Belle Isle Aquarium
The Belle Isle Aquarium, located on Belle Isle Park in Detroit
Detroit, Michigan
Detroit is the major city among the primary cultural, financial, and transportation centers in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. As the seat of Wayne County, the city of Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and serves as a major port on the Detroit River...

, Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

, was the oldest continually-operating aquarium in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

. Designed by noted architect Albert Kahn, it opened on August 18, 1904 and closed April 3, 2005 [. The 10000 square feet (929 m²) aquarium featured a single large gallery with an arched-ceiling that was completely covered with green glass tile to evoke an underwater feeling in visitors.

The aquarium was operated by the Detroit Zoological Society, which also runs the Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo
The Detroit Zoological Park, commonly known as the Detroit Zoo, is located about north of the Detroit city limits at the intersection of Woodward Avenue, 10 Mile Road, and Interstate 696 in Royal Oak and Huntington Woods, Michigan, USA...

 and Belle Isle Zoo.


The aquarium basement served as a speakeasy
A speakeasy, also called a blind pig or blind tiger, is an establishment that illegally sells alcoholic beverages. Such establishments came into prominence in the United States during the period known as Prohibition...

 during Prohibition
Prohibition of alcohol, often referred to simply as prohibition, is the practice of prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, import, export, sale, and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. The term can also apply to the periods in the histories of the countries during which the...

 and later held large fish which no longer fit the Belle Isle Zoo's gallery tanks. Closed circuit television allowed remote viewing of these fish. The aquarium was slightly remodeled in the 1950s.

Attendance was on a declining trend in its final decade: 113,000 visitors toured the aquarium in 1995 and only 56,000 in 2004.

On 14 January 2005, the city of Detroit announced that the aquarium would be closed to save $530,000 annually, with the staff being reassigned to the Detroit Zoo or the Belle Isle Zoo, and the fish transferred to other aquariums. It was originally scheduled to close on March 1. Although an extension was granted to the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium to come up with a fund raising plan, the aquarium was closed on April 3, 2005.


When it was open, the aquarium had 60 exhibits with a total tank volume of 32000, and was home to over 1,500 fish of 146 species. The aquarium largely featured freshwater
Fresh water is naturally occurring water on the Earth's surface in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, and underground as groundwater in aquifers and underground streams. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and...

 species native to the Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 region, but also had salt-water species from around the world.

The aquarium made news in 2002 when one of its female white-spotted bamboo shark
White-spotted bamboo shark
The whitespotted bamboo shark, Chiloscyllium plagiosum, is a carpet shark with an adult size that approaches one metre in length This small, mostly nocturnal species is harmless to humans. The whitespotted bamboo shark is occasionally kept as a pet in larger home aquariums. It can grow up to ...

s gave birth to two young despite not having been near a male in six years in a suspected rare case of parthenogenesis
Parthenogenesis is a form of asexual reproduction found in females, where growth and development of embryos occur without fertilization by a male...



The Belle Isle Aquarium participated in breeding programs for several endangered species.

The future

On August 3, 2005, Detroit citizens voted to reopen the aquarium by an overwhelming margin (88% in favor, 12% opposed). However, the vote was non-binding and the aquarium remains closed. As of 2010, supporters of the aquarium are still trying to find donors to help defray the building's operating costs while the city is still planning a new modern aquarium to be located elsewhere.

Although the building has been closed since 2005, Goldfish and Koi from an outside pond are housed in the aquarium during the winter. In February the aquarium is opened for a day for the annual "Shiver on the River," a fund raising event to promote public support of Belle Isle non-profit groups including the Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium.

External links

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