Surviving animals from New Orleans aquarium to be sent elsewhere
Rhett A. Butler,
September 9, 2005

Surviving animals from the New Orleans aquarium will find new homes according to aquarium spokeswoman Melissa Lee, who spoke with CNN. Despite escaping Hurricane Katrina with little physical damage, the Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans suffered significant loss of animal life when the facility's emergency generator failed and made conditions unlivable for most its animals.

The Aquarium loses almost all fish

According to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), the aquarium lost virtually all of its 10,000 fish. Electricity has since been restored at the facility.

Friday, the aquarium staff worked to transport animals to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and facilities in Monterey, California, and Dallas, Texas. The animals were expected to arrive at their new homes late Friday evening.

The aquarium's colony of 19 penguins and a couple of California sea otters will be taken to Monterey Bay Aquarium, while the rare leafy and weedy seadragons from Australia will be taken to Dallas World Aquarium.

The aquarium's large white alligator, macaws, raptors, electric eel, and eight large tarpons -- the only fish survivors -- will stay at the Audubon Zoo, which survived the storm with little loss of animal life.

Five of the aquarium's rehab sea turtles were released into the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the week with the assistance of the Louisiana National Guard.

Before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, officials closed the aquarium early. When the storm hit the aquarium lost power but relied on generator for keeping critical equipment operational. The aquarium also had plenty of food and freshwater, but within days of Katrina's passing the back up power supply failed, killing the facility's life support systems. Thousands of fish died due to lack of oxygen and irregular temperatures (higher temperature, less oxygen is dissolved in water and more aeration is required). The staff did its best to save as many animals as possible but the conditions of New Orleans made the final result inevitable.

According to CNN, the aquarium staff had help from local police officers.
    "We actually had New Orleans police officers and National Guardsmen around and they were given a crash course in how to take care of some of the animals," she said.

    "Even when our staff had to be evacuated out for our own safety, the police officers were able to stay back and get food to those animals and keep a good number of them alive."
Located along the banks of the Mississippi River near the historic French Quarter, 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.

The aquarium 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. The near total loss of its collection is a major set back to the aquarium.

New Orleans Zoo fares much better

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).

Duing the storm, staff took refuge in the reptile house at the zoo, which suffered little physical damage besides a number of fallen trees. The zoo suffered no flood damage since it is built on the highest ground in the city; "Monkey Hill" in the New Orleans zoo is the highest point in the entire city. Dan Maloney, general curator at the Audubon Zoo, 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 was quite well prepared for the hurricane. Local police and emergency services workers actually used the zoo as a fueling station in the days following the disaster.

In comments made to CNN, zoo spokeswoman Sarah Burnette said,
    We have worked closely with Miami MetroZoo ever since Hurricane Andrew, and we totally revised our hurricane plan after talking to them. We have a protocol we go through whenever we know something's brewing."

    In anticipation of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans zoo stockpiled fuel, food and other supplies, Burnette said. When it hit last Monday, the staff fled to the sturdy reptile building and raided the cafeteria for food. Some staff remained at the zoo, she said.

    "We did plan well, but I think we also were really fortunate to be on the natural bank of the Mississippi River," Burnette told CNN.
HOW TO HELP If you want to help in any way, please visit


Global Wildlife Center
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.

HOW TO HELP If you want to help in any way, please visit

Other resources:

Rhett A. Butler, (September 09, 2005).

Surviving animals from New Orleans aquarium to be sent elsewhere.