If undersea inhabitants and their environment fascinate you, make sure to visit Audubon Aquarium of the Americas on your next vacation to New Orleans. Neighboring the French Quarter, the aquarium is one part of the larger Audubon Nature Institute. The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is just one block away on Canal Street, and the Audubon Zoo is a 20-minute drive down the riverfront.
But as for the aquarium, begin your adventure by entering an underwater tunnel in the Caribbean Reef. Look above, beyond and around—you’ll find yourself surrounded by cownose rays, moray eels, angelfish and other colorful sea creatures. There’s also a Caribbean Reef show starring a diver who feeds the rays by hand and entertains the guests. From there, head to Adventure Island, where visitors of all ages get an opportunity to touch the rays—and feed them if it’s their scheduled feeding time.
Then there’s the Aquarium’s Gulf of Mexico exhibit. Stingrays, sharks, blue runners, King Mydas all coexist in this re-creation of a Gulf ecosystem inside a 17-foot-deep, 400,000-gallon tank , complete with a barnacle-studded quarter-scale replica of an underwater oil rig. The Gulf of Mexico exhibit, the largest display in the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, teems with all manner of inhabitants, large and small. Their interactions in their manmade saltwater environment will keep you lingering for longer looks before moving on to the next exhibit.
The Mississippi River Gallery invites you to take a walking journey above the actual Mississippi River. Encounter river residents like catfish, sturgeon, paddlefish and Spots, an intriguing white alligator. The alligator’s steely blue eyes and sharp teeth make him simply adorable (in the opinion of some, but not all). Also adorable are a colony of Rockhopper penguins. Watch as they dive and swim in their warm water exhibit. These species are from South America and Africa—so don’t expect to find them waddling across ice covered snowscapes.
When sea otters Buck and Emma were found stranded, they were deemed unfit to return to the wild. They now make their home at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and spend their days frolicking in a custom-made 25,000-gallon exhibit. Their swimming pool is mansion of varied depths that features rock nooks and a behind-the-scenes area perfect for unique views of their daily activity.
In exchange for room and board, Buck and Emma participate in the Audubon’s sea otter enrichment program. Their training introduces toys and treats which helps to increase the bond between the animals and staff. Possessing high metabolism, otters can eat 20 percent to 30 percent of their body weight each day. For Buck, who tips the scales at 61 pounds, that means he’s feasting on 9 to 12 pounds of shrimp, crab, squid, clams and mussels every day. When they’re not eating, sea otters are swimming—their fur naturally repels water and acts as one of their most important survival features. In the 18th and 19th centuries these animals were almost forced into extinction because they were relentlessly hunted for their pelts. Buck and Emma are precious commodities under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Visit the aquarium on your next vacation to New Orleans to learn more about these and other creatures.