Gulfarium breaks ground on new Dolphin Oasis as park visitors reach record numbers

First reported in December 2021, the Gulfarium on Okaloosa Island is planning to build a new Dolphin Oasis as part of their expansion. On Tuesday morning, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on-site.

  • The build has been in the making for about 10 years.
  • The actual design process started about two-and-a-half years ago.

“For the past few years now, we have seen the park visitation increase significantly year-over-year,” said Patrick Berry, Director of the Gulfarium. “This last year being our largest attended year ever in the history of the Gulfarium.”

  • From an economic standpoint, the Gulfarium is excited about the number of jobs this project will create in the local area, not only during construction but jobs that will be created after completion, as well.

As for the Oasis, Berry says they designed the habitat with three things in mind:

  • Animal welfare.
  • The guest experience.
  • Conservation education.

The habitat will have over 1 million gallons of water, which is about three times the amount of water inside their current habitat. It will also house anywhere between 11-15 dolphins “very comfortably,” said Berry.

Building off of the existing park features, Berry says there were a couple of elements from the current park that they knew wanted to carry over to the new Oasis:

  • Dolphin presentations.
  • Animal interactions.

“With our new presentation habitat, we will have seating for 480 people,” said Berry. “We can put 480 people in our existing habitat, but that would be standing and sitting. In the new one, we can sit 480 people with more standing room behind that.”

In addition to more seating, the viewing experience will get a massive upgrade thanks to a large acrylic window to see inside the Oasis.

As guests make their way to the encounters habitat, not only will they have close, intimate interaction with the animals, but the Gulfarium will be able to educate guests on conservation.

On the animal welfare side of things, the Gulfarium is starting with life support systems and cutting edge technology.

“When we bring in water from the Gulf of Mexico, we clean it and push it to the rest of our habitats,” said Berry. “With this new habitat, we will use sand filters, which is a traditional way that we can clean the water, but we also purchased defender filters.”

Defender Filters is a brand new, cutting edge technology that helps clean the water for the animals and will enable the Gulfarium to use less oxidants in the water. Additionally, Berry says the filters will reduce their energy consumption by 50%.

  • The defender filters will also give the Gulfarium the ability to have live fish inside the habitat. Currently, this is not possible due to the very small amount of chlorine used to help keep the habitat clean.

Other animal welfare aspects of the new habitat include more areas for staff to interact with the animals and build on the relationships that they currently have with them. Additionally, they will have areas where they can connect things to the bottom of the habitat for the animals to play with.

  • The exhibit habitat will also allow births, as well as “slipstreaming,” which allows the baby dolphin keep pace with the mother in order to nurse.

“Having the groundbreaking ceremony to kick things off, for what will be a 12 to 14 month build, is exciting for our entire staff,” said Berry. “We’re very excited for what it will mean for our local economy.”

“The Gulfarium is absolutely the number one attraction in Okaloosa County, if not all of Northwest Florida,” said Ted Corcoran, CEO of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. “Adding-on and taking advantage of this wonderful space for the new dolphin encounter is going to be spectacular.”

Gulfarium Director Patrick Berry at the Dolphin Oasis ground breaking ceremony.

Corcoran added that the new Dolphin Oasis will bring in more guests to the area, in addition to promoting more overnight stays on Okaloosa Island.

“There’s no doubt about it, the Gulfarium will bring more and more guests to our area, and that’s why we love the Gulfarium, and we love dolphins,” he added.

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