GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Wednesday, the dream finally became a reality. The $15 million Ocean Adventure attraction is now open at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. This new facility could become a game changer when it comes to luring visitors to the Coast.
According to IMMS Director Dr. Moby Solangi there has always been a vision for the facility.
"We wanted to bring back what everybody was so used to as a landmark facility, Marine Life. Make it bigger, better, and more attractive," said Solangi.
People are treated to parrot shows, dolphin shows, sea lion performances, and can interact with birds in the aviary. They can even touch stingrays. Visitors like Lisa Stogner were impressed.
"It's awesome. We love it. I mean it's nice. It's in a good place for the area, so we love it," said Stogner.
Nothing beats seeing Flipper up close for visitor Ted Pickett.
"So far what we've seen is real good. It's exciting and informative. It's real nice, something that Gulfport can be proud of," Pickett said.
The reception has been above expectations, Solangi gushed.
"Well, it's an incredible feeling that the number of people, without knowing that we're open, we just have a lot of the public coming. We can hardly handle the crowds that we're getting in now," Solangi said.
Employees like Animal Care Supervisor Kelly Pulis are also impressed with the new facility.
"We're all so excited to have this brand-new facility, and seeing everything coming from the ground up is so fun. We're all just real excited about this new stuff that's happening for us as employees and for our animals," Pulis said.
While Ocean Adventures is definitely a fun place for tourists and their children, it could become a major draw on the Gulf Coast. The educational component of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has never been forgotten.
"Ocean Adventure is really a window on what IMMS does. We're in education, conservation, research, and rehabilitation. So, we want the public to know what we actually do," said Solangi.
Solangi said a grand opening for the facility is planned for next month. IMMS is located just south of the Wilkes Bridge on Cowan-Lorraine Road off the industrial seaway.