Luke Pappaspanos, Feature Writer
Many science and biology majors enjoy a visit to the St. Louis Riverfront. Their adventures may take them to the top of the hill on Laclede’s Landing to a small brick building with a sign reading, World Aquarium. These science majors may decide to become a volunteer at the World Aquarium or learn more about some of the creatures that are housed there.
The World Aquarium first opened in 1993 at the Town and Country Shopping Center in West St. Louis County at Clayton and Woods Mill Roads. It was known as the Mid-American Aqua Center and Saint Louis Children’s Aquarium. A few years later in 1996, the owner Leonard Sonnenschien moved the facility to the Hanley Industrial Court in Brentwood. Eventually, move number three settled the company in the City Museum on the second floor. The World Aquarium cut ties with the City Museum in October 2015.
The first move was from West County to Brentwood, because the building in West County was to be demolished due to foreclosure. The second time, the tides shifted the aquarium to the City Museum. Covering the news on relocation day was Jim Kirchherr from KETC Channel 9. He showed the step-by-step construction process of the World Aquarium when it relocated to the City Museum. Since the split from City Museum, the aquarium moved to its current location on Laclede’s Landing.
The aquarium requires a $6 entrance fee plus additional payment for tickets to feed the animals. There are various tanks with sharks, fish, an alligator, and a cage holding a sloth. Nautical paraphernalia surrounds the small dark room and the walls are painted with murals of the ocean, palm trees and the beach. Giant sea life can be seen along the walls and ceilings, including a huge stingray, a massive swordfish, a large shark, as well as various sizes and types of fish. A vertical fish file lists information about miscellaneous sea life with a picture attached. There was an old-time scuba diver outfit, an antique riverboat steering wheel, and rickety benches.
In the second room of the aquarium there is a habitat containing a Tegu, a large stocky lizard with dark skin and pale bands of small spots, which is native to South America. Another exhibit held a leaping Kowali, a South American long nose raccoon, named Julia. The mammal looked like a monkey with its long tail, had the body of a cat and the face of a skinny little anteater. It remained in motion jumping from ledge to ledge, up and down continuously.
The room was lined on the left and the right sides with glassed enclosures, each holding different species of spiders, turtles, lizards, geckos, snakes, and other reptiles.
Attached to each habitat throughout the museum was the creature’s profile page. Some had names of donors written on the sheet; anyone who wanted to sponsor a critter could as long as the required fee was paid. The funds help with the maintenance and upkeep of the chosen reptile. Many visitors enjoy the alligator, box turtles, and shark exhibits as well as Julia the Kowali. Many children squeal with delight as a volunteer holds Julia, so children could pet and feed her. Grandparents and parents snap keepsake photos of their children feeding turtles, the sloth, the alligator and holding slithering snakes.
Sonnenschein collects a feeding ticket from any visitor who decided to feed the sloth or the alligator. A piece of lemon is placed in the visitor’s hand; the fruit is held out towards the sloth who approaches it slowly and removes it. When feeding the alligator, the visitor stands on a
rickety bench as the owner places a live mouse in a claw. On the count of three, the visitor releases the claw holding the screaming mouse and the alligator is fed.
For 22 years, Sonnenschein has worked with aquatic creatures, and has been at the current location for about three years. The aquarium is located next to Nelly’s Extreme Institute and Morgan Street Brewery in Laclede’s Landing, 810 North 3rd Street. Now science students, tourists and anyone who loves aquatic life knows exactly where the aquarium can be found.