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Oklahoma Aquarium celebrates 15 years, new exhibit

September 24, 2018

JENKS, Okla. (AP) — When Kenny Alexopoulos was hired as the Oklahoma Aquarium’s head biologist, the aquarium itself didn’t exist. There was just a patch of land, a plan and a tank full of piranhas, the aquarium’s earliest acquisition.

The aquarium in Jenks recently celebrated 15 years of operation. It has a bigger budget and grander exhibits today, Alexopoulos said, and it still has piranhas.

The special celebration featured the grand opening of the Polynesian Reef exhibit, a project months in the making.

Alexopoulos has had a few promotions over the years, too, most recently taking on the title of chief operating officer in May.

“It’s been a long, wild ride,” Alexopoulos told the Tulsa World .

He delegates more these days and focuses on the big-picture stuff, but some tasks he still prefers to take on personally.

The aquarium is home to 16 bull sharks, the largest collection in the world. It started with three, donated from Sea World because they wouldn’t stop eating their tank mates.

Over the years, Alexopoulos and colleagues have taken to the Gulf Coast with nets in hand and have helped increase the collection into what it is today, a catch at a time.

“We are as hands on as it gets,” he said. “We are probably the most hands-on aquarium out there.”

Most of what visitors see at the aquarium was constructed, installed or pieced together by its own staff, from the tanks to the filtration systems.

This includes the displays, too — the sunken ships, the coral reefs, all the bright and detailed set pieces that comfort fish and please the eye.

Few aquariums are as hands on as the Oklahoma Aquarium, Alexopoulos said. It’s easier to get exactly the result desired that way, but also it saves a lot of money.

The aquarium hasn’t overflowed with money in the past. It still doesn’t, but things have been improving in that department.

“For the first time in a long time, we’ve been getting a healthy budget,” Alexopoulos said.

Attendance has been increasing in recent years, he said. It’s currently somewhere from 350,000 to 400,000 annually.

Now is a good time to make some improvements, and Alexopoulos has a few ideas, including bigger, better exhibits for the stingrays and the octopi, some of the most popular sea creatures there.

There is also the possibility of building a “very large and impressive playground,” he said.

It’s no sure thing, Alexopoulos said, but given the growth of the last 15 years, there’s pretty good reason to aim high.

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Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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