Great Lakes Aquarium hit a 19-year attendance record in 2021, welcoming 190,849 visitors through its doors. The number shatters the previously set record in 2018 of nearly 178,000 guests, up nearly 7.5%, securing the Aquarium’s position as the No. 1-paid visitor attraction in Duluth.
The record came despite a year of COVID-related restrictions.
The Aquarium started 2021 closed due to statewide shutdowns, opening for the first time on January 11. Throughout the year, the facility has been under tighter building capacity limits. In the interest of health and safety, the Aquarium initiated one-way traffic flow throughout the exhibits and paced some exhibit re-openings due to concerns about crowding in tight spaces.
Despite the challenges, Aquarium leaders attribute its success to change, enhancement and continual growth.
In November, the Aquarium opened its newest exhibit, H2O, featuring a new and improved water table and several interactive displays exploring the physical properties of water, methods to keep it clean and how it moves through our community.
“Since last spring we’ve seen record or near-record months pretty much every month. Those numbers continued to climb after opening H2O. That tells me we’re filling a need for our community but also fulfilling our role as a tourist attraction,” said executive director Jay Walker. “We don’t take these responsibilities lightly.”
In recent months, the Aquarium has reopened all its exhibit areas with the exception of one touch pool which is being relocated. The most recent space to reopen is Freshwater Forest featuring the popular children’s play area treehouse and slide.
“Our mission is to connect people to the water and wildlife of Lake Superior and beyond. We’re always looking for ways to improve on that,” said Walker. “It’s incredibly gratifying to reach the end of a challenging year and see how supported we are by the people in and around Duluth.”