By Akashi Ikeda
An aquarium in Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture, saw its number of visitors skyrocket in June. Most were clamoring to see the facility’s main attractions, among them beluga whales and Megallanic penguins.
This is Umigatari, the updated Joetsu City Aquarium built on property adjacent to the former aquarium. The newly renovated facility opened its doors to visitors on June 26 after major renovations.
It is registered and administered under the Yokohama Hakkeijima Inc., which also operates the well-known Hakkejima Sea Paradise in Yokohama.
The Umigatari facility has three floors with a total floor space of around 8,400 square meters. It boasts 60 water tanks, approximately 300 species, and 45,000 creatures exhibited throughout the aquarium.
Among its most popular features are the beluga whales, which visitors can get a close look at, a flock of 120 Megallanic penguins, and the crowd favorite: three acrobatic bottlenose dolphins.
According to aquarium personnel, though, it is “the view of the sun setting on the ocean” that makes Umigatari so special. It is a spectacular sight which one can only experience at this Sea of Japan location.
“I’m so happy!” office worker, Tatsuya Ito, 26, from Nagano Prefecture, said, grinning widely while flaunting a picture of himself and the beluga. “It’s incredible to be able to see the beluga so close. I’ve always liked this place, but it’s gotten more exciting and fun for adults.”
Umigatari is the fifth aquarium in the country to exhibit belugas, and the first one in Niigata. At the “Friend Pool” — a beluga tank on the third floor — two curious whales show us their adorable faces through the tank glass. Both children and adults are exhilarated.
Another popular exhibit is the “Magellanic Penguin Museum” with about 120 of the world’s largest number of Magellanic penguins. The glass-walled space is designed to allow visitors to sense the close presence of the aquatic birds as they walk by. A third-grader from Nagaoka City, Mayumi Watanabe, said, excitedly: “I love how the penguins walk. They are so much cuter when you see them up close.”
The Umigatari Giant Water Tank has a 360º acrylic glass underwater tunnel. Walking through the tunnel, one can hear the children exclaiming “Wow!” as they are surrounded by a vision of swarming sardines.
But perhaps the biggest attraction is the bottlenose dolphin show at the Dolphin Stadium located on the third floor. Although there are now only three dolphins performing due to the sudden death of one of them, the show still attracts a huge crowd.
“The great thing about the show is that the audience members are not only watching, they can clap along and participate in the excitement of the performance,” said office worker, Yumiko Shimizu, 35, from Joetsu City.
Having visited three times already, her family of four was enjoying the “sunset version” of the show where audience can watch the dolphins’ silhouettes against the setting sun.
According to the maintenance service division of the aquarium, before renovations the annual number of visitors in the year 2016 was 195,000. However, as of the beginning of August 2018, barely a month after opening, the preliminary count exceeded 200,000 visitors. As of August 7, 218,850 people have visited the site.
The number of visitors to the renovated aquarium exceeded the average annual count in just over a month. Excited with the results, the division’s representative said, “We are grateful there are so many more visitors than we first anticipated.”
The facility now estimates there is an average of around 4,000 to 5,000 visitors on a weekday during the summer season, and around 7,000 to 8,000 visitors on weekends and holidays.
Click here for the Umigatari guidebook in English.
Click here to read the original article in Japanese.