Things are going swimmingly for the Aquarium of Niagara, and that’s not just because of its cute inhabitants.

The home of fish, seals, penguins and sharks has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a distinction that opens doors to working with other accredited facilities and expanding exhibits.

That includes the newly renovated Humboldt Penguin house.

“We’re actually able to bring in more penguins and have breeding pairs and have chicks,” said Richelle Swem, an animal care curator at the aquarium. “We have an older colony with a range of 12 years old to 30, so we have to bring in younger penguins to join our colony.”

Accreditation sets the aquarium apart from other animal establishments.

“Accreditation for us is all about embracing modern zoological standards, so we’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes and in the public eye to prepare,” said Gary Siddall, executive director of Aquarium of Niagara.

The hard work is paying off, not only with the accreditation but with visitors.

In 2018, the aquarium had its highest attendance in more than 50 years. The accreditation, and new exhibits in the works for 2019 and beyond, will help to bolster the aquarium’s reputation as a local attraction.

“We’d love to see ourselves grow into a larger role in the community,” Sidall said. “Most people think of the aquarium as a place for education, conservation and learning, but there’s another important aspect: Tourism. So we do see ourselves as an educational and entertainment venue.”

The aquarium hopes to finish its expansion, a jellyfish exhibit, by next spring.