The Tennessee Aquarium cut 22 full-time jobs on Thursday, the result of devastating financial losses amid the persisting coronavirus pandemic.

"While I have compassion in my heart for each individual whose job has been eliminated, I also have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the Aquarium has the financial footing to recover fully," Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford said in a message to staff and volunteers. "As a leader, pivotal moments like this are extremely tough."

The Aquarium has 136 full-time employees and 23 part-time employees. Operating costs are about $400,000 a week to maintain the facility and care for the animals.

The Aquarium was closed for 96 days, from March through June in response to the coronavirus crisis, cutting 90% of its revenue. When the Aquarium initially reopened, about 150 people an hour — or 1,200 a day — were allowed inside, with heightened cleaning and social distancing processes in place. A busy weekend would normally deliver about 3,750 guests through the aquarium's doors.

Aquarium attendance is 50% lower than in 2019, and attendance at IMAX is down 70%, said Aquarium Chief Marketing Officer Thom Benson. The losses are projected to leave the attraction with a deficit of more than $5 million by the end of 2020, Benson said.


By the numbers

The aquarium normally draws about 750,000 visitors a year, and has an overall economic impact of $115 million.

Weekly bills at the Tennessee Aquarium:

Utilities: $138,000

Life Support Systems: $29,000

Animal Feeding and Care: $214,000

Security: $ 41,000

Total: $422,000

[Read more: Coronavirus closure costs the Tennessee Aquarium 90% of revenue.]

In March, Aquarium leaders took a pay cut, all non-essential spending, marketing and travel stopped, debt was restructured, and 112 part-time employees were laid off.

"To go 28 years without having this happen once, and then having to go though this twice in one year is heartbreaking for everyone involved," Benson said. "The intent is we won't have any additional ones, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that the future is very uncertain and hard to predict."

The job eliminations came in multiple areas, including education, where programming has been dramatically reduced, Benson said.

"We won't have any education groups for the foreseeable future," he said.

Sanford said in his message to employees that the difficult measures come as leaders try to plan in an extremely uncertain environment.

"By adjusting our operations now, and working hard together over the coming months, we hope to be able to restore our financial stability sometime next year," he said. "We will miss the individuals who are losing their positions through no fault of their own."

Contact Mary Fortune at Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.