Through the Looking Glass: Acrylic Creates new View at Edmonton Valley Zoo

In so many ways, we view the world through acrylic. Whether peering out the window in a jet plane, or marvelling at a magnificent underwater environment in the world’s best aquariums, we gaze through massive, specially-engineered acrylic panels all the time.

Now imagine peering through large acrylic panels to see all the animals that will call the Edmonton Valley Zoo’s new Arctic Shores exhibit home. These panels will allow you to watch the zoo’s seals and sea lion as they dive and swim underwater, or get nose-to-nose with an Arctic fox and ground squirrels.

When the Arctic Shores exhibit opens in the spring of 2012, visitors to the zoo will be able to get closer to the animals thanks to a series of custom-designed acrylic panels. Arctic Shores recreates an Arctic shoreline within the zoo, allowing guests to feel like they are immersed with the seals and sea lions in an ocean setting.

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So, what makes the acrylic panels in the Arctic Shores exhibit so unique? Besides the fact that they survived an earthquake and tsunami on their voyage from Japan, the panels are notable for their size, the company that manufactures them and how they will enhance the zoo experience.

The largest panel will be 40 feet long, nine feet high and four inches thick and will hold back 750,000 litres of seawater. This panel will make visitors feel like they are swimming with the seals and sea lions in their marine environment.  The acrylic bubble located just next to the large panel is fully submerged and provides an opportunity to peer into the water and see what it’s like under the Arctic Ocean.

Not only will guests experience underwater viewing, they will also experience under foot viewing with our three ice-floe panels. As for the other panels, they will provide opportunities to get closer the other Arctic inhabitants in the exhibit.

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What makes this acrylic even more unique is where it is manufactured.  There are three factories in the world that can produce large, uniquely shaped and engineered acrylic panels.  Based on workmanship and construction timing, the Nippura Company in Japan was selected, and has done a marvelous job of creating these one-of-a-kind components that will transform the zoo’s Arctic Shores exhibit into a spectacular immersive experience.

Nippura currently holds the world record for the largest acrylic panel, which is located at the Dubai Mall Aquarium in Dubai, and measures 107 feet 10 inches long, 27 feet 2 inches high, and 30 inches thick.

In February, I travelled to Kobe, Japan to review all nine acrylic components before they left the factory for Canada (Nippura requires that the final product be inspected before it is shipped). The photos provide a glimpse of what will be the incredible future of the zoo’s Arctic Shores experience. The panels were then loaded on a ship to be transported to Seattle. From there, the components were placed on a truck and shipped to Edmonton. The panels will be installed at the zoo this spring as weather permits.

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Building the Arctic Shores exhibit is a complex construction process and requires a great deal of time and expertise to complete. In addition to the new animal exhibit, guests to the zoo will also be able to explore natural Arctic land formation like pingos and climb on a whale bone play structure.

Artic Shores is the first of many projects that will transform the Edmonton Valley Zoo to create unique and intimate experiences with the animals that call the zoo home.

For more information, please visit www.valleyzoo.ca/construction

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