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PGAV Destinations: Sea Lion Sound Opens at Saint Louis Zoo


PGAV Destinations, a global leader in the planning and design of some of the world’s most important cultural, heritage, and natural destinations, is pleased to announce the opening of Sea Lion Sound at the Saint Louis Zoo.

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The design brief was to replace the 1917 Sea Lion Basin with an exhibit showing the Zoo’s Seals and Sea Lion in a natural setting within an adequate volume of water.  With prior experience in designing exhibits for sharks, whales and other sea crePGAV Destinations: Saint Louis Zoo unveils Sea Lion Soundatures, PGAV Destinations took inspiration from the Pacific Northwest Coast and have created a 1.5-acre, $18 million new state-of-the-art habitat and arena which includes a large exhibit pool and an 811-seat presentation amphitheater with a show pool. 

John Kemper, Vice President, PGAV Destinations, says, “Judging from the early crowds and their reactions, I believe we will achieve our primary goal for this exhibit.  We aimed to design an experience that would encourage a new level of appreciation for these graceful creatures, their existence, and their environment.”

PGAV Destinations have also added a transparent 35-foot-long tunnel, the first of its kind in North America, which allows visitors to get up close with the sea lions swimming all around them.  A large flat acrylic panel provides above and below water views and the walk through acrylic tunnel provides an immersive experience.

Dr. Jeffrey P. Bonner, Dana Brown President and CEO, Saint Louis Zoo , said, “We selected PGAV Destinations because of their innovative ideas for understanding and displaying animals, and their extensive history of designing for marine mammals in zoos and marine parks around the world.”

PGAV Destinations created theming and signage to enhance the exhibit and guest interaction.  The project also extended into the adjacent restaurant area where seating has been repositioned to allow guests to view the exhibit.  Aside from the public exhibit areas, holding pools, staff support, and indoor training areas have also been provided.

“This exhibit enables guests to see the animals walk on dry surfaces as well, furthering the guests’ understanding of the two lives of pinnipeds (seals & sea lions); above and below water. Impromptu, amplified and narrated presentations by curators educate guests about the lives and behaviors of individual animals. Conversely, guests provide entertainment and enrichment for the animals, ” explains Jim Moorkamp, Principal, PGAV Destinations.

Saint Louis Zoo, named America’s #1 Zoo by Zagat Survey and Parenting Magazine, is one of the only free zoos in the US, attracting around 3, 000, 000 visitors a year. 

PGAV Destinations worked closely with David McGuire, AIA, Leed Green Associate, Vice President of Architecture and Planning at the Zoo, to create this world-class exhibit.  A significant environmental improvement that has been achieved with Sea Lion Sound is that by filtering and recalculating the new exhibit’s water, 215, 000 gallons of water a week saved.  An added benefit of the system is that the curators are also able to regulate the temperature all year-round for the sea lions.

Photos by David Merritt/Saint Louis Zoo

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