The Gulf oil spill is hundreds of miles away, but the Seaquarium -- Miami's 55-year-old home to dancing dolphins and killer whales -- is preparing for the worst.
Several times a day, visitors can watch shows starring dolphins, killer whales and sea lions. General manager Andrew Hertz says the Seaquarium's location -- perched on Virginia Key in the middle of Biscayne Bay -- gives it an edge over other aquariums and marine parks like Central Florida's Sea World.
"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," Hertz says.
The Threat's Far Away -- For Now
Lately, concerns have diminished that the Gulf’s loop current could bring oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill around the Florida peninsula and into the Atlantic. The oil is in a circular eddy that so far has kept it in the Gulf.
But Seaquarium officials say a change in current or wind patterns -- or a hurricane -- could instantly change that -- polluting the water that the marine park’s 1,000 birds, mammals and fish depend on.
"I take in 10,000 gallons a minute, 24 hours a day," says Einar Gustafson, who is Seaquarium’s park services director and the man scrambling to develop a plan to safeguard the cleanliness of its seawater.
"We’re looking at wells to augment our water supply. We’re looking at oil/water separators. There are a lot of different options in there," says Gustafson.
And none of them are cheap. A few years ago, Seaquarium invested $3 million on a new filtration system. Now it looks like the marine park will need millions more to ensure its water remains free of petrochemicals.
Fish At Risk
Hertz says the park’s most vulnerable animals are its fish -- and he points to the rays swimming in one of its outside tanks.
"We’ve got 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," he says.
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 BP.
It’s those kind of unforeseen and far-flung expenses that will continue to bubble up in the months ahead and the seem likely to make the Deepwater Horizon the nation’s most expensive oil spill yet.