One acre in size, Owen Sea Lion Shores provides Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s sea lions with a state-of-the-art habitat featuring a 275-thousand-gallon pool, 40-foot-long underwater viewing window, natural boundaries, an underwater kelp forest and sandy beach areas. Visitors are welcomed to Owen Sea Lion Shores by a grand sea arch, which is the largest single piece of rock work in the entire Zoo, and are "trasported" to the Pacific Northwest coast.
As with other Zoo exhibits, the sea lion area was developed with innovative facilities and features to help provide optimal animal welfare, as well as an immersive experience for both the animals and Zoo guests. The pool uses a sophisticated recirculating saltwater filtration system and will be seasonally heated or chilled to keep the sea lions comfortable throughout the entire year. Wave chambers create natural waves in the pool, which ranges in depth from four to twelve feet. The two chamber wave machine allows for waves to differ in size and strength, and be set on different cycles to create varied currents.
Natural beach areas and rocks provide multiple sunning sites for the animals, while overhead shade cloth creates shade for up to two thirds of the area throughout the day. A pupping beach will allow females to give birth on land and gradually introduce their pups to the water as they would in their natural habitats. An island adds complexity for the animals, while also providing training areas for the animal care team.
Zookeepers have created fish feeder enrichment by utilizing spaces within the rock work to hide frozen fish. The feeders encourage fish finding behaviors and full use of the pool to locate their food source. This type of enrichment is similar to the timed hay feeders used within the elephant habitat, however in this case temperature will act as a natural timer.
Using directed filtered water return lines, designers have added underwater currents in specific areas for enrichment, warmer water areas during winter months and cooler water areas in the summer to give the animals even more choices within the exhibit space.
Features such as extensive landscaping typical of the area, a three-story waterfall and a descent into a flooded cavern with underwater viewing create the immersive Pacific Northwest coast area for Zoo visitors. A sandy beach area will encourage kids to explore; four small streams will allow them to mix sand and water for playtime.
Owen Sea Lion Shores also offers visitors unique viewing opportunities including an overlook point, a nose-to-nose experience shaded by pieces of real driftwood, a crawl through hidden crevice between large rock boulders with underwater viewing for kids, and a demonstration shoreline equipped with a sound system and shaded seating for up to 150 people (including two handicapped seats) that allows for animal training observations.
This exhibit has state-of-the-art holding facilities with a diet prep area, holding pools, dry resting areas, and keeper support space. Owen Sea Lion Shores has its own life support building, which houses boilers and chillers to control the water temperatures.
The interpretive focus covers the natural history of sea lions and ocean health.
The architect for Owen Sea Lion Shores was Studio Hansen Roberts. This is their first project at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.