How a simple leak in the museum aquarium turned dramatic on Facebook

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Did the new 500,000 gallon tank at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science spring a leak after Hurricane Irma lashed the new downtown Miami attraction?

Yes. But…

Two posts on Facebook over the weekend differed in description.

Frost Dana Portnoy 132

A screengrab of Dana Portnoy’s Sunday afternoon Facebook post in which he cited the power of Hurricane Irma’s winds on the Frost Science Museum’s tank. The image appears to be the museum’s Gulf Stream tank. A second post, about an hour later, reported that there was concern but that there are no problems with the tank.

Dana Portnoy Facebook

At 1:32 p.m. Sunday, Dana Portnoy, vice president of construction for the Nevada-based ATM Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, the primary contractor for the original installation of the tank, posted photos of what appears to be the Frost’s 100-foot wide Gulf Stream Aquarium. This is the tank where mahi-mahi, devil rays and hammerhead sharks travel through its open water. The image focuses on the 33-foot in diameter, 16-inch thick acrylic oculus window from its installation in 2016.

Portnoy’s post read: “The winds of hurricane Irma and the related pressures it caused while the winds were whipping through the building caused the 66,000 pounds window to literally “lift” even with all the water above it! Freakin’ Crazy! & Utterly Amazing what Mother Nature is capable of!!”

An hour later, Portnoy posted again, with the same photo, but a more positive spin.

“The winds of hurricane Irma and the related pressures were a cause for concern. I am happy to report that there are no problems with this or any of the other two dozen aquarium windows we installed.”

We reached out to the Frost Museum on Monday. Frost President Frank Steslow said:

“A very small water weep materialized in the oculus seal after the storm and was easily resolved by injecting the same silicone material into the seal from the inside of the tank late last week. We are taking advantage of having the contractor onsite to re-caulk the cosmetic seal on the public side of several of the acrylic windows that have wear and tear from over 400,000 visitors as well as to polish scratches and scuffs that have occurred in the same period. This cosmetic work should be wrapped up tomorrow.”

The seal is designed for flexibility, Steslow continued.

More: How South Florida attractions fared post-Irma

“The silicone seal between the acrylic windows and concrete tank walls is in place to create a flexible seal between two very rigid materials (concrete and acrylic) that expand, contract and move independent of one another. It’s not unusual to have settling, vibrations or movement that can cause minor weeps in this seal even without a storm event as the window settles into place and as the concrete tank and window expand and contract differently with different temperatures or pressures. Without the flexible seal, one of the rigid materials could crack if tightly bonded together.”

Related stories from Miami Herald

Frost tank shark

A shark swims in the shadows of the huge fish tank during the long-awaited opening of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science on Sunday, May 7, 2017.

PATRICK FARRELL pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Portnoy’s other company, See Life International Construction, had been subcontracted to do the original sealing of the tank. Steslow said Portnoy, who does the regular maintenance work, was going to return to the museum shortly anyway to take care of normal wear and tear to the tank like scratches, but he was brought in earlier after Irma to fix the weep, which was discovered a day or two after the storm.

Tiny weeps are to be expected in new buildings. Frost opened in May. “There is still movement and settling in buildings. They don’t lock into position. We were surprised all the vessels didn’t have weeps. We were standing by and watching things over the past four months. I’m sure the storm exacerbated it. It’s hard to tell what forces and vibrations might have been put on that tank in that building,” Steslow said.

The museum and all of the exhibits housed in the main building — including the tank — are open. The grounds sustained some landscaping damage around the roof and perimeter, a stainless steel security gate was bent by the wind.

“We were hopeful given the building was new and up to code and it performed well,” Steslow said.

Normal museum hours have resumed at the museum, 1101 Biscayne Blvd in downtown Miami. There are exceptions.

The Science Barge, moored on Biscayne Bay near the museum was damaged during Irma and all future Science Barge events have been canceled indefinitely.

“The sea wall was also impacted by the resultant water and wind. The Science Barge will be moving into a dry dock for a full assessment by the museum team,” the museum said.

In addition, the Falcon Batchelor Bird of Prey Center and Batchelor Wildlife Center in Coconut Grove will also be closed until further notice and will not be accepting injured birds and raptors.


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