On Aug. 28, 1990, New Orleans Mayor Sidney J. Barthelemy swam with the sharks at the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas.

Barthelemy had bet Ron Forman, then the director of the Audubon Institute, which operates the aquarium, that he would not meet the Sept. 1 deadline to have the aquarium open to the public. 

The Times-Picayune reported on the mayor’s dive into 400,000 gallons of water, noting that Barthelemy, dressed in black and white pinstriped swimming gear, was accompanied by three divers as he “jumped into the Gulf of Mexico exhibit and [was] joined by sand tiger, nurse, lemon and brown sharks.”  

Barthelemy’s shark adventure, the Times-Picayune reported, was conducted before a crowd of about 50 people, and lasted less than a minute. 

“Some say sharks would never bother a politician, because they extend professional courtesy,” the mayor was reported as saying. 

Barthelemy’s dive helped attract more than 13,000 visitors to the aquarium’s grand opening the following week. A 2019 Nola.com article noted that the large attendance was “the most for an aquarium at the time.” More than 40 million people have visited the Audubon Aquarium since its opening in 1990.

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New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...