Aquarium Animals Evacuate New Orleans; Zoo Gets Relief

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
September 9, 2005

The evacuation of New Orleans is continuing today, but this time the evacuees include some very lucky marine animals that weathered Katrina's fury at the city's Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

The aquarium, widely considered one of the best in the United States, escaped serious damage at its location on Canal Street near the Mississippi River.

"But they lost a good part of the collection because the fuel and generators that run the life-support system gave out," said Jane Ballentine, spokesperson for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).

Most of the aquarium's 6,000 aquatic animals perished.

Thanks to a dedicated staff, however, some animals survived. Among the fortunate: sea otters, penguins, macaws and raptors, leafy and weedy sea dragons, some fishes, and a green sea turtle named Midas.

Today, museum officials invited the press to watch as the surviving animals began journeys to their new homes at institutions in Monterey, California, and Dallas, Galveston, and Houston, Texas. They are to remain in their "foster homes" until the Aquarium of the Americas can reopen.

Eight large tarpon fish will stay in the New Orleans aquarium's Gulf of Mexico exhibit, now that power has been restored. Several macaws and raptors, as well as two sea lions from New Orleans's Audubon Zoo, arrived at the Houston Zoo on Thursday, according to the latest updates supplied by the AZA.

In addition, five sea turtles have already been released into the Gulf of Mexico, Audubon Nature Institute President Ron Forman wrote in an open letter posted on the institute's Web site today.

Aquarium staff remained at their posts throughout the storm, as well as the subsequent flooding, doing what they could for the animals in their charge.

"Some of our staff were uncertain about the fate of their family members and homes, but continued to work to protect our animals," Forman reported.

Forman himself refueled the generator that powered life-support systems during the storm.

But power eventually failed, and aquarium workers were driven from the facility by violence in the nearby business and tourist districts.

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