Aquar­i­ums forced to aban­don sea crea­tures as Florence ap­proaches

The Witness - - NEWS -

WILM­ING­TON (North Carolina) — From tur­tles to fish, the denizens of North Carolina’s three ma­jor aquar­i­ums will be fac­ing Hur­ri­cane Florence alone af­ter their han­dlers were forced to leave un­der manda­tory evac­u­a­tion orders.

Florence, a Cat­e­gory 3 hur­ri­cane on the five-step Saf­fir-Simp­son scale and still grow­ing, was ex­pected to strike North Carolina late yes­ter­day or early to­day, po­ten­tially bring­ing deadly high seas and cat­a­strophic flood­ing.

An­i­mal han­dlers at the three aquar­i­ums, which are all lo­cated on the vul­ner­a­ble Outer Banks bar­rier is­lands, had no choice but to leave on Wed­nes­day af­ter mak­ing last-minute prepa­ra­tions.

“The an­i­mals are part of our fam­ily,” said Danielle Bolton, spokesper­son for the Pine Knoll Shores aquar­ium, which closed to the pub­lic on Tues­day. “It is very emo­tional hav­ing to close and not know ex­actly what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

The an­i­mals “got fed as much as they could the last few days,” Bolton said.

At the other two aquar­i­ums, North Carolina Aquar­ium at Fort Fisher, some 32 km south of Wilm­ing­ton, and on Roanoke Is­land, em­ploy­ees also did ev­ery­thing they could to pro­tect the var­i­ous sea crea­tures.

“[The han­dlers] are all very con­cerned about what will hap­pen and what could hap­pen,” said Robin Nalepa, a spokesper­son for the North Carolina Aquar­ium, which is home mostly to fish, sharks, rep­tiles and sea tur­tles.

“Ob­vi­ously, we sit right on the coast, but part of the build­ing has been there for 40 years, since 1976,” she said.

Be­fore leav­ing, em­ploy­ees com­pleted an ex­ten­sive check­list that in­cluded pre­par­ing an­i­mal habi­tats as best they could for the in­com­ing storm, Nalepa said. Some an­i­mals were moved to safer parts of the build­ing, wa­ter lev­els were topped off and gen­er­a­tors were left run­ning to oxy­genate the wa­ter, she said.

“It’s not only per­son­ally dis­tress­ing that there’s a [Cat­e­gory 3] hur­ri­cane that we’re all try­ing to pre­pare for per­son­ally, but that it could im­pact the an­i­mals that they care for on a daily ba­sis. It can re­ally take a toll,” she added.

Bolton of Pine Knoll Shores noted that some sea crea­tures are more re­silient then oth­ers.

“Sharks can go two to three weeks with­out eat­ing. How­ever, we don’t nor­mally let them go that long in the aquar­ium,” Bolton said. “We might find one or two of the smaller fish miss­ing. We hope that’s not gonna hap­pen.”

The cen­tre of Florence was fore­cast to draw close to the North Carolina coast this af­ter­noon — per­haps lin­ger­ing just off­shore — then drift south­west along the shore­line be­fore turn­ing in­land to­mor­row, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter in Mi­ami. — Reuters.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A store is cov­ered at the water­front docks be­fore Hur­ri­cane Florence comes ashore in Wash­ing­ton, North Carolina, U.S., yes­ter­day.

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