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Katrina kills most fish in New Orleans aquarium

Survivors being prepared to move, association reports

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The Aquarium of the Americas was considered one of the foremost aquariums in the world.

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(CNN) -- Hurricane Katrina killed most of the fish in the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Web site reported.

The animals were killed when the facility lost power and the staff had to evacuate.

A small staff is tending to the surviving animals and preparing to move them out of the facility, which is at the foot of Canal Street along the Mississippi River.

The Aquarium of the Americas was considered one of the foremost aquariums in the world, the conservation Web site Mongabay.com said.

"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."

Some animals survived the loss of power, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Web site reported.

"The sea otters, penguins, leafy and weedy sea dragons, birds (macaws and raptors), and the white alligator are fine," the association said on its Web site

"Midas, the infamous 250-pound sea turtle, survived and has been coaxed into the holding area in the Gulf of Mexico Exhibit," the association said.

Air pumps are key for an aquarium, according to Mongabay.com.

"Aquatic plants, animals, and waste-converting bacteria all depend on oxygen dissolved in water for respiration."

Zoos weather storm better

Meanwhile, New Orleans' other animal centers fared better, with only a pair of river otters reported dead at the Audubon Zoo and a whooping crane lost at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.

"From what I understand, we didn't take any water," zoo spokeswoman Sarah Burnette told CNN on Sunday. Most of the damage to the zoo -- which houses about 1,200 animals in natural habitats -- appeared to be limited to uprooted trees and plants, she said.

A crocodile from the research center was missing, said Rhett A. Butler, a conservationist and founder of the Web site mongabay.com.

The Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species is several miles from the zoo on New Orleans' West Bank.

The American Association of Zoo Keepers said Sunday that other zoos in the Gulf Coast area fared well too, though the threat was not over.

"We are thankful that most of the reports we have received about the zoos and aquariums in the area are hopeful," the association said on its Web site. "It is still too early to assess the full impact and the danger is not over yet for some areas. Flooding continues to be a problem and is actually increasing in the worst-hit areas."

Burnette said the zoo took pointers from the Miami zoo after deadly Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, then the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

"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," she said.

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 said. The land is on higher ground than other parts of New Orleans, which is several feet below sea level. In the center of the zoo is a 28-foot, man-made "mountain" that was built decades ago when lagoons were dug, she said.

Meanwhile, the 211-member American Zoo and Aquarium Association began a fund-raising initiative, headed by the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, to provide relief.

The association posted on its Web site what it knew about the status of zoos in the hurricane's path:

  • New Orleans (Audubon Zoo), Louisiana: Audubon Nature Institute executive staff continue to assess the impact of Hurricane Katrina on all Audubon facilities. Audubon staff are working round the clock on recovery efforts.
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Zoo: Power is back on at the zoo. There are lots of trees down, but no animal losses. Cleanup efforts are under way.
  • Alexandria, Louisiana, Zoo: No animal loss.
  • Jackson, Mississippi, Zoo: The zoo suffered slight building damage and has about 35 trees down. No injuries to staff or animals.
  • Birmingham, Alabama, Zoo: The zoo was without power for a day, but power is restored. Trees down, but no animal losses.
  • Montgomery, Alabama, Zoo: The zoo has resumed operations. There are trees down, but no animal losses.
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