By: Tristyn Surprenant
Aquarium Skipper Vikki Sprull talks about recent challenges for the New England Aquarium and a myriad of programs and exhibits to entertain the whole family
According to New England Aquarium CEO and President Vikki Spruill, now is the perfect time to make the trip down to Boston’s Central Wharf. because there aren’t crowds…So you’re really getting a lovely, personal experience and lots of space to move around, and I think that’s why visitors have been so happy,” said Spruill. Operating at 15 percent of their guest capacity, certainly
no one is having to squeeze in anywhere for a good view of the animals. But aside from the thinner crowds, not too much of the experience has changed. The shark and ray touch-tank is now “View Only” and the cafe is closed, but you can otherwise expect the same fun and educational visit that’s been offered since 1970. The Aquarium’s famous spiral, concrete ramp that wraps three stories up around the central, 180,000-gallon sea animal tank is already one-way, meaning no two-way foot traffic. The architects likely hadn’t planned the building with a public health crisis in mind some 50-odd years ago; but either way—it’s convenient that the exhibit layout is already Covid-friendly. As of August, Spruill has been the CEO and President of the New England Aquarium for two years. She has an eclectic personal and professional background, having lived all over the world as a young person and as an adult for various jobs. “ It was in Florida that I fell in love with the ocean,” Spruill said, referring to when she lived there as a child. She ended up building her career in public relations, but was eventually offered the chance to work for a foundation that advocated for ocean issues. After that, she ran multiple non-profits and moved to Boston in 2018 to lead the Aquarium. “The ocean called me, and this opportunity just felt like the perfect combination of the different things I’d done in my career. You know, my passion for translating science, my love of the ocean, my experience with philanthropy and fundraising. So here I am!” Not only was this past August her anniversary with the Aquarium, but this year marked a big milestone for the institution itself. “We would have been celebrating the New England Aquarium’s 50th anniversary this year and we had so many plans for galas and celebrations. That’s obviously taken a turn, but you know, I’m still really happy to be here…I’m just happy that we’re helping to bring Boston back to life—and the downtown waterfront back to life—in a safe and responsible way,” Spruill said.
It’s hard for anyone to not be thinking about the celebrations that would be going on if everything were normal. But in having to adapt to the new, remote way of things, the Aquarium has put into production numerous virtual learning experiences. These, along with the long-awaited reopening of the Aquarium itself, offer a new adventure for guests to learn more about the wonders of the ocean. “I think the biggest shift has been in regard to our virtual programming,” Spruill said. “We were one of the first organizations right after we closed to lock into a time slot every morning at 11:00, and we provided a lot of great program-ming for parents and teachers. This was when we were still trying to grapple with what was happening, but we’ve come to realize that that way of delivering content—that kind of ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of what happens at the New England Aquarium has become a big part of our offering. And that’s going to continue, regardless of what happens into the future.” They’ve already rolled out Virtual Encoun-ters with penguins, seals, and sea lions, and they plan on introducing more online activities and learning opportunities for school groups soon. Spruill is optimistic about the fall after being closed from mid-March to mid-July. “We’re getting great feedback from guests about what a fun time they’re having, what a safe experience they’re having. And that’s exactly what we’re aiming for.” Between the physical guest experience and the virtual ones that can be accessed online, the New England Aquarium is certainly open for business.W
“The Massachusetts Legisla-ture passed critical policies this session to ensure ballot access would not be obstructed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Vote by mail or vote early. Your vote mat-ters,” said state Senator Joe Bon-core, who represents the North End. “The United States is now facing the convergence of so many critical movements. We cannot let this moment pass without having our voices heard.” In Massachusetts, all 160 seats in the state’s House of Representatives and the 40 seats in the state’s Senate are on the November ballot. These are the two halves of the Massachusetts Great and General Court, which passes laws and approves the Governor’s budget and all state expenditures. There is an added importance to this year’s state elections. For it is only the twelfth time in the country’s history that a presi-dential election falls in a Census year. Your registration and vote matter just that much more as the Legislature that is seated in January will redraw legislative districts based on the 2020 Census findings. Other races on the November 3 ballot are one of the state’s two seats in the US Senate, all nine of the seats in the US Congress, and two ballot questions. If it seems like we vote a lot in Massachusetts, that’s because we do, with spring elections in some communities and annual fall elections in many cities. Governor Charlie Baker’s term runs through 2022 and Bos-ton Mayor Marty Walsh’s term runs through 2021. And, if you think that your vote, particularly in Boston, doesn’t matter, then let’s look at the 2019 race for Boston City Council’s four at large seats. When the voting was tallied and then the ballots were recounted, Julia Meija beat Alexandra Nicole St. Guillen by one vote out of more than 67,000 ballots cast. One vote.
Photo credit New England Aquarium