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All-White Alligator Named Spots? Only in New Orleans
Psychiatric News
Volume 45 Number 4 page 12-12

Have you ever touched a cownose stingray? For everyone who isn't an experienced scuba diver, New Orleans' Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers what is likely the first chance to see and touch some of the region's real-life aquatic natives.

The stingray exhibit and other sealife habitats in the aquarium's Adventure Island are designed as interactive play zones that are as fun as they are educational. It's here—right in the middle of downtown New Orleans—that visitors can touch the cownose rays and even help feed them during the rays' twice-a-day feeding times.

Among the top attractions at the aquarium are its resident penguins, stingrays, sharks, and unusual deep-sea creatures. More shallow-living favorites include the playful sea otters Buck and Emma.

The most diverse range of sealife is found at the aquarium's Caribbean Reef exhibit, which moves visitors through an underwater tunnel to enjoy up-close views of moray eels and other exotic sea creatures. The exhibit also features a popular show that includes a diver hand-feeding the rays and interacting with the crowd.

The largest exhibit at the aquarium is a mockup of the underwater life that surrounds many of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico just off the Louisiana coast. The enormous tank is 17 feet deep and holds 400,000 gallons of saltwater. Its residents include stingrays, sharks, a school of blue runner, a green sea turtle named King Mydas, and other undersea life that thrives off the barnacle-covered pilings of a quarter-scale replica of an offshore oil rig.

The aquarium's Mississippi River Gallery offers views of the actual waterway that is its neighbor and highlights many of its indigenous inhabitants. A freshwater gallery features catfish, sturgeon, paddlefish, and Spots, a rare white alligator. Despite the common misperception that the aquarium's popular white alligator is an albino, he is actually luecistic—that is, he has a gene mutation that gives him a white color and sea-blue eyes.

But the aquarium doesn't just aim to entertain and educate. It runs several breeding programs to increase the populations of threatened and critically endangered species. The programs are cooperative initiatives among conservation organizations around the world to ensure the continued survival of endangered species such as the region's whooping cranes, which are the most endangered crane in the world. The birds disappeared from the state of Louisiana in the 1930s, and by 1941 their number in the wild had dwindled to 14.

More information on the aquarium is posted at <www.auduboninstitute.org/visit/aquarium>.blacksquare

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