TEA Connect Blog

17 December 2020

TEA Digital presents a “Wild” Time with Zoos & Aquariums

TEA Digital hosted an inspiring webinar on Wednesday, December 2nd, all about how zoos & aquariums are finding ways to connect with audiences, even in these extraordinary times. Hosted with verve and enthusiasm by Meow Wolf’s Justin Stucey, the session featured special guests Patrick Phelan (Denver Zoo), Erin Clark (zoOceanarium Group/St. Louis Aquarium) Duane Hills (Mississippi Aquarium) and Dr. Hayley Murphy (Zoo Atlanta). Over 100 TEA members attended the session.


Erica Schwehr, Director of Operations at the TEA, introduced the session, which began with delightful check-ins with animal attractions around the world. Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific treated viewers to an encounter with their playful penguins and Zoo Berlin took us on a tour of their beautiful and verdant park. A highlight for many was a video of rescue kittens being let loose to explore the St. Louis Aquarium. Erin Clark of the zoOceanarium Group described that event as a way to highlight both the aquarium’s work as well as the work of Stray Rescue, a local shelter. Ms. Clark also discussed the St. Louis Aquarium’s efforts to accommodate the variety of ways that guests experience sensory input – another way to bring the aquarium’s message to widest possible audience.

A major challenge for each of the zoos & aquariums featured in the session has been maintaining emotional and educational connections with guests who have been unable to visit. Duane Hills of the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport, MS described how their institution faced the additional challenge of opening during this pandemic, as well as enduring multiple hurricanes shortly thereafter. One of the innovations they’ve instituted is a fleet of mobile marine units that can bring animals to their audience when their audience can’t come to them. One, the Mobile Marine Unit, is themed to look like a submarine – sure to delight its guests when it pulls up.

Patrick Phelan of the Denver Zoo also opened an attraction this year, Stingray Cove. While not a very large attraction, they’ve added elements such as murals painted by local artists to strengthen the zoo’s ties with the community and increase emotional engagement. All the panelists described that emotional connection as their driving mission – conservation begins with making guests feel that sense of kinship with all living things. Dr. Hayley Murphy of Zoo Atlanta described the way that guests reacted when encountering their western lowland gorillas – looking into the great apes’ eyes is a powerful way to forge a connection with the natural world. Dr. Murphy also discussed the importance of research in improving their facilities. Through their relationship with Georgia Tech, Zoo Atlanta is able to implement better environments for their animals using the latest discoveries in behavioral research. For instance, the gorilla habitat allows the gorillas to look down at the guests which makes the gorillas more socially comfortable.

Lacy Campbell of the Bezark Company then organized post-session breakout rooms, which were great places to connect with fellow guests and session panelists. Glen Morris of Huitt-Zollars had this to say of her diverse room: “I was joined by two other people – an engineer and a designer. I’m an architect, so we figured that the three of us together could design anything! The virtual experience was great because our engineer was in NYC, our designer was in Berlin and I’m in LA – a truly global experience.” As a part of the Hettema Group, I attended a breakout session with Dr. Hayley Murphy, and was delighted to continue the conversation from the session in greater detail.

This webinar was another successful session in TEA Digital’s ongoing series, with great attendance, fantastic guests, and lively discussion!  

Reported By Stefan Lawrence

Posted by Erica Schwehr



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