New Orleans Aquarium and Zoo to be Closed for a Year
Rhett A. Butler,
September 7, 2005
Sept 9 Update: Surviving animals moved from aquarium

Despite escaping Hurricane Katrina with little physical damage, the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans has suffered significant loss of animal life.

According to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), the aquarium has lost most of its fish. A skeleton staff is preparing to move some animals out of the facility and caring for surviving animals in the collection. The sea otters, penguins, leafy and weedy seadragons, birds (macaws and raptors), and the white alligator are fine.

Animals suffered when the facility lost power and the staff had to evacuate due to violence in the area surrounding the aquarium. The area around the aquarium has now been secured but the lack of electricity meant filters and air pumps failed to deliver oxygen to tanks and maintain liveable conditions for many fish.

Air pumps are crucial to the functioning of an aquarium. Aquatic plants, animals, and waste-converting bacteria all depend on oxygen dissolved in water for respiration. At a higher temperature, less oxygen is dissolved in water and more aeration is required. Currently New Orleans is experiencing air temperatures in the 90s.

The aquarium, and possibly the zoo, will not reopen for at least a year, according to a person familiar with the situation. Although both facilities held up well during the hurricane, they will be impacted by the severe population loss and damage to the infrastructure in New Orleans.

Both facilities need funds to maintain their operations and animal life. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) has set up a online donation site at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Funds raised will be distributed by the Executive Committee of the AZA Board of Directors.

The Aquarium of the Americas was considered one of the foremost aquariums in the world. It had 10,000 fish representing more than 530 species and featured four enormous exhibits -- Mississippi River gallery featuring catfish, paddlefish and alligators; the Caribbean Reef exhibit featuring a clear, 30-foot-long tunnel surrounded by aquatic creatures; the Amazon Rainforest display featuring piranhas and tropical birds; and the Gulf of Mexico exhibit featuring sharks, sea turtles and stingrays -- in addition to a number of smaller displays.

10:41 am PDT

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas Update...

John Hewitt and a small team from the Aquarium is at the Aquarium preparing for an animal rescue. They plan to transport the following animals later this week to other Aquariums - sea otters, sea dragons (a miracle that they survived), penguins, about 120 gallon tank of freshwater fish, and a few saltwater fish.

The macaws, raptors and an electric eel will be relocated to the Audubon Zoo.

The white alligator is fine. Midas (the 250 lb. sea turtle) survived and has been coaxed into the holding area in the Gulf of Mexico Exhibit.

Five of their rehab sea turtles were released into the Gulf of Mexico yesterday with the assistance of the Louisiana National Guard.

Unfortunately, without a fully functioning life support system, most of the fish in their collection were lost.

The small staff at the Aquarium is working around the clock to manage the situation.

The Audubon Zoo...

The staff at the Zoo is supporting the efforts of their colleagues at the Aquarium of the Americas. The Zoo staff has received needed supplies and is continuing clean up efforts at the Zoo.

Audubon Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species

The staff at ACRES is doing well -- in clean up mode. There is a plan for them to receive needed supplies very soon.

Facilities update

The Audubon Nature Institute, which administers the Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, reports that animal facilities held up well during the hurricane. Loss of animal life was limited to a pair of river otters at the zoo and a whooping crane at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES). A crocodile is still unaccounted for at the zoo but is probably is a nearby pond according to Dan Maloney, general curator at the Audubon Zoo.

Duing the storm, staff took refuge in the reptile house at the zoo, which suffered little physical damage besides a number of fallen trees. Maloney reports that the zoo's staff is doing well and the biggest current concern is the psychological impact of the low flying helicopters on zoo animals.

The zoo reportedly has enough food for animals and sufficient fuel to keep generators running. The facility was quite well prepared for the hurricane.

If you want to help in any way, please visit

    Global Wildlife Center 2:23 PDT 04-Sep
    The Global Wildlife Center in Folsom, Louisiana, home to over 3,000 exotic, endangered, and threatened animals from all over the world, posted the following on their web site on Saturday September 3, 2005: "Global Wildlife will remain closed to the public until further notice. All of our animals are doing great and we only had minor damage from falling trees. However due to the lack of electricity and fuel in the area; we are unable to open back up to the public at this time. If you wish to make a donation, please click here

    Outside Louisiana, the AZA reports that
    • the Jackson Zoo (Mississippi) suffered very slight building damage and has about 35 trees down. No staff or animal losses reported, The zoo has power and may open in a week.
    • the Montgomery Zoo had fallen trees, but suffered no animal losses.
    • the Birmingham Zoo had fallen trees, but suffered no animal losses.
    • The Marinelife Oceanarium in Gulfport, Miss., suffered major storm damage to the building and injuries to some animals (more).

    Baton Rouge Zoo
    Lots of downed trees, but no staff or animal losses. The zoo has power and is assisting the zoo and aquarium facilities in New Orleans.

Other ways to help animals in New Orleans

If you have further information on the condition of the aquarium and related facilities, please contact me

Other resources:
  • Personal account of hurricane destruction along Mississippi Gulf Coast: The following is an eyewitness account of hurricane destruction along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Included is information on plans to provide pro bono services from out of state lawyers to the storm victims, many of whom will need assistance in dealing with insurance companies, relief bureaucracies, and possibly personal or small business bankruptcies in the aftermath of the storm.
  • Hurricanes getting stronger due to global warming says study August 29, 2005
    Late last month an atmospheric scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study in Nature that found hurricanes have grown significantly more powerful and destructive over the past three decades. Kerry Emanuel, the author of the study, warns that since hurricanes depend on warm water to form and build, global climate change might increase the effect of hurricanes still further in coming years.
  • Environmental problems worsened Hurricane Katrina's impact August 31, 2005
    The loss of coastal marshlands that buffer New Orleans from flooding and storm surges may have worsened the impact of Hurricane Katrina. In the past, the region's wetlands have served as a natural buffer that slows hurricanes down as they come in from the Gulf of Mexico and helps protect New Orleans from storms. But all this has changed.

    September 7, 2005 (September 04, 2005).

    Zoo and Aquarium likely closed a year after hurricane.