'Science stops for no one': California Academy of Sciences in SF evolves during COVID-19 era

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion KGO logo
Friday, December 11, 2020
Cal Academy of Sciences evolves during COVID-19 era
Despite closure during COVID-19, the academy has been able to continue its groundbreaking work away from public view.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- At the California Academy of Sciences, even the fiercest predators can't escape the impact of COVID-19, with the giant T-Rex replica in the the lobby now sporting a face mask. And after closing once again, just weeks after reopening to the public, you could say the academy is evolving.

"Science stops for no one," points out Chief of Science Shannon Bennett.

Bennett says the academy continued its groundbreaking work away from public view. In a kind of ocean incubator, researcher Rebecca Albright has been able to coax living coral to reproduce and making discoveries that could help them survive climate change.

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"So we're eventually going to use those lessons of how they reproduce in captivity to help coral in the wild," Bennett explains, potentially restoring habitats for the same variety of sea life that thrill visitors to the Academy's renowned Steinhart aquarium.

Other COVID-inspired innovations were as much psychological as physical. Like scheduling field trips for the South American Macaw's, facing the same shelter-in place isolation as the rest of us.

"We got to go see the gem exhibit. They hung out with us at lunch. Sometimes we'd be in the gardens or the piazza," says biologist Holly Rosenblum.

And later, taking breaks themselves, to entertain the penguins, with organized Yoga sessions in front of their habitat display.

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"So they got a much needed break, a little exercise, a little mindfulness practice, and it also turned out to be really stimulating for the penguins as well because there weren't people in front of their habitat during the day either."

Now with a permanent reopening schedule in limbo and minus the normal school field trips, the Academy is pivoting again.

While there are new on-site exhibits like Venom, exploring the life forms that bite and sting to survive, other popular installations like the Planetarium are now virtual, making its star gazing extravaganza available to thousands of kids who haven't had a chance to visit, via streaming.

"Because we firmly believe in accessibility and diversity and inclusion in science. So this has really allowed us to up our game," says Bennett.

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Directors estimate it could take several years to make up for the revenue they've lost to COVID-19. But its mission is continuing with the generous support of donors, who are contributing to the Academy Resilience Fund, keeping animals, sciences, and discovery alive and well for generations to come.

For information on how to help, click here.

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