Behind the Scenes at the New York Aquarium

Rockaway Rises recently met with Jon Dohlin, the director of the New York Aquarium. Jon was kind enough to take us behind the scenes and also talk to us about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on this New York institution.

I can’t help but admit that the question burning in my mind was “Why didn’t all the animals swim out?” I didn’t even have to ask as Jon immediately began telling me the story.

Unlike Rockaway where the most powerful surge of water came from the ocean, in Coney Island the surge came in from the Coney Island Creek, Jon tells us. By the time the water hit the aquarium it was full of oil, debris and all kinds of other grime picked up from the city streets. Even though the fish tanks were completely submerged in water, the dirtiness of this water prevented the animals from swimming up into it.

I also wondered if any of the animals had needed to be evacuated. “It was a day by day decision,” Jon says. The way the aquarium is built, there is a large area of linked basements underneath the main building structures. These completely flooded. “We had to pump out a million gallons of water”. Every day was a race against the clock to pump out the water with only gas run generators to provide power. As we all know firsthand, there was no power or other utilities available for help. “Everyday we had to weight the decision, would the systems start running again or would we have to start evacuating animals. An evacuation of these types if animals is a huge undertaking and would be a very stressful and dangerous ordeal for them”.

Luckily just when it was looking like the critters may have to be moved, the power came back up.

The aquarium reopened on May 25th. I asked Jon if he feels they will have a good number of visitors this summer. “So far the numbers have been great. Way better than what we would have expected”. He replied.

I also had a quick peek at some of the back areas that are still under reconstruction. They will be fixed, renovated, and come 2016, we will be looking at some new exhibits and an expansion.

If you grew up in Brooklyn, or the nearby Rockaways this place no doubt holds a spot in your childhood memories. I remember pushing my face right up against the glass in those dark halls, and watching the glowing fish float by. The aquarium staff labored both tirelessly and selflessly to keep the animals safe and preserve this place which is so special to so many of us New Yorkers. Do yourself a favor and stop by. You may even catch a glimpse of new baby seal “Rio” that just made his debut. He was born on opening weekend. That’s what I call a good omen.

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