The massive Gulf Stream current, flowing just off the coast of Miami, carries more water than all the Earth’s rivers combined, and is home to the nomadic and speedy animals of the open ocean. How do you recreate that system in aquarium form? Start with a martini glass, says Andy Dehart, head of animal husbandry at the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
, which opens May 8 in Miami.
“When you have a vertical wall, some of these big pelagic animals spook and hit the wall full speed, and they can’t recover from that,” he says. In response, the science museum’s 100-foot-wide martini glass-shaped Gulf Stream Aquarium has canted sides, the first of its kind, according to Dehart, as well as a 30-foot oculus window at the bottom. Now startled fish “might do a skateboard bank, but that’s about it.” says Dehart, noting that they can swim continuously.
You can expect bountiful schools of little tunny, blackfin tuna and mahi-mahi, as well as graceful devil rays, speedsters like wahoo, and eventually scalloped hammerhead sharks. During migration season the staff might add bait balls of 5,000 herring, which the tuna and mahi-mahi will eat. And unlike inland aquariums, Dehart and his team can collect fish nearby, making transport much less stressful for the animals.
Constructing the unique shape of the aquarium took some clever engineering. A continuous 25-hour concrete pour involved a steady parade of 131 trucks and 300 workers, and the 60,000-pound contact-lens-shaped oculus window flattened into place with the weight of the water, strengthening its seal. The entire structure (concrete, water and lens) weighs over 9.5 million pounds and suspends on six columns.
When will Dehart feel he’s succeeded in presenting the Gulf Stream? “When I bring my kids in and they get to see it all come together.”