• Jiji

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A struggling aquarium in central Japan has launched a project to seek fan club-style financial support online after facing a plunge in visitor numbers due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Under the project, Minamichita Beach Land in Mihama, Aichi Prefecture, is asking supporters to pay monthly membership fees instead of seeking donations or crowdfunding under one-off programs.

The project also allows support members to interact with aquarium staff. Funds collected through the project will be used to cover costs to maintain aquarium facilities and buy feed for fish and animals.

Having lost the opportunity to attract visitors during the country’s Golden Week holiday period in spring and the summer break due to the coronavirus outbreak, the aquarium saw the number of visitors dive 70 percent during the April to September period from a year before.

The aquarium, which marks the 40th anniversary of its opening this year, decided to seek financial support partly to realize its plans to renovate its aging facilities after once giving up on them due to reduced footfall.

Supporters will pay ¥550, ¥1,110 or ¥2,200 per month as membership fees and will receive through a smartphone app videos of dolphins and other residents of the aquarium shot by staff members, including those of training sessions for dolphin and seal shows. They will also be invited to special events and have chances to communicate with aquarium keepers.

The aquarium will offer the same services to all supporters, regardless of how much they pay as monthly fees.

“We’ll send behind-the-scenes information only known by aquarium staff,” Yu Mori, who has been a dolphin keeper for 10 years, said. “We hope that our videos can prompt supporters to visit our aquarium.”

“As we have been operating to become the best ‘petting aquarium’ in the country, we came up with this unique support scheme,” Daisuke Hiramatsu, chief of the aquarium, said. “We want to attract support from people who are hoping to visit our aquarium but are unable to do so due to the coronavirus crisis.”