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By: Carrie Wells
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the National Aquarium received top honors Tuesday from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in its annual awards.
The zoo won for its Penguin Coast exhibit, which opened in 2014, while the aquarium won for its Living Seashore exhibit, which opened last year and allows patrons to touch stingrays and other animals. The two Baltimore institutions were the only two receive "top honors" from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums this year.
The $11 million Penguin Coast exhibit was meant to revive the zoo, which eight years ago was so decrepit the same association that honored the zoo's exhibit threatened to pull its accreditation. The Penguin Coast exhibit, which opened in 2014, includes a 185,000-gallon pool surrounding an indoor conservation center which houses the birds' nest boxes, a hospital room, kitchen and keeper work space.
More than 70 African black-footed penguins are housed in Penguin Coast. The zoo hopes the population can grow to 100. The birds previously lived at the Rock Island exhibit.
"As the highest honor for new exhibits, this award recognizes The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore's innovation and commitment in designing a dynamic, immersive habitat that provides the best in animal care and public education to help connect people with nature," Keith Winsten, director of the Brevard Zoo and chair of AZA's Honors and Awards Committee, said in a statement.
Zoo officials celebrated the news.
"One of the most thrilling experiences at Penguin Coast is the opportunity to see the penguins swimming in front of the underwater viewing area. For as ungainly as they seem on land, they are amazingly graceful swimmers," Don Hutchinson, president/CEO of The Maryland Zoo, said in a statement. "The overall design allows visitors to see the penguins closer than ever from many distinct vantage points around the exhibit."
John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium, said in a statement the Living Seashore exhibit's Atlantic stingrays, horseshoe crabs and moon jellies inspired patrons to "become beach heroes."
"Living Seashore creates connections between guests and the hidden, abundant sea life of the Mid-Atlantic seashore," Racanelli said.
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