Blacktip Reef is the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s breathtaking, 265,000-gallon saltwater habitat. Replicating an Indo-Pacific reef landscape in the heart of Maryland’s Inner Harbor, the exhibit was opened as a home to nearly 70 tropical species of marine animals including blacktip reef sharks and a 500-pound rescued sea turtle named Calypso. McLaren’s Baltimore engineering team helped give visitors a closer look into their natural environment.
Originally part of an exhibit called Wings in the Water, the massive display tank underwent a complete restoration to become what is now Blacktip Reef. Aimed at creating more viewing points for visitors to experience, McLaren provided engineering services for the tank upgrade.
Bringing guests virtually face to face with over 600 animals, the exhibit was engineered to feature a large curved acrylic viewing pane and a floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing panel. For this complete restoration, McLaren Engineering Group’s Baltimore office performed structural investigation, design and construction phase services to help bring the spectacular display to life.
Utilizing its in-house engineering dive team, McLaren performed all structural investigations while the tank was still full of water. This enabled the aquarium’s day-to-day operations to go undisturbed. It also enabled the team to extract more accurate core samples to determine chloride ions levels within the structural concrete.
To make this Baltimore engineering project a success, McLaren coordinated with several specialists. The team worked with an acrylic installation company that developed route and rigging system attachments for the new acrylic 27’ x 8’ tall x 3” viewing panel. A scaffolding company was also brought in to design a temporary “lid” for the exhibit that minimized noise and dust during construction.
To accommodate the display’s large viewing panel, McLaren built a 3-D finite element structural model. This was used to assess the removal of large portions of the original tank. The existing column and slab system were also removed to allow construction of a new cantilevered viewing gallery with glass handrails.
National Aquarium guests visiting the Blacktip Reef exhibit now have a perfect view of “the world below the surface” and can get an up-close look at Baltimore engineering.