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Inside The Hidden Warehouse Of Baltimore's National Aquarium (PHOTOS)

Baltimore Aquarium

First Posted: 03/06/2012 8:06 am EST Updated: 11/05/2012 4:55 pm EST

There's nothing hidden about the National Aquarium, a waterfront gem in downtown Baltimore that draws more than a million visitors a year and was recently lauded as the city's best attraction.

But a little more than a mile away -- hidden in plain sight in Baltimore's Fell's Point neighborhood -- is the aquarium's secret support facility, a sprawling building that workers simply call The Warehouse.

The building houses the institution's Animal Care Facility and other support operations like a fabrication lab, a wood shop, storage rooms and offices. While The Warehouse is not open to the public, HuffPost Travel recently took a backstage tour to explore the efforts and equipment necessary to run one of the world's biggest aquariums. For starters: plumbing, lots of plumbing.

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  • The largest tank at The Warehouse is currently home to blacktip reef sharks from Australia, swimming in 50,000 gallons of salt water fabricated on-site. A shipment of 11 more sharks will soon join the nine animals currently here.

  • A small walkway above this shark-filled tank resembles something out of a James Bond villain's lair -- even if the blacktips in question aren't man-eaters.

  • The Warehouse once housed a number of kayaks, which came in handy when Hurricane Isabel flooded Fell's Point in 2003. This particular kayak, still on-site, made the front page of <em>The Baltimore Sun</em> in the wake of the storm.

  • Aquarium staff make all the salt water at The Warehouse from scratch, using filtered city water and appropriate blends of salt and other trace elements. A standard batch like this 2,500-gallon tank can take three days to blend.

  • A closet houses a selection of salt and trace elements for custom fabrication of specialized water blends.

  • A whiteboard with salt water mix information is mounted near a 2,500 blending tank.

  • As a general storage and receiving facility, The Warehouse is full of packages that would rate as oddities -- if they weren't destined for the National Aquarium.

  • A series of tanks will be used for quarantine of turtles rescued as part of the aquarium's <a href="http://www.aqua.org/oceanhealth_marp.html" target="_hplink">Marine Animal Rescue Program</a>.

  • Another look at soon-to-be turtle tanks and other currently unused tanks.

  • Plumbing is a ubiquitous feature in The Warehouse...

  • ...Which is also filled with pumps and valves for regulating the numerous water flows required for different species.

  • Another look at the Australian black tip sharks.

  • The aquarium sourced its black tip sharks from Cairns Marine, an Australian company that shipped the animals in these round crates.

  • Another look at the animal shipping crates used by Cairns Marine.

  • A fly river turtle came to the aquarium from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prosecution and is now in quarantine.

  • The fabrication shop is a dreamscape for crafty people, stacked with tools and materials for making items needed for displays, including "rocks" and "coral" that are tested for as long as a year in simulator tanks to test for weatherability.

  • The wood shop at The Warehouse fabricates signage and provides other support.

  • This leopard shark has just cleared quarantine at The Warehouse and is likely headed for the aquarium's Washington, D.C. location. It came to the East Coast from the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

  • A biofiltration unit is one of many types of filters employed in The Warehouse.

  • The kitchen at The Warehouse looks surprisingly similar to a human kitchen, with various storage containers, stainless steel sinks and appliances and a pantry off to one side. "MARP," seen on these signs, refers to the aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program.

  • A colony of mealworms in the pantry provides a reminder that this isn't a typical kitchen. On another shelf, not pictured, is a large box of crickets.

  • A 2003 addition to The Warehouse expanded capacity in advance of the National Aquarium's Australia exhibit, which opened in 2005. Among other current residents is a yellow-headed snapping turtle, with the scientific name <em>Elseya Irwini</em>. The rare animal species is named for late naturalist and TV host Steve Irwin who discovered it with his father Bob.

  • A female caiman was moved to The Warehouse after showing agression toward another caiman at the aquarium.

  • A perhaps obvious sign nevertheless warns that the caiman in this enclosure is dangerous.

  • One of the most recent arrivals to The Warehouse, this diamondback terrapin was brought to the aquarium by a private owner who could no longer care for the animal. The aquarium generally doesn't accept such animals. In Florida, <a href="http://www.miamimetrozoo.com/" target="_hplink">Zoo Miami</a> hosts an "amnesty day" for people looking for assistance with their exotic pets. <a href="http://miami.cbslocal.com/2011/03/04/zoo-miami-to-accept-exotic-pets-during-amnesty-day/" target="_hplink">This year it's March 12</a>, and the day provides a safe way for pet-owners to hand over their unwanted animals rather than releasing them into the wild.

  • An on-site medical clinic is a convenient supplement to the institution's bigger veterinary care facilities says Andrew Pulver, Animal Care Center & Marine Operations Manager at the aquarium, who guided <em>HuffPost Travel</em> around The Warehouse.

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