, rays, turtles and fish who have made the move are adjusting nicely. The river otters are swimming happily in their new home.

The 11 Gentoo penguins are warming up — no pun intended — to their new home as well. It just took them a little bit to adjust to their new digs, which are 10 times the size of their old ones. It took just a little bit of time to decide to take the plunge into the new tank.

“They were daring each other,” said Ari Robinson, the aquarium’s art and design manager and the man who designed the new facility. “Finally, one went in and then they all jumped in.”

And after just a few days, they’re well settled in.

“With the first two days, I saw breeding behavior,” Walz said. “So they’re very happy.”

The penguins are as excited to see the first people touring the Living Planet Aquarium before the grand opening as the people are to see them. On Monday, one penguin spent a good deal of time up against the glass, looking at the kids who were looking at him.

“It’s like we opened up the people exhibit for them,” Walz said.

spierce@sltrib.com

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium

Grand opening • Tuesday, March 25, at 10 a.m.

Where • 12033 S. Lone Peak Parkway, Draper

Tickets • Adults $15.95; students 13-17, seniors and military, $12.95; children 3-12, $10.95; 2 and under, free; Call 801-355-3474 or visit www.thelivingplanet.com for more information.