New aquarium planned for Boise by end of 2022, location yet to be announced

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A new aquarium is planned to open in Boise later this year. 

Blue Zoo, a for-profit company with three other locations nationwide, is building a new aquarium in Boise to offer a range of educational displays of marine life for all ages. The aquarium will feature sharks, clown fish, a sting ray touch tank, birds, lizards, and educational live shows. It will also include water-themed play areas for children to enjoy. 

Wes Haws, the founder of Blue Zoo, declined to give any details about where the location would be or any exact numbers on the size of the facility while negotiations are ongoing. But, Haws did say the aquarium is set to open in the last few months of 2022 and that a typical Blue Zoo location is 20,000 square feet. 

Blue Zoo is not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums at this time due to facilities needing to be three years old to qualify, but Haws said his organization closely follows their requirements. 

He recently relocated his company headquarters to Boise after a group of local investors bought out his former partners. Haws declined to identify the identity of these investors who invited him to open a location in Boise.

State of Idaho business records show LLCs named Blue Zoo Spokane, Blue Zoo Oklahoma City and Blue Zoo Baton Rogue registered to H. Larry Leasure, the chairman, and CEO of White-Leausre Development Company. White Leasure was involved in projects like Eastgate Shopping Center, 8th Street Marketplace, Westpark Town Plaza, Marketplace at McCall, and dozens of others.

Haws said inland cities like Boise are a specific focus for him and his business. 

“I go to cities that are land-locked areas and for those children to get to hold a starfish or touch a sting ray and connect with nature in that way it could inspire them to do something to save our planet someday,” he said in an interview. “That’s what gets me excited and why I do it.”

From traumatic brain injury to aquarium owner 

Haws didn’t set out to build a network of aquariums. 

In the early 2000s, Haws had a thriving career managing projects all over the world. He found himself managing a farm in Africa in 2010 when he said he was attacked from behind with an ax. The attack led to a traumatic brain injury, the loss of half of his eyesight and a fall deep into debt after intensive surgeries to repair the damage. 

While he was recovering, he purchased a fish tank for himself and quickly fell in love. Haws started studying how to build complex coral ecosystems and maintain large tanks, which eventually led him to a new network of friends that pulled him out of his post-injury depression. He started his own business maintaining and building tanks for doctors’ offices and office buildings and later helped a friend build a nonprofit aquarium in an old movie theatre. 

A child enjoys the water play table at a Blue Zoo location. Courtesy of Blue Zoo

“It became my social service, my therapy and reengaged me back in life and I really really wanted to give back,” Haws told BoiseDev in an interview. 

He later launched Blue Zoo as a for-profit company with the intent of bringing the comfort of aquariums and educational resources to all ages. Haws said he deliberately designs the entrances to his facilities to be calming to help destress visitors, like how aquariums helped him recover from the injury. 

‘No connection’ to Covino brothers 

This won’t be the first for-profit aquarium company headquartered in Boise. 

Vince Covino, the CEO of SeaQuest, also headquartered his aquarium company in Boise. His company and the nonprofit Idaho Aquarium, founded by his brother Ammon Covino, have been dogged by years of animal abuse allegations and scandal both nationwide and in Southwest Idaho. The Idaho Aquarium, now called Aquarium of Boise, is no longer operated by Covino or SeaQuest.

This includes actions against SeaQuest by animal rights group PETA, a fine against Vince Covinco in 2017 for violating state law to raise investment money for new aquariums, and a 2013 prison stint for Ammon Covino for conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks from Florida to Boise for display. Ammon Covino also got snagged for violating his probation requiring him not to interact with fish or wildlife after he got caught helping set up new aquariums in Nevada and Utah. 

Haws said multiple times the only connection Blue Zoo has with the existing Aquarium of Boise is the similar size between their facilities. He didn’t expand much on the details, but he said Blue Zoo’s presence in Boise will help support the animals and staff of the Aquarium of Boise if they were to ever close at some point. 

“We care about the aquarium that’s already here and the animals and what’s there and we’re going to try and work to make sure animals and employees are protected,” he said. “If something happens and the aquarium happened to close, we want to do what we can for what’s already here (in the event of something happening).”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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