The Randy & Barb Wisthoff Aquarium Plaza opened to a private party on August 30. Photo by Bill Rankin

It’s a great weekend to visit the new aquarium, but only if you have reservations

Officials say the world-class aquarium now puts the Kanas City Zoo in the class of “national attractions.”

By Don Bradley

Pushing something as “650,000 gallons of amazing” is a pretty good sales pitch.

That’s how the head of the Kansas City Zoo _ now the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium _ pitched the new $75 million Sobela Ocean Aquarium at a recent southland gathering.

Sean Putney, the zoo’s executive director and CEO, told the South Kansas City Alliance about the pragmatics of the fund drive and the animals and the giant tanks and how the new aquarium elevates the zoo to national status.

Sean Putney, Kansas City Zoo Executive Director, spoke at a recent South KC Alliance meeting. Photo by Bill Rankin

But he also talked about the whimsical.

Such as how the aquarium layout takes visitors from warm coasts through the shallows to open ocean, past reefs and coral to the ocean floor and then more shallows to the cold coasts.

“Some kids here have never seen the ocean,” Putney told the gathering at the South Patrol Police Campus.

The new Aquarium, featuring six major habitats, opens Sept. 1.Reservations can be made beginning Wednesday, Aug. 16, by going to

Yes, there are sharks. You’re going to need a bigger car.

Officials say the world-class aquarium now puts the Kanas City Zoo in the class of “national attractions.”

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In pitching the aquarium, Putney used a little humor by telling about Larry the Lobster. Larry is orange, which exists in only one in 30 million lobsters.

The St. Louis zoo has a blue lobster which exists in one in 10 million.

“So orange is much more rare,” he said.

And he used the dramatic.

Many of the new animals for the aquarium, such as sea otters and sea turtles, came from situations where they might not be alive today.

“Now they get to come to Kansas City and speak for the species,” Putney said.

According to projections, the new aquarium could mean an attendance boost of more than 200,000 visitors. Putney used that to show the economic benefit to not just the zoo, but restaurants and hotels in Kansas City.

Putney also said Kansas City is not done; that the zoo has an aggressive plan to continue growth and appeal to rival the much-lauded facility in Omaha.

“They get two million visitors a year,” he said. “No reason we can’t do that here.”

Admission to the new aquarium, located near the Helzberg Penguin Plaza, will be included as part of a regular zoo ticket. Residents of Jackson and Clay counties will continue to receive 50 percent off ticket prices as well as four free visits a year.

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