The Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans is closed for the next six months for a $41 million makeover, and that could be an opportunity for the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport to draw new visitors.
“We’re actually looking at that right now,” said Kurt Allen, chief executive officer of Mississippi Aquarium on Beach Boulevard in Gulfport.
“We get a really good number of people coming out of Louisiana,” he said, and he is looking at that market and how Gulfport can support it while the New Orleans aquarium is getting its upgrade.
“People think we’re competitors. We think of ourselves as collaborators,” he said of the neighboring state aquariums.
When Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans in 2021 and caused damage to the aquarium and power outages, some of the species from the Audubon Aquarium were moved to Gulfport, he said.
Allen said he always looks at the two collections when adding species or attractions to see how best to grow.
When the New Orleans attraction reopens, it will have a new name — Audubon Aquarium and Insectarium, officials said. The IMAX screen will be gone to make more room for insects and butterflies and upgrades will be made to the aquarium.
New Orleans isn’t the only aquarium getting upgrades.
Gulfport will have word of three new exhibits and additions next year that he can’t announce just yet, Allen said.
He expects the first announcement in January, followed by a big announcement in February to add more draws to the aquarium.
“We’re always looking at something new,” he said.
So are people who love aquariums, Allen said, and he intends to speak to people at the Audubon to see if the two aquariums can collaborate while the New Orleans aquarium is closed, he said.
For Christmas, the Gulfport aquarium has a variety of events such as a diving Santa, cupcakes with Santa and Christmas card photos with dolphins, he said. The dolphins are something the New Orleans aquarium doesn’t have, he said, along with otters and different kinds of sharks than live at the Gulfport facility.
Gulfport also has Harbor Lights until New Year’s Eve, across the street from the aquarium, to draw people from Louisiana who might want to visit both.
Seasonal pricing is something new at Mississippi Aquarium this year, Allen said, to help drive midweek traffic and entice people to spend some time exploring the species, exhibits and events at the aquarium during the holidays and beyond.