Located in Boston, Massachusetts, the New England Aquarium is a 75,000-square-foot facility dedicated to marine exploration, conservation, and education. With more than 1.3 million visitors every year, the aquarium is one of Boston’s most popular visitor attractions. It is the only cultural attraction in the city with a primarily environment-focused mission.
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The aquarium was originally conceived as a small offshoot of the Museum of Science, but the direction of the project changed in 1957 with the formation of the New England Aquarium Corporation. Building on the successes and failures of previous aquariums in the city, the organization believed that a new aquarium venture for Boston should be an independent nonprofit venture. After a decade of planning and construction, the aquarium was opened to the public on June 20, 1969. At the time, the Boston waterfront was a rundown district; the aquarium is credited among the ventures that helped to revive the area as a major civic center and tourist attraction.
The museum features four levels of exhibits, which are home to thousands of freshwater, saltwater, and deep ocean species.
The first level features some of the museum’s most interactive exhibits, including the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank, which allows visitors to touch Atlantic and cownose rays and epaulette sharks in a recreation of their natural environment. Nearby, the new Science of Sharks exhibit features tanks of newborn shark pups alongside video footage of underwater National Geographic shark expeditions. At the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, visitors can watch California sea lions and Northern fur seals during their daily training sessions with aquarium trainers. The Blue Planet Action Center highlights challenges facing world oceans due to climate change, including the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs, threats to endangered whale species, and efforts to cultivate sustainable seafood resources. A 5,100-gallon Pacific Reef Community exhibit is home to more than 70 tropical reef fish species, including the palette surgeonfish, made popular by the Disney film Finding Nemo. Additional nearby exhibits include African Penguins and Sea Jellies.
On the second level, the Temperate Water Gallery showcases the world’s only two species of seadragons, leafy and weedy seadragons, alongside 25 other species from Australia’s temperate reefs. Two large galleries anchor the third level; the Freshwater Gallery, which highlights freshwater species from South America, and the Northern Waters of the World Gallery, which compares New England and Pacific Northwest marine habitats. Also located on this level is the Edge of the Sea Tidepool and Touch Tank, which allows visitors to pet snails, mussels, sea stars, and sea urchins. The fourth level is home to the Giant Ocean Tank, a four-story Caribbean coral reef exhibit featuring more than 1,000 animals, including popular aquarium resident Myrtle, an adult green sea turtle who has lived at the museum since 1970. Visitors can climb high above the tank in the Yawkey Coral Reef Center, which features glass railings and theatrical-quality lighting to maximize views.
In addition to the main exhibits, the museum is also home to the Simons IMAX Theater, which offers film showings related to marine life and other aspects of the natural world.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The New England Aquarium Whale Watch is one of the aquarium’s most popular special programs. From April through October, visitors can embark on whale watching expeditions presented in cooperation with Boston Harbor Cruises. Each 3 to 4-hour cruise departs from Central Wharf and takes visitors to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where a variety of whale species, including humpback whales, pilot whales, and the critically endangered New England right whale, can be spotted. Also popular is the Aquarium Lecture Series, which has presented free public lectures and films by scientists and environmentalists at the aquarium since 1972. Past lectures can be viewed on the aquarium’s YouTube channel.
As part of its commitment to community education, the aquarium offers a number of outreach programs for children and teens. Favorite educational programs include the Traveling Education series, which brings the ocean directly into Boston’s classrooms, offering curriculum-incorporated exhibits that include experiences with live animals. Two teen programs, the ClimaTeens committee and the live blue(™) Ambassador program, offer community service opportunities to youth interested in pursuing a study of marine biology and conservation. The aquarium’s commitment to marine ecosystem preservation is displayed through the work of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, which uses the latest research to strive for conservation solutions for the oceans of New England and beyond.
1 Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110