Gulfarium expanding: Plans to open multimillion-dollar Dolphin Oasis habitat in 2023

Special to the Northwest Florida Daily News/USA TODAY NETWORK

OKALOOSA ISLAND — Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is embarking on a large, multimillion-dollar expansion project this winter.

The project will add a new dolphin habitat to the park. The habitat, Dolphin Oasis, will be an immersive, natural-themed experience reflecting the Emerald Coast. It will consist of three interconnected habitats totaling over 1 million gallons of Gulf salt water designed with animal welfare, the guest experience and conservation education in mind.

Construction is scheduled to start in late December and will take roughly 14 months to complete. Park operations will continue as normal throughout the project, as the new habitat will be located on undeveloped land on the north side of the park.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is set to begin construction of a new dolphin habitat. The concept for the expansion includes a new presentation habitat that will provide seating for 480 guests while still offering the intimate, up-close presentation experience that visitors have come to know and love.

You may like:Country singer Walker Hayes reacts to Gulfarium TikTok video featuring song 'Fancy Like'

Another new addition:'It's a girl': Fort Walton Beach's Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park welcomes California sea lion pup

Dolphin Oasis is scheduled to debut in time for the 2023 spring and summer seasons.

"Our main dolphin habitat was one of the first of its kind and has stood proud for over 65 years," Will Merrill III, president of the Gulfarium, said in a statement. "A pioneering habitat in the 1950s, built with robust battleship steel, it has allowed us to provide dolphins the top-notch animal welfare that we offer all of our resident animals. Today we are excited to build expanded habitats fully suited to an animal’s long-term needs through all stages of their lives, and so the time has come to create something new."

The new environment will be dynamic, possessing the ability to suit each animal’s welfare needs in a variety of ways, such as offering the animals the option to move throughout the many different areas of the Oasis, providing various social groupings.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park will begin building new dolphin habitats this month. Each of the three main habitats will differ in size and depth. Dolphin Oasis will also have three husbandry habitats connected to the main areas. The habitats are expected to open in early 2023.

There will also be a large maternity suite and nursery for mothers and calves as well as multiple locations for animal care specialists to interact and play with the dolphins.

Each of the three main habitats will differ in size and depth — one habitat being the deepest, one being shallower and one having a sloping beach — all mimicking areas dolphins would naturally venture to in the ocean.

Dolphin Oasis will also have three husbandry habitats connected to the main areas, as well as a medical lift for the animals. Additionally, the new habitat will be supported by a state-of-the art life support system using Defender Filters in addition to sand filters, lowering energy usage by 50%. The Defender Filters will also provide the ability to cut oxidants from the water, allowing the habitat to house live fish for further animal enrichment and welfare.

From April:Want to chill with baby penguins? New encounter coming to Gulfarium, but only for limited time

The Dolphin Oasis was designed to provide education and inspiration, as well as fun and relaxation for Gulfarium guests. The new presentation habitat will provide seating for 480 guests while still providing the intimate, up-close presentation experience that visitors have come to know and love, according to the Gulfarium.

The exhibit habitat, which will serve as a nursery for the birth of new calves, will also feature split-level viewing through a 27-foot acrylic window where guests will be able to observe the dolphins from above and below the water’s surface. The encounter habitat will provide new and improved interaction opportunities for guests of all ages to play and learn through interactive, hands-on, in- and out-of-water experiences with the resident dolphins.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is set to begin construction of a brand-new dolphin habitat. The concept for the expansion includes an exhibit habitat, which will feature split-level viewing through a 27-foot acrylic window where guests will be able to observe the dolphins from above and below the water’s surface.

The new habitat will also provide a beautiful and unique event experience for weddings, celebrations, or any special occasion worth celebrating.

The design engineering of the habitat was the work of a team of individuals from Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park; MIG | Portico, a design firm based in Seattle; and PCL Construction, a company based in Orlando.

"We may have opened our doors more than 65 years ago, but our story is just beginning," said Patrick Berry, the Gulfarium's senior vice president. "We look forward to the enhanced welfare opportunities the new habitat will offer our animals. We are grateful to be able to move forward with this expansion and look forward to welcoming our guests into Dolphin Oasis in 2023."

Dolphin Oasis at a Glance

  • 2 acres of land

  • Three interconnected guest viewing habitats

  • Three back-of-house husbandry habitats​

  • 1,042,855 gallons of water

  • Presentation seating for 480 guests

  • State-of-the-art life support system

  • Unique event space for groups of 10 to 1,000

  • Split-level viewing

  • New and improved in and out-of-water interaction opportunities