A marine museum on Mount Desert Island that has been closed for the past two years is set to reopen next June with a new owner and expanded offerings.
A new non-profit association, Oceanarium and Education Center, bought the 19-acre waterfront property on Highway 3 in Bar Harbor in January for $ 600,000, according to Bar Harbor appraisal records. It is directed by Jeff Cumming. The previous owners, the Mills family, have owned and operated the museum since 1972.
Originally located in Southwest Harbor, the Oceanarium moved to its Bar Harbor facility in 1990.
When the museum reopens next summer, it will be the only ocean-themed museum on Mount Desert Island, which annually attracts millions of visitors who come to see Acadia National Park and the surrounding coastal landscapes.
Although the seasonal tour boats in Bar Harbor take tourists to Frenchman Bay and the Gulf of Maine to view seals, porpoises, whales, and other creatures, there is no dedicated MDI space. to teach tourists about marine life.
Another marine attraction, the Bar Harbor Whale Museum, is owned by the College of the Atlantic and has been on the back burner for the past decade. The hotel company Bar Harbor Resorts bought the downtown property where this museum was located and redeveloped it along with several adjacent properties in the West Street Hotel.
On its campus, COA owns and operates the small Dorr Natural History Museum, which has a marine tactile reservoir and a wide variety of animal specimens, but it is currently not open to the public due to the pandemic of COVID-19.
The reopening of the Oceanarium will fill a void in the region.
Cumming said he had discussions with representatives from the college and Allied Whale, the COA’s marine research entity, about exhibiting some of the collection the college currently has in stock. . Chief among them is the skeleton of Piccolina, a 28-foot humpback whale, which was once on display at the Bar Harbor Whale Museum.
Cumming said he and COA have yet to make a formal agreement, but is confident the college will loan Piccolina’s skeleton to the Oceanarium, and possibly other sea creatures or seabirds as well. taxidermized.
“This is hope,” Cumming said. “We have already been given a yellow lobster.
He spends the winter at the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor, he added.
Cumming, a native of Wiscasset and a Freeport resident whose family owns a summer home in Trenton, said they’ve been fans of the Oceanarium for years – his young daughters in particular. When the Mills family decided to put the 19-acre property on the waterfront on the market Two years ago, Cumming wanted to continue his mission of educating people about Maine’s marine life. He was previously Executive Director of SailMaine in Portland for 8 years.
“The idea that it could be developed was one of the reasons we bought it,” Cumming said of the property, which is surrounded on three sides by salt marshes and includes a small network of trails with views of Mount Desert Narrows. “The Mills are happy that our mission is to continue their work. “
Cumming has a few small changes in mind for the Oceanarium.
He plans to reduce the size of his lobster hatchery, located in one of the 5 buildings on the property, in order to free up more exhibition space. It also hopes to double the size of its Touch Basin, where staff keep starfish, sea cucumbers and other living creatures – and which is one of the museum’s main attractions.
Cumming would also like to increase the height of the ceiling of one of the buildings so that he can hang Piccolina’s skeleton above him while visitors walk below. The current ceiling of this one-story building is only 8 feet high, he said. But this project will be on hold a bit.
The Oceanrium property is zoned residential and the museum is improper use in this area. Cumming said he couldn’t make any changes that would increase the footprint or volume of the existing buildings, most of which date from when the site was home to a wildlife park called Aqualand, before the Mills family there. ‘buy, until a zoning change is made.
Cumming said he was due to meet with the city’s planning council on Wednesday, December 1 to discuss rezoning the oceanarium as a marine research property, which is how the Mount Desert Island Biological Lab is zoned. . If the planning board approves the idea, then voters are expected to approve the change next June. This would prevent it from increasing the size of any of the existing buildings until 2023.
“It’s a more appropriate area,” he said of the museum’s classification as a marine research property, rather than residential. “The purpose of the Oceanarium is to show people marine science and to instill in them a love of the ocean.”