New Orleans Aquarium Recovers, Reopens

There were so many dead fish floating on the surface, Aquarium of the Americas staff recalled of the days after Hurricane Katrina, that it almost looked as if one could walk across the tops of the giant tanks.

Those tanks are teeming with life again, and on Friday, so were viewing corridors as the aquarium reopened to the public for the first time since Katrina blew out windows and skylights and cut off power for longer than generators could hold out.

Attendance was around 3,000, a solid workday crowd. And it was loud, with children everywhere, pressing their hands and faces against glass tank walls to get a close up look at sharks, stingrays, penguins and other marine life.

"The people are here. The kids are back. It's already a good day, regardless of what the number is," aquarium spokeswoman Melissa Lee said.

About 10,000 animals, mostly fish, died at the aquarium after the power outage turned carefully regulated water into a toxic mess. About 2,000 survived, including penguins, raptors, turtles, otters, a white alligator and some fish such as tarpons that can breathe air.

Surviving animals were sent temporarily to facilities around the country while the aquarium was repaired.

Fixing storm damage and buying new animals cost about $5 million, Lee said. Donations from other aquariums — such as sharks and sting rays from Sea World in Orlando, Fla., helped lower costs, Lee said.

Now the aquarium looks as if nothing catastrophic ever happened and even has some new exhibits, one featuring jellyfish.

Parents helped their children stand on fake rock ledges so they could get a closer view of a playful sea otter. Others were mesmerized by an otter taking a nap while floating on its back, a small blue ball cradled in its webbed feet.

"They did a great job, considering how many animals were lost. A lot of locals I know came for the opening," said Monique Faucheux, who became an aquarium member this week and took her 6-year-old daughter, Christian. Their family, like the aquarium animals, also were displaced for months by Katrina; they returned home just two months ago.