Fresno Chaffee Zoo Sea Lion Cove


Fresno, CA


Fresno Chaffee Zoo


The Portico Group


2014 | Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Modeled after the Central Coast’s Point Lobos, the new Seal and Sea Lion exhibit is Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s first major exhibit funded by Measure Z, the Fresno County sales tax voters passed in 2004 to permit the zoo to bring back large animal exhibits and provide naturalistic habitats that are both physically and psychologically stimulating for the animals. Sea Lion Cove contains a 200,000 gallon saltwater tank which can accommodate up to 12 seals and sea lions. The exhibit provides a new home for rescued sea lions, harbor seals and California brown pelicans.

The Sea Lion Cove visitor experience begins with a circular trail leading visitors to the above-water viewing area overlooking the exhibit. Within the pool, rock outcrops jut up from the sea floor, some reaching above the surface to form islands. The back of the pool is formed by majestic coastal cliffs rising up to 20 feet high. Faux starfish, mussels and barnacles cling to them at the waterline. The meandering trail stops at a second, elevated viewing area before sinking below ground to the underwater viewing window, where seals and sea lions can demonstrate natural swimming behaviors among the varied underwater topography. The 38-ft long acrylic pane weighs 11,000 pounds.

Other elements of the new exhibit include a shallow water encounter area and a large demonstration area where even the amphitheater features naturalistic seating. The project also includes a Keeper’s Building with two holding pools, food preparation facilities and offices. A separate life support systems building contains the water quality equipment, filtration system and wetlands water conservation system. Throughout the design and construction of Sea Lion Cove, special care was taken to preserve the redwood trees that surround the enclosures.

Photographs by Benny Chan