Westfield Mall Aquarium operator plans Trumbull facility
Already the biggest draw in southwestern Connecticut with more than 500,000 visitors a year, Maritime Aquarium can likely expect even more heading into November 2019 with the arrival of the SoNo Collection mall a short distance away in South Norwalk.
And a few towns away, the aquarium is coming to the mall — though it’s one that a handful of animal rights groups nationally would like to pull the plug on.
Trumbull municipal officials say SeaQuest plans to open a 17,000-square-foot visitors aquarium at Westfield Trumbull just off the Merritt Parkway, situated on the lower level between JCPenney and Target. Exhibits will include tanks for sharks and stingrays among more than 300 species, with guests at other SeaQuest facilities able to purchase snorkeling sessions lasting a half-hour among rays and fish.
As initial teaser prices elsewhere in the country, SeaQuest is charging $10 for a daily pass, $30 for an annual “passport” and $70 for a family pass for the year.
Westfield Trumbull would host SeaQuest’s first location in the Northeast, with the company on the cusp of opening an aquarium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and others in Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah.
It would represent Connecticut’s third major indoor sea-life attraction after Maritime Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium, though on a far smaller scale and operated as a for-profit business rather than with the nonprofit conservation and education values at the core of the missions of the Norwalk and Mystic aquariums. As the case with Maritime Aquarium, SeaQuest relies in part on volunteers to staff exhibits.
Earlier this summer, the state of Colorado issued a cease-and-desist order against a SeaQuest Interactive Aquarium in Littleton after state officials determined the company lacked a required license and raised questions about the quality of its care for animals.
SeaQuest founders Ammon and Vince Covino had previously been the target of criticism from animal welfare advocates over their stewardship of aquariums in San Antonio and Portland, Ore., and Ammon’s conviction on a charge of illegally shipping sharks and rays, with the brothers having defended their record. The negative publicity did not deter officials from approving SeaQuest aquariums in Fort Lauderdale as well as Folsom, Calif., outside Sacramento.
An official with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture told Hearst Connecticut Media the department does not have general oversight for animals in zoos and aquariums, which can gain third-party accreditation from multiple organizations including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as the case with the Norwalk and Mystic aquariums and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is the regulatory agency charged with monitoring any water discharges an aquarium generates.
The town of Trumbull is expecting Westfield to begin construction in November. It is one of two major new forays for Westfield Trumbull along with an apartment complex planned for the property.
“(Westfield) is Trumbull’s largest taxpayer,” said Rina Bakalar in response to an email query from Hearst Connecticut Media. “The transformation of the (Westfield Trumbull mall) area to a live-work-play retail entertainment center is envisioned for the future.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman