Officials: Sandy-ravaged aquarium in critical condition

Officials: Sandy-ravaged aquarium in critical condition

Hurricane Sandy crippled the New York Aquarium when it crashed down on Coney Island, claim Wildlife Conservation Society members who say that only a portion of the popular marine exhibits will be open to the public this summer.

New York Aquarium officials say nearly all of the fish in their exhibits escaped the super storm unscathed — with the exception of a school of freshwater fish in an outdoor pond that was swept out to sea — but the facility itself has been treading water over the last month and a half.

Workers don’t believe that the closed 14-acre fishbowl — which is usually open year round — will be ship shape by the start of next year’s summer season.

“We are looking to be partially open by May,” said Aquarium director Jon Dohlin, adding that the seaside institution is still assessing damage and waiting for insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to come through. “A lot of things are still up in the air right now.”

Dohlin said Sandy literally left the aquarium under water, knocking out nearly all of its electronics, including back-up generators, transformers, and vital pumps and filtration systems necessary to keep the tanks clean.

“Everything you imagine being damaged, aside from the tanks themselves, was damaged,” said Dohlin, who explained that his team had to find inventive ways to change the water and control temperatures and oxygen levels.

Currently, electricity is coursing through three-quarters of the aquarium, which should be operating at full power by the end of 2012, said Dohlin, who’s happy that more than 90 percent of the aquarium’s marine life — including orphaned infant walrus Mitik, who came to Coney from Alaska in October after his rescue from the Arctic Ocean — didn’t have to be moved to other locales.

“All of our collection is in great health,” Dohlin said. “It’s truly amazing, and a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff.”

Despite the damage the aquarium incurred, the city is still planning to go ahead with the $125 million shark tank addition Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this year, Dohlin said.

The fish feel right at home: New York Aquarium officials say that Hurricane Sandy destroyed everything — except the fish tanks.