In recent years, zoos and aquariums have become increasingly popular as centers for visitor enjoyment as well as public education and promotion of environmental stewardship. While these institutions assert that they significantly enhance visitor understanding and appreciation for wildlife, research has only recently attempted to validate these claims. Unfortunately, learning is complex and is particularly difficult to study in informal environments such as museums, zoos, and aquariums. Furthermore, visitor motivation influences learning and exhibit use more than exhibit design or institutional intent, and visitors often use exhibits in unexpected ways. It is, therefore, necessary to conduct studies within zoos and aquariums in order to determine how visitors actually use exhibits and what they take away from the experience. This study aimed to provide an overview of visitor interaction with and response to the Sustainable Fishing Exibit at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Observations of visitor interaction within the exhibit space were paired with surveys conducted at a later location in the Center in order to gauge visitor interaction with the exhibit itself and determine what visitors are taking away from this interaction. Results indicate that certain elements within the exhibit are very successful at engaging visitors, particularly the replica fishing boat and the mural along the back wall. However, some elements do not draw as much attention from visitors and are good candidates for improvement, including the introductory panel and the PFD Station. The EcoOcean video game is successful at attracting visitor attention, but needs to be improved in order to maximize visitor interaction and eliminate confusion regarding the game’s purpose. While most visitors possessed a basic understanding of sustainable fishing concepts, this knowledge is not necessarily developed from the Sustainable Fishing Exhibit and, instead, is likely pre-existing. However, this could mean that visitors are ready to be engaged on this topic and the new exhibit could reinforce this existing knowledge. Overall, the study provides insight into visitor response to this new exhibit and baseline data by which changes to the exhibit can be compared. Recommendations for future improvements to the exhibit include additions or changes to the less popular elements, modifications to the video game to increase visitor engagement and understanding, and future studies to determine how children and visitors during other times of year use the exhibit, as well as to determine if additions or changes to the exhibit have a measurable impact.
Canady, Candice S., "Visitor response to the sustainable fishing exhibit at the Alaska SeaLife Center" (2013). Internship Reports (Restricted). 167.
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