Penguins won't be the only ones making a splash with a new exhibit at the Aquarium of Niagara.
Jellyfish are coming to the Niagara Falls attraction, too.
The Niagara Falls aquarium has never before owned any jellyfish. The aquarium plans to acquire between 20 and 50 jellyfish. There will be about four different species, with the largest ones measuring 5 to 6 inches in diameter, said Executive Director Gary K. Siddall.
Construction of the $440,000 gallery is scheduled to begin May 1, and it should open by the end of the year.
The jellyfish exhibit will be the second major improvement at the aquarium. A $3.5 million Humboldt penguin exhibit is due to open March 15.
Plans for the jellyfish call for five glass tanks holding a total of 2,000 gallons of water. Every wall will be curved, to keep the jellies from getting stuck in a corner.
The space will be kept dark, and colored LED lights suspended over the tanks will give viewers a better look at the transparent creatures.
"The lighting makes the exhibit impactful," Siddall said Monday.
Three of the tanks will be standalone tubes, and the others will be built into the wall on the second floor of the aquarium. The site is currently used as a temporary home for the Humboldt penguins until construction of their new habitat is completed.
"We wanted to do something big and impactful," Siddall said of the jellyfish exhibit.
The aquarium, open since 1965, first acquired penguins in 1978. The new 3,500-square-foot penguin exhibit, is its first major upgrade in many years.
It gives the aquarium a chance to apply for the first time for accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Without the accreditation, the aquarium wouldn't be allowed to bring in any new penguins to replace its aging flock of seven birds.
The planned jellyfish gallery is a first step toward what Siddall called another key goal: to add more unusual species and those never displayed before at the Whirlpool Street site.
"That's part of our collecting philosophy going forward," Siddall said.
People are noticing the aquarium's efforts to improve its offerings, said John H. Percy Jr., president of Destination Niagara USA, a tourism agency.
"They're essential," Percy said of new exhibits. "Anytime any attraction or product we have is enhanced or rehabilitated, it's a positive toward the goal of keeping visitors in the area longer."
Repeat business can result from new offerings at longtime attractions, he said.
"That's why you always want to keep your product enhanced and refreshed," Percy said. "When you enhance product, people are willing to make that second or third visit."
The aquarium had 270,000 visitors in 2017, a 5 percent increase from the previous year, Siddall said.
"We expect a pretty sizable increase in attendance this year," he said, citing the new penguin and jellyfish exhibits.
The aquarium has received a $68,000 grant from Empire State Development Corp. toward the jellyfish project. Wednesday, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board is scheduled to vote on an $88,147 request for funds from the Niagara Falls Tourism Target Fund that the NCIDA controls.
The aquarium is spending its own money on the jellyfish project, too, and it is planning more fundraising. If the NCIDA funds are approved, the aquarium will remain about $60,000 short of the amount needed to complete the project, Siddall said.
The jellyfish exhibit would add two full-time jobs to the aquarium's current workforce of 18 full-time employees and 14 part-timers.