How to Document Exhibits for

How to Document Exhibits for

October 20, 2018 0 By Nick is embarking on an exciting new project to thoroughly document the exhibits at all SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks. Below is a checklist of desired information and photos that you can use to help us out. Also available is a form that can be completed with all of the requested information. Not all the information might be available to general visitors, in which case it is fine to leave that part blank.

We have prepared a documentation of SeaWorld Orlando’s Shamu Stadium to illustrate this process.


The first section of the exhibit documentation is basic information.

Basic information

  • Name of exhibit
  • Species in exhibit
    • Previous species housed in the exhibit, if different
  • What part of the zoo (exhibit trail, zoo region or precinct)
  • Year opened
  • Total size of the project (acres)
    • Separately indicate the total size of animal exhibits (acres)
    • Note: These can be measured on Google Maps with the “measure distance” tool and drawing a shape around the exhibit or project.
  • Design firms
  • Key dimensions
    • Linear dimensions: length, width, height, and/or depth in feet or meters
    • Area dimensions (for terrestrial species): area of exhibit space, holding areas (dens) in square feet or square meters
    • Volume dimensions: volume of water features (if applicable)
  • Special operational classifications
    • Mixed species (Criteria: different species share the same space at the same time
    • Rotation exhibit (Criteria: groups of animals rotate, or time-share, through different spaces within the exhibit complex.)
  • Any notable awards the exhibit has received, such as AZA Exhibit of the Year, or titles within the zoo industry, such as largest exhibit for ___ species.

Example based on Shamu Stadium:

  • Shamu Stadium
  • Killer Whales and Short-finned Pilot Whales
    • No other previous species to our knowledge
  • Sea of Power
  • 1984
  • Total Project: 4.9 acres
    • Total Exhibit Space: 1 acre
  • Design firms: unknown at this time
  • Key dimensions
    • Show pool: 2 million gallons, 150 feet across, 36 feet deep
    • Back holding pools: dimensions unknown
    • Medical pools: dimensions unknown
    • Underwater viewing pool: 20 feet deep
  • Special classifications: rotation exhibit
  • Awards: unknown at this time

In-depth photos and information

*Note: some categories or items cannot be fully documented with a single photo. Even though most items describe a single photo, feel free to provide multiple photos if 2-3 are needed to fully satisfy the requirement.

**Note: the largest dimension of all photos should not exceed 1200 pixels.  These dimensions can be checked in a program like Paint by going to “resize image.”

1. Featured photo of an animal in the exhibit. The featured photo would be your favorite photo of animals in the exhibit. It should capture an iconic view for guests experiencing the space.

Katina at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando / Nicholas Pelisek


2. Concept art (if available) from the exhibit’s planning stages.

Example: Concept art is not available for Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando at this time.


3. Overview photo of the exhibit that captures the general viewing experience of guests. A suitable example would be a panoramic photo taken from the main guest viewing area.

Overview of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando / Nicholas Pelisek


4. Aerial photo of the exhibit looking directly down at the exhibit area. A snapshot from a source like Google Earth would be a reliable option.

Aerial Photo of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando / Google Maps


5. A plan view of the exhibit’s back of house facilities, if available. Back of house facilities include trainer/keeper work areas and animal holding areas (dens).

a. Most likely, a plan of these areas is not available. A good alternative would be a rough sketch that outlines all display and holding spaces in the exhibit complex (shown below).  These diagrams can also illustrate special features in the exhibit that are discussed later in the documentation.

Exhibit Space Diagram for Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando / Nicholas Pelisek


6. A general summary of the design approach, the exhibit’s role in the facility, and the overall guest experience in the exhibit. A few sentences (100 words max) is sufficient.

Example: Shamu Stadium was the world’s largest facility for killer whales when it opened.  It is the most popular attraction at the park, and is also home to the world’s most successful killer whale breeding program to date.  Up to 5,500 guests can occupy the stadium during shows, which regularly fill to capacity in peak seasons.  


7. The primary method of animal containment used in the exhibit. Common methods of containment include:

  1. Sufficiently high fences and walls,
  2. Dry or wet moats, and
  3. Meshed aviary structures.
  4. For marine exhibits, indicate “tank walls – glass and concrete”

Example: Containment on the perimeter of all display and holding spaces in Shamu Stadium consists of tank walls (glass and concrete).


8. A photo that shows a typical section of the primary containment. For example, if an exhibit has a moat perimeter, it would not be necessary to provide a photo of the entire moat; a photo that shows part of the moat and how it separates animals from guests is sufficient.

a. If the exhibit uses more than one method of primary containment (for example, moated at the front and walls at the back), provide a photo for each type of primary containment.

(Example TBD)


9. For each visitor viewing location, provide:

  1. A photo that shows the full viewing area. A photo of the full viewing area should show:
    1. A portion of the exhibit,
    2. Where visitors enter and exit the area, and
    3. Where visitors observe the animals.
  2. A photo that shows the visitor approach to the viewing area. This should be taken from a distance away from the visitor area. If the viewing area is inside a building, provide a photo from outside the building. The purpose of this photo is to capture the full guest experience leading up to an animal viewing opportunity.
  3. A photo of the animal exhibit taken from the viewing area.

Example: Viewing area 1: Inside the stadium

Photo 1 (Overview): 

Overview of the stadium viewing area in Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / NP

Photo 2 (Approach): 

Guests cross this bridge to access ramps that lead up to the concourse of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / NP

Guests cross this bridge to access ramps that lead up to the concourse of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / NP

Guests ascend ramps leading to the concourse of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / NP

Guests ascend ramps leading to the concourse of Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / NP

Photo 3 (Exhibit):

Exhibit view from inside Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / NP

Viewing area 2: Shamu Underwater Viewing

Photo 1 (Overview): (TBD)

Photo 2 (Approach): (TBD)

Photo 3 (Exhibit): (TBD)


11. A list of all unique features and furniture (large objects) within the exhibit, and a few words about how animals use these features. Unique design features of an exhibit could be identified through conversations with trainers/keepers who work at the exhibit. Examples of unique features and exhibit furniture include:

  1. Climbing structures, including platforms, ropes, vines, rockwork, …
  2. Water features, including waterfalls, streams, …
  3. Wave machines,
  4. Special foraging devices, like termite mounds, mechanical feeding devices …
  5. Heated rocks,
  6. Anything else you think would constitute a special feature!

Example: Special features in this exhibit include

  • slideouts for demonstrating hunting and husbandry behaviors.
  • slideovers for shifting animals between exhibit spaces and for play
  • water fountains for tactile enrichment


12. For each unique feature or furniture item provide a photo of the feature or item activated and being use by animals.

Slideout: (TBD)


Kayla using a slideover at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld Orlando. / Nicholas Pelisek

Water Fountains: (TBD)


13. Photos of other significant guest experience elements, especially active experiences along the pathway that connect guests with the animals.

Example: No additional elements to discuss at this time.


14. A list of all exhibit programming events. Examples of “exhibit programming” include:

  1. Keeper talks,
  2. Training demonstrations,
  3. Shows,
  4. Rides,
  5. Dining experiences,
  6. Animal interaction programs, and
  7. Behind-the-scenes tours.

Example: Programming in this exhibit consists of shows, dining experiences, and animal interaction programs.


15. For each exhibit programming event, provide a photo of:

  1. Signage in the area that advertises the event,
  2. Special areas accessed during the event (if photos are permitted)
  3. Animals and staff actively engaged in the event.

Example: Event 1: Shows


Special Areas: takes place within the main stadium viewing area



Event 2: Dining Experience


Special Areas: 



Event 3: Animal Interaction Programs


Special Areas: takes place within the main stadium viewing area



16. A photo of each interpretation display (sign). Signage at exhibits typically includes:

a. A species identification sign that provides general biology information, such as the scientific name, geographic location, diet, lifespan, habitat type, etc., and


b. Exhibit-specific displays that highlight key information. These signs are usually much larger than species identification signs.



17. Photos and brief descriptions of any other major theming elements within the project. These could include buildings, statues, significant landscapes, or other features that play a role in the exhibit’s storytelling and the guest experience.

Example: (Photo TBD) Shamu fountain


18. The main conservation or education message conveyed at the exhibit. For example, this could be a field conservation project that the zoo or aquarium is supporting, the main threat that a species is facing in the wild, or the interconnectedness of many species in an ecosystem.

Example: Shamu Stadium teaches guests about the interconnectedness of the oceans, the killer whale’s role as the top predator in the ocean’s ecosystem, and adaptations of killer whales that help them succeed in their environment.


19. A list of conservation projects supported by the zoo or aquarium that are linked to the exhibit and/or the animal living in it.

Example: Killer Whale Research Program and Conservation Program (KWRCP) with NOAA through National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)


20. Indicate whether the zoo or aquarium operates a recovery breeding program for the species in the exhibit. A recovery breeding programs is one in which the animal offspring are being actively released to the wild.

Example: No.


21. Indicate whether the exhibit includes any rescued animals.

Example: The four short-finned pilot whales in this exhibit were rescued from mass strandings.