Wonders of Wildlife named America’s Best Aquarium by USAToday poll.
Andrew Jansen, News-Leader
Springfield’s Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium has notched another big win for Springfield.
Before a crowd of more than 150 invited guests and WOW members, the facility was named America’s Best Aquarium by USA TODAY’s 10Best.com travel advice website. The honor comes on the heels of USA Today calling WOW the nation’s Top New Attraction of 2017.
In dramatic fashion, four scuba divers surrounded by groupers and a large moray eel rolled out a banner inside the Great Barrier Reef tank proclaiming WOW America’s Best Aquarium.
The crowd erupted in cheers.
Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris called in by phone from a fishing trip he’s on.
“What a happy, happy, happy day,” Morris said. “It was a team effort to build this place.”
In a readers’ choice poll, WOW was the top vote-getter among 20 aquariums across the USA and Canada. USA Today readers chose Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as second best.
Although the award was for America’s Best Aquarium, WOW also was up against two aquariums in Canada.
Congressman Billy Long, other dignitaries, and Smokey the Bear helped celebrate the honor.
Smokey high-fived young 5th graders from WOLF School, who had a front-row seat next to the 30-foot-tall Great Barrier Reef aquarium. The five members of the Youtube outdoor sports sensation Dude Perfect also helped celebrate the honor.
The Texas-based sports entertainment group known for their trick shots has more than 29 million online subscribers.
“What Johnny has created here is really amazing,” said group member Tyler Toney.
WOW season pass holder Cara Nordin said USA Today’s award “was a pretty big deal for Springfield.”
“I’ve been to a few aquariums in southern California and elsewhere and they’re all pretty amazing,” she said. “But for this to be the best in America, that’s really amazing!”
Sherrie Hutson, also of Springfield, said she’s a regular visitor.
“It’s amazing for us to have something in Springfield like this, she said. “I can bring kids for an hour or two, to see certain fish, and come back again to see more.”
Her favorite exhibit?
“The penguins. When it’s not busy I get in the (viewing) tubes with them.”
Theresa Swope brought her three grandkids, Ryan, 11, Alyssa, 10 and Landen, 8, to WOW for the first time, unaware of the big announcement.
They drove from St. Joseph, Missouri, to see the sights they missed when they visited in March a year ago — while WOW was still under construction.
“It’s really nice having this here in Missouri,” Swope said. “We’ve got to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and the zoo in Omaha, but I think this is just awesome. They’ve done an awesome job and everybody can come from all over the world to see it right here in Missouri.”
Pennsylvania resident Brian Geesey said his state has nothing like WOW Museum and Aquarium. He should know. As one of the subcontractors who has been working on WOW for the past six years, Geesey said the America’s Best Aquarium award “is well deserved.”
“They put a lot of hard work getting it done,” Geesey said. “Johnny’s always got a new vision for improving things. I think it deserves this award, yes, absolutely.”
According to USA Today, the top 10 winners in the category Best Aquarium are:
1. Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium — Springfield, Mo.
2. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies — Gatlinburg, Tenn.
3. The Florida Aquarium — Tampa
4. Dallas World Aquarium — Dallas
5. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas — New Orleans
6. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada — Toronto
7. Aquarium of the Pacific — Long Beach, Calif.
8. Georgia Aquarium — Atlanta
9. North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores — Pine Knoll Shores, N.C.
10. Vancouver Aquarium — Vancouver, B.C.
A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote.
Friday’s announcement was the latest in a series of news events involving WOW museum and aquarium, which opened to the public last September.
In March, six lesser flamingos — all males with clipped wings so they can’t fly out of their exhibit — arrived from the Fort Worth Zoo, which has a world-acclaimed flamingo breeding program.
In December, WOW revealed 11 Gentoo penguins native to Antarctica, which came from the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Nebraska.
A new flamingo exhibit at Wonders of Wildlife is now open.
In the wild, Gentoo penguins can swim up to 22 mph to catch fish, and they are able to dive up to 600 feet deep. They are the third largest penguin species, typically growing to 30 inches tall and weighing about 12 pounds.
The flamingos and Gentoo penguins joined bald eagles, owls and other exotic birds from around the world at WOW.
In all, 35,000 live fish, birds, mammals and reptiles can be observed up close at WOW, which USA Today named the nation’s top new attraction of 2017.
A new penguin exhibit was unveiled at the Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium.
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