Miami's Seaquarium: No Oil Yet, But Worries Aplenty The Gulf oil spill is hundreds of miles away, but South Florida's marine-park home for dancing dolphins and killer whales is preparing for the worst. The Seaquarium draws its water from Biscayne Bay, and operators are readying alternate sources and oil/gas separators to protect their sea creatures.
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Miami's Seaquarium: No Oil Yet, But Worries Aplenty

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Miami's Seaquarium: No Oil Yet, But Worries Aplenty

Miami's Seaquarium: No Oil Yet, But Worries Aplenty

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And we still don't know how far and wide that oil spill in the Gulf will spread. The threat is forcing many to make contingency plans. NPR's Greg Allen reports about the worries at a big tourist destination in Miami, the Seaquarium.

GREG ALLEN: For 55 years now, the Seaquarium has been an institution in Miami.

Unidentified Woman: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, once again, the (unintelligible) is open.

(Soundbite of cheers)

ALLEN: Several times a day, visitors can watch dolphin, killer whale and sea lion shows. General Manager Andrew Hertz says the Seaquarium - perched on Virginia Key in the middle of Biscayne Bay - enjoys advantages other aquariums and marine parks, like Sea World, don't have.

Mr. ANDREW HERTZ (General Manager, Seaquarium): We pull our water for our animals straight out of the bay and we filter it, and we give them clean water. But the quality of our water is only as good as the quality of the bay.

ALLEN: And now the quality of seawater in the southeastern U.S. has become a concern.

Miami's Seaquarium is hundreds of miles and on the other side of the Florida peninsula from the oil spill. Concerns of the Gulf's loop current could bring the oil around the peninsula into the Atlantic have diminished a bit lately. The current has developed into a circular eddy that so far is keeping the oil inside the Gulf.

But Seaquarium officials say a change in current, wind patterns or the arrival of a hurricane could instantly change that, polluting the water the marine park's 1,000 birds, mammals and fish depend on.

Mr. EINAR GUSTAFSON (Park Services Director, Seaquarium): I take in 10,000 gallons a minute, 24 hours a day.

ALLEN: Einar Gustafson is Seaquarium's park services director and the man who's now scrambling to develop a plan to safeguard the cleanliness of its seawater.

Mr. GUSTAFSON: We're looking at wells to augment our water supply. We're looking at oil-water separators. There's lot of different options in there.

ALLEN: And none of them are cheap. A few years ago, Seaquarium invested $3 million on a new filtration system. Now it looks like it will need millions more to ensure its water remains free of petrochemicals.

General manager Andrew Hertz says the park's most vulnerable animals are its fish, like the rays swimming in one of its outside tanks.

Mr. HERTZ: We've got a spotted eagle ray right here coming by, and then we've got some southern sting rays in here. And they look like fairly hardy animals. But these guys are reliant on the cleanliness of this water for their oxygen.

ALLEN: And unless the water remains perfectly oil-free, they'll suffer.

The Seaquarium is now working on a multimillion-dollar funding proposal that it plans to take to the state and, eventually, to BP.

It's those kind of unforeseen and far-flung expenses that will continue to bubble up in the months ahead, and which seem likely to make the Deepwater Horizon the nation's most expensive oil spill yet.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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