National Aquarium's overhaul boosts attendance

BALTIMORE (AP) - An overhaul of the National Aquarium's centerpiece exhibit is boosting attendance and raising the profile of the Baltimore attraction.

Aquarium officials said Wednesday that attendance increased by nearly 9,000 people since the opening of the new $12.5 million "Blacktip Reef" exhibit in August. In the six months after the opening, the aquarium counted 381,530 visitors, compared with 372,740 visitors in the same period a year before. That's an increase of about 2.4 percent.

The overhauled exhibit includes 779 animals and 3,000 hand-sculpted coral replicas to create a colorful ecosystem like the Indo-Pacific reefs. It includes sharks and a large sea turtle among 70 different animal species. It replaced a drab, leaky concrete tank that previously held sting rays.

The aquarium says the new exhibit is thriving as a self-contained habitat.