Downtown Aquarium, Houston

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This article is about the Downtown Aquarium in Houston. For the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, see Downtown Aquarium, Denver.
Downtown Aquarium, Houston
Date opened 2003[1]
Location Houston, Texas
Coordinates 29°45′51″N 95°22′03″W / 29.764196°N 95.367374°W / 29.764196; -95.367374Coordinates: 29°45′51″N 95°22′03″W / 29.764196°N 95.367374°W / 29.764196; -95.367374
Land area 6-acre (2.4 ha)[2]
Number of species 200+[2]
Volume of largest tank 200,000 US gallons (760,000 l)[1]
Total volume of tanks 500,000 US gallons (1,900,000 l)[2]
Memberships AZA[3]

Downtown Aquarium is a public aquarium and restaurant located in Houston, Texas, United States that was developed from two Houston landmarks: Fire Station No. 1 and the Central Waterworks Building. The aquarium is located on a 6-acre (2.4 ha) site at 410 Bagby Street in downtown Houston. It houses over 200 species of aquatic animals in 500,000 US gallons (1,900,000 l) of aquariums. The complex includes two restaurants, a bar, and banquet facilities.

The Downtown Aquarium in Houston is owned and operated by Landry's, Inc. and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


In 1999, the City of Houston put out a request for proposals for the redevelopment of Fire Station No.1 in the 400 block of Bagby, and the nearby Central Waterworks plant. In mid-2000, Landry's plan was accepted over an alternate proposal by the Post/Cordish partnership. The Central Waterworks plant would be a sharks-only exhibition tank. The main restaurant would be on the second floor of the old firehouse, which would remain intact while construction took place around it.[4]

The Downtown Aquarium was opened in 2003.[1]

In late 2015, a campaign targeting the Aquarium's white tiger exhibit was launched by animal rights activists. The Downtown Aquarium rejected the criticism of the exhibit by stating that their "tigers receive exemplary animal care," and "our tiger exhibit has been accredited by AZA, and every year by the USDA."[5][6] The Animal Legal Defense Fund has threatened to file a lawsuit if the aquarium does not close the exhibit and transfer the tigers to a sanctuary.[7]


On September 19, 2016, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) served Houston’s Downtown Aquarium (and Landry’s Inc.--the owning corporation) with a notice of intent to sue for violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The notice alleges harm and harassment to a federally listed endangered species: four tigers, who are kept in "deplorable conditions" at the Aquarium. In the notice, the Animal Legal Defense Fund offers to rehome the tigers to a reputable, accredited sanctuary at no cost to Landry’s. If Landry’s declines this offer, ALDF plans to proceed with litigation after 60 days.[8]

According to the notice:

In December 2004, Landry’s transported four white tigers to its Downtown Aquarium restaurant and amusement park complex in Houston, Texas. For the last 12 years, Landry’s has deprived these four tigers—named Nero, Marina, Coral, and Reef—of any access to sunlight, fresh air, or natural surfaces. These species-inappropriate living conditions violate the ESA, which has protected tigers since 1970.

In the wild, tigers cover a range of up to 40 square miles. In contrast, at the Downtown Aquarium, the tigers’ entire world is limited to a few hundred square feet. The tigers alternate their time between the concrete “Maharaja’s Temple” on display to the public and a small metal cage out of the public’s sight. At no point do the tigers have the opportunity to run, jump, or engage in the full range of their natural behaviors.

“The dungeon-like conditions that the tigers are forced to endure at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium harm their physical health and psychological wellbeing, and deny them much that is natural and important to a tiger,” says renowned big cat veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Conrad. “It is cruel to confine complex, roaming carnivores such as tigers to a tiny, dark, artificial, unenriched enclosure where they never see any daylight, much less bask in sunshine, and are at risk for serious long term, debilitating injuries from being forced to live on slippery, unyielding concrete their entire lives.”

The tigers’ living conditions starkly contrast with the decades-long trend to place captive tigers in more natural habitats, such as the tiger habitat at the Houston Zoo. Of the more than 100 Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities housing tigers in the United States, only one other facility does not have an outdoor exhibit for the tigers: the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, also owned by Landry’s.

“Tigers are complex apex predators with specific biological, environmental, and enrichment needs,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Landry’s, Inc. should stick to the restaurant business and leave the housing of tigers to those who are able to provide big cats with proper care and naturalistic habitats rather than sacrificing the wellbeing of an endangered species for the sake of tourist dollars.”

By forcing these tigers to live in what amounts to a concrete dungeon, Landry’s has profited financially, but caused the tigers serious mental and physical harm. Keeping the tigers at the Downtown Aquarium advances no conservation purpose under the ESA. Retiring the tigers to a sanctuary will guarantee that the tigers may spend the rest of their lives in the species-appropriate conditions that they need and deserve.[9]

Aquarium Adventure exhibit[edit]

The Aquarium Adventure Exhibit in the main building consists of 5 main themed areas, plus the tiger habitat and interactive displays.[10]

The Louisiana Swamp exhibit is home to animals from the marsh and bayous of the Gulf Coast, including alligators, alligator snapping turtles, spotted gar, crayfish, catfish, and bullfrogs.

The shipwreck puts visitors inside the sunken hull of a 17th-century Spanish galleon where they can look, out to see living coral reefs and sea creatures including a giant Pacific octopus, a moray eel, clownfish, tangs, grouper, snapper, garibaldi, and star fish.

The Rainforest exhibit explores the tropical rainforests of the world, and life inside their rivers. The exhibit features macaws, Red-bellied piranha, freshwater stingrays, an emerald tree boa, poison arrow frogs, archerfish, arawana, and birds.

The Sunken Temple showcases species such as lionfish, tarantulas, pufferfish, an electric eel, and a reticulated python.

The Gulf of Mexico includes nurse sharks, snapper, redfish, tarpon, jack and more.

Discovery rig has three touch tanks to let visitors get up close and personal with marine life including stingrays, bamboo sharks, horseshoe crabs, butterflyfish, triggerfish, and tangs.

The White Tiger of the Maharaja Temple exhibit houses the aquarium's white tigers. (On September 19, 2016, Downtown Aquarium, Houston, was served with a notice for animal abuse concerning the "deplorable" living conditions of the housed tigers, which are members of an endangered species.[11])

Other attractions[edit]

Shark Voyage, a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge C.P. Huntington train ride, tours the entire property and stops in the center of a 200,000-US-gallon (760,000 l) shark tank to let visitors watch the sharks. The shark tank viewed from the train is in a separate building from the main aquarium.[12]

Other facilities on the aquarium property include two restaurants, a bar, and banquet facilities in the main building; and the Diving Bell Ferris Wheel and an aquatic-themed carousel outside.[12] One of the restaurants includes a 110,000-US-gallon (420,000 l) centerpiece aquarium which is the largest cylindrical tank in the United States.[1]

Incidents & Accidents[edit]

On July 12, 2009 two miniature trains collided in the loading area. According to officials one train hit the back of the other, forcing two cars off the track. 31 people were injured and 27 were taken to the hospital. Nobody was seriously injured, and there was minimal damage to the trains.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d "Making a Splash". Landry's Restaurants, Inc. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Visitor Info". Landry's Restaurants, Inc. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  3. ^ "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  4. ^ Sarnoff, Nancy (16 June 2000). "Landry's gets nod to build downtown aquarium". Houston Business Journal. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  5. ^ "Free Houston Tigers - Home". Free Houston Tigers. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Malisow, Craig. "Protesters Call for Downtown Aquarium's White Tigers to Be Put in a Sanctuary". Houston Press. Houston Press. Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  7. ^ McGuire, Kim (September 19, 2016). "Animal welfare group threatens Tilman Fertitta's Landry's Inc. over white tigers at aquarium". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 10 October 2016. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Interactive Map". Landry's Restaurants, Inc. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b Cramer-Diaz, Katrina. "A Day at the Downtown Aquarium". Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  13. ^ "Several injured after 2 trains collide at Downtown Aquarium". Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 

External links[edit]