The new Sobela Aquarium in the Kansas City zoo showcases 8,000 animals including half a dozen sharks.

It took 10 years of planning, fundraising and construction but on Sept. 1, the Kansas City Zoo will debut the Sobela Aquarium. 

The aquarium will be located near the zoo’s entrance and penguin exhibit and will feature fish and sealife from around the world—including half a dozen sharks. 

The aquarium will be divided into six zones, each showcasing a different type of marine habitat. Visitors will be able to see everything from sea turtles and giant octopus to coral reefs and tropical fish.

Zoo officials say there will be nearly 8,000 animals – yes, fish are considered animals – in the Sobela Ocean Aquarium. The zoo staff has had some fun naming the animals: there’s a zebra shark named Chewy, Banner the green moray eel, Larry Lombardi the orange lobster and four sand tiger sharks named Chad, Chauncey, Charkuterie and Chunk.

The largest tank allows visitors to stand looking up at sea life swimming overhead. But it’s not just looking, zoo officials also say there will be two touch pools in the aquarium. Visitors get to touch animals in two exhibits: one featuring animals found in warmer water, the other featuring cold water animals.

Admission to the Sobela Aquarium is included in the price of the zoo’s general admission. However, to avoid congestion and overcrowding, the aquarium requires a timed reservation with groups of people let into the aquarium every 15 minutes.  Once they’re inside, visitors can take in the sites at their pace, with no limitation on the time they spend in the aquarium.

The aquarium is expected to be a win for Kansas City, generating $14 million in economic return per year and creating approximately 100 new jobs. It is also expected to attract an additional 300,000 visitors to the Kansas City Zoo each year. In recognition of this expected impact, the  zoo has been renamed the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium. 

To learn more or purchase tickets, visit

Sobela Aquarium at a Glance

  • The aquarium contains 650,000 gallons of water.
  • It will feature six zones: Warm-Water Shore, Mangrove Forest, Sandy Shore, Tropical Lagoon, Coral Reef, and Deep Ocean.
  • Barney and Shirley Helzberg donated $32 million to the project and the remaining funds came from the Zoological Taxing District and private donations totalling $77M. 
  • Sobela is an acronym for the Helzberg grandkids: Sawyer, Oliver, Benton, Elias, Leo, Amelia and Arthur.
  • The aquarium makes their own salt water, and processes all the water in the zoo. 
  • Exhibits will educate kids on how ocean currents connect life across the world.