In 1967, a group of penguins found a new home in Pittsburgh. Their new home was not Civic Arena, and in fact, they were not even hockey players.
These real penguins in Pittsburgh joined hundreds of other aquatic species in the opening of Pittsburgh’s new aquarium, Aquazoo.
They joined the exotic animals who had called the zoo home since 1898, when the Pittsburgh Zoo first opened its gates. Then, it was known as the Highland Park Zoological Garden.
In the 1960s, the Highland Park Zoo experienced major changes when the Pittsburgh Zoological Society planned and fundraised the two newest attractions, AquaZoo and Underground Zoo.
In 1966, while constructing the dwellings for Pittsburgh’s newest aquatic residents, an “aquafari” led by top zoological experts was underway to capture nearly five tons of the exotic fish from the Amazon River in Columbia. These “aquafarians,” as they termed themselves, returned to Pittsburgh with eleven 11,000 pounds of fish, porpoises, alligators, toads, and frogs. Animals such as penguins, sharks, and dolphins were also shipped to Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, AquaZoo staff worked hard to ensure that these species were placed where they would thrive. Zoo artist Ben Blackson stated, “What we’re trying to give the public are ‘living illustrations.’ We’re living in the 20th century and it’s time we took the animals out of the cages and put them in surroundings similar to their natural environment.”
This meant particular attention to tanks’ water temperatures levels, adding simulated sponge and coral reef, and balancing chemical levels in saltwater water trucked in from a New York harbor.
Finally, in October 1967, the AquaZoo opened its doors to nearly eight thousand attendees, including Mayor Joseph Barr who noted, “It will be a benefit and a boon to the Tri-State area as well as to Pittsburgh; [it is a] great addition to the City and its people.”
The aquarium certainly left attendees in awe.
Roger Conklin, one of America’s most famed expert on sea-life, was also on hand for the grand opening. While visiting the aquarium he couldn’t stop saying, “beautiful! – beautiful!”
Decades later, the AquaZoo is still thriving, especially after undergoing a $17.4 million renovation in 2000 that doubled its size. The AquaZoo became the PPG Aquarium that year, too.
Today, the theme at the aquarium is “Diversity of Water,” where you can still explore the underwater world of sharks, turtles and – of course – penguins.