The New England Aquarium is a catalyst for global change through public engagement, commitment to marine animal conservation, leadership in education, innovative scientific research, and effective advocacy for vital and vibrant oceans.
It is the only Boston-based cultural institution with a mission focused primarily on the environment, promoting the importance of protecting the blue planet through innovative exhibits and educational programs. These are some highlights of the Aquarium’s mission in action, on exhibit, and through our education, conservation, and research programs here on Central Wharf and around the globe.
- The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank and the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center showcase the diversity and importance of marine animals.
- The Giant Ocean Tank inspires visitors with the beauty and complexity of marine habitat through replication of a Caribbean coral reef.
- Aquarium educators lead a nationwide initiative on climate change and inspire future ocean protectors with hands-on programs such as Harbor Discoveries Camps and live blue™ Ambassadors. The Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Team leads regional efforts to rehabilitate and release endangered species of sea turtles at our state-of-the-art Animal Care Center.
- Aquarium scientists advise some of the nation’s largest seafood companies on methods to enhance the sustainability of commercial fisheries worldwide.
- The Aquarium is home to the world’s longest-running right whale research program, coordinating efforts along the East Coast of the U.S. to restore the population of this endangered species.
- The Aquarium collaborates with partners around the world to protect ocean ecosystems, such as coral reefs. In 2008, we partnered with the island nation of Kiribati and Conservation International to create the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.
The New England Aquarium serves as a responsive community resource that attracts and involves the broadest possible audience; seeks a culturally diverse staff and governing board that reflect our community; adheres to the highest standards of animal stewardship; and is committed to delivering the highest quality visitor experience in a welcoming and enjoyable manner that inspires awe, curiosity, understanding, caring, and action.
Opened on the Boston waterfront in 1969, the New England Aquarium is one of the world’s first modern aquariums. Visitors can explore the oceans and visit thousands of marine animals in four levels of world-class exhibits.
On June 20, 1969, the New England Aquarium we know today opened its doors to the public. The Aquarium was designed with the intention of providing an underwater experience for visitors as well as a cultural institution that would connect Boston to its waterfront. In its almost four decades of existence, the Aquarium has grown in size and evolved in concept. This timeline highlights many of the Aquarium’s changing exhibits, expeditions, and innovations—almost 50 years of innovative education and programming, as well as a physical space that has evolved to keep pace with millions of visitors.
Extensive programs were developed to help preserve marine life and bring about a better understanding of it. Notable innovations were the Giant Ocean Tank, opened in 1970—at the time, the largest circular saltwater tank in the world—and the Simons IMAX® Theatre, still New England’s largest screen, which opened in December 2001. Today, the Aquarium is one of Boston’s premier visitor attractions and a major resource for public education. Beyond its exhibit halls, the Aquarium is also a leader in global marine conservation, with scientists working around the globe.
The history of Boston’s aquariums has been long and complex. Before the New England Aquarium was built, there had been three prior aquariums in the city. But it was not until 1969, and the launch of what we now know as the New England Aquarium, that a private, nonprofit aquarium took its place on the Boston waterfront, opening its doors to more than a million visitors each year.
1969: On June 20, the New England Aquarium opens its doors to the public with more than 12,000 visitors the first day. By year-end, 425,000 visitors see its exhibits.
1970: Myrtle, the green sea turtle, takes up residence in the Giant Ocean Tank and remains there today.
“Spotted Throat” and “Mate,” two of the Aquarium’s African penguins, hatch two baby chicks.
1971: The Harold E. Edgerton Laboratory, a center for basic and applied science at the Aquarium, is dedicated, honoring time-lapse photo inventor and Aquarium trustee Harold “Doc” Edgerton.
Hoover, the talking harbor seal, begins the first of 14 years at the Aquarium. “Hello there” and “How are you?” were just two of the phrases he knew.
1973: Jacques Yves-Cousteau receives the David. B. Stone award.
Andre the harbor seal begins the first of nine winters at the Aquarium. He summered in Rockport, Maine, until his death in 1985.
1974: Built and launched in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, the barge Discovery moors next to the Aquarium’s main building, becoming a marine mammal pavilion for dolphins and sea lions.
1977: Dolphins Kathy, Spit, Apollo, Neptune, Dixie, and Peach join sea lions Mugs, Samantha, Merlin, and Deacon as Aquarium attractions.
With the consent of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Aquarium begins a program of responding to stranded marine mammals in New England.
1978: The Aquarium endures the “Blizzard of ’78,” which brings wind speeds of 93 miles per hour and tides 18 feet above normal to Boston’s waterfront.
1979: The Boston Pops mark the 10th anniversary of the New England Aquarium. A new waterfront park is inaugurated on the Aquarium’s front plaza.
A baby dolphin, “Echo,” is born at the Aquarium.
1980: A New England Aquarium research team unexpectedly discovers 25 Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Before the discovery, scientists believed the right whale was nearly extinct. As one of the scientists recalled, “It was like finding a brontosaurus in the backyard.” Later research mapped a right whale migration route from Nova Scotia to Georgia.
“Louisiana Lou,” a Risso’s dolphin trapped in a harbor tanker slip, is boarded at the Aquarium.
1981: Two fishes, the red drum and permit, spawn for the first time in the Giant Ocean Tank.
The Aquarium presents The Treasure of the Concepcion, its first special exhibit in a new area for special exhibits.
1982: The Cold Marine Gallery is newly refurbished and focuses on Northern Waters of the World.
The Aquarium begins a collaboration with Elderhostel resulting in an educational outreach program for seniors. The Aquarium also starts Elderreach, a program for visits to nursing homes. A children’s hospital outreach program begins with the help of education staff and volunteers.
A new tidepool exhibit, The Edge of the Sea, opens in the freshwater gallery.
The latest exhibit, Frogs and Toads, featured the world’s most lovable amphibians.
1983: Operation Headstart, organized to protect endangered Plymouth red-bellied turtles, begins.
A special exhibit, Out of Sight, gives visitors a new perspective on microscopic life in the water, with some images magnified up to 20,000 to 30,000 times.
1984: The Year of the Whale triggers an extravaganza of events including a special exhibit, Whales: New England’s Wandering Giants, a symposium on right whales, and a Whales Alive conference.
The Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) gets a major facelift of its coral reef.
1985: The Marine Animal Health Care Center opens.
The Flooded Forest and the Connecticut River Basin exhibits are introduced in the freshwater gallery.
Rockhopper penguins join their black-footed cousins in their own special corner of the pool beneath the Giant Ocean Tank.
A new exhibit, Fish as Art, presents the beautiful and the bizarre. Designer fish such as goldfish and koi are highlighted.
The Aquarium begins “Nature of New England,” a regular series of reports for WBZ-TV produced and written by staff member Paul Erickson.
A cookbook, A Feast of Fishes, joins a growing list of books published in association with the Aquarium.
1986: The exhibit Don’t Blink Now uses live animals and video to capture animal behaviors that happen too fast or too infrequently for most of us to notice.
The Aquarium publishes Dive to the Coral Reefs and The Last Extinction, reflecting a growing commitment to conservation issues.
1987: Boston Harbor: The Place, the Problem, the Plan becomes a permanent exhibit in the Boston Harbor View Room. The Aquarium’s research staff participates in a Boston Harbor Monitoring Program.
The Aquarium rescues three baby pilot whales from a mass stranding on Cape Cod.
A NOVA TV program and a children’s book, Rescue of the Stranded Whales, celebrates the successful rehabilitation of these whales and their reintroduction to the wild.
1988: Stars of the Sea presents an exhibit of sea stars—from a Hollywood perspective.
The Aquarium introduces a new Thinking Gallery to educate its visitors on the world of fishes.
1989: Aquanaut Sylvia Earle receives the David B. Stone Award, saying that she looks forward to the next decade as “the greatest period of underwater discovery.”
Stick Your Neck Out — A Closer Look At Turtles brings new drama to the life of turtles with a giant fiberglass sculpture over the entrance marquee and an eerie swamp-like setting as their habitat.
1991: Voyager II, a new state-of-the-art Whale Watch boat, is christened. The Aquarium’s “Science at Sea” harbor cruises begin onboard the Doc Edgerton.
1992: The Boston Harbor Room is renovated.
“To present, promote and protect the world of water” is adopted as the mission of the Aquarium.
1993: The Aquarium names a new design team for a major expansion of the facility.
A new position of conservation officer is created; this person is charged with developing and implementing a strategic plan for aquatic conservation.
The Animal Heath Department at the Aquarium is started; it is designed to allow visitors to see veterinarians in action as they treated exhibit animals and animals recently rescued from the wild.
1994: The Aquarium unveils plans and exhibit concepts for an expanded facility.
More than 7,000 people attend Aquafest, a free public celebration of the Aquarium’s 25th birthday.
Jerry Schubel, an oceanographer from SUNY, Long Island, is named president and CEO of the Aquarium upon the retirement of Executive Director John Prescott. The Women in Science program launches, offering middle school girls the opportunity to learn about research, conservation, and animal care from female scientists at the Aquarium.
1995: The Aquarium launches its first website.
A new exhibit, Jellies, opens to foster awareness and appreciation of these beautiful but misunderstood animals.
The Aquarium’s Education Center opens.
1996: In September, the Aquarium breaks ground for its new West Wing.
A new special exhibit, Ponds: the Earth’s Eyes, opens.
1997: The new Aquarium Medical Center, which gives visitors an inside look at animal care, is opened to the public.
The first exhibit of the new Education Center focuses on Georges Bank and tells the story of this area fishery with live animals and hands-on exhibits.
A new seal and sea otter exhibit opens, providing an intimate view of California sea otters and harbor seals in a naturalistic setting.
1998: With the completion of the West Wing, a larger space for changing exhibits is created. The expanded space includes a larger gift shop and the Harbor View Café, which overlooks Boston Harbor with views of the Boston skyline. The popular penguin exhibit is renovated with an improved habitat for the animals and new signage to educate visitors on the life and habitat of these amazing animals.
1999: An offsite exploration center opens in Newport, R.I., that encourages beachgoers to take a closer look at shore animals and their habitats; it offers hands-on educational and art activities, beach walks and talks by experts.
Sounds of the Sea, an exhibit funded by the National Science Foundation, opens in the Education Center.
Voyager III, a customized catamaran, joins the fleet making daily whale watching trips.
The little blue penguins join the African penguins in the always-popular penguin exhibit.
A new facility for harbor porpoise rehabilitation is opened in Duxbury, Mass., with a critical care pool and a 29,000-gallon rehabilitation tank with the ability to house up to three porpoises at a time.
2000: The new Immersion Interactive Theater opens; it shows the film titled Here’s Boston, as well as short films produced in-house by the Aquarium staff.
Nyanja: Africa’s Inland Sea exhibit opens.
The Activity Center is created for hands-on family learning for children 10 and under.
2001: The Matthew and Marcia Simons IMAX® Theatre opens to the public. A 3-D theater with a six-story flat screen, it was designed to show visitors animals that are too large, too small or too endangered to exhibit live at the Aquarium.
Ed Toomey becomes the new executive director of the Aquarium.
2002: Living Links: Choices for Survival opens. Using sea turtles, frogs and fish as travel companions, visitors are guided across land, fresh water and sea to understand the links between ecosystems.
The Aquarium’s Animal Medical Center joins forces with Harvard Medical School doctors to try a healing technique on fish; all the fish that were treated were fully healed and returned to their exhibits.
Based on over two decades of Aquarium research, the plan for vessel traffic in the Bay of Fundy is changed to reduce the likelihood of vessels hitting endangered right whales. The small shift is nevertheless expected to reduce these incidents by up to 80 percent.
2003: Amazing Jellies, a two-story, 12-tank exhibit is launched, showcasing these mysterious animals. The exhibit was funded by a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The exhibit focuses on the fact that jellies are “survivors,” increasing in number due to climate change. The exhibit includes a specially-designed tank that maintains a continuous current in order to keep the jellies in motion since they are unaccustomed to boundaries.
The Simons IMAX Theatre draws crowds to Ocean Wonderland, Ghosts of the Abyss, a film exploring the wreck of the Titanic, and The Matrix Reloaded, the first simultaneous release of a Hollywood movie in 35mm and IMAX. The Simons IMAX Theatre at the Aquarium has New England’s largest screen and 12,000 watts of sound.
2004: The Aquarium’s right whale research project turns 25, making it one of the longest running whale studies in the world. The Aquarium’s right whale research team seeks to prevent the extinction of the species (currently only about 500North Atlantic right whales exist) by working with scientists, fishermen, government agencies and shipping companies. The Aquarium has pioneered work using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to track movement patterns of these whales and provide real-time information about their location to avoid collisions with ships.
Dan Holmes, a Plymouth lobsterman, donates a rare white lobster to the Aquarium. These lobsters are extremely rare—a one-in-100-million occurrence.
2005: Aquarium launched Sharks: Tales and Truths, a new program approach that showcases our impressive collection of sharks. The interdisciplinary program involves many departments in the Aquarium—from education to animal husbandry to conservation. The program was complemented by an IMAX film, Sharks 3D, which was seen by 210,000 visitors.
A new program, Turtle Trek, launches, coinciding with sea turtle stranding season, when endangered sea turtles recuperate in our medical center. Visitors “travel the turtle trail” of live animals and learned about these creatures that have been on Earth for 300 million years.
The new Curious George Discovery Corner opens; the bright new carpeted space in the main building will be a focal point for family programs.
Following the tsunami of 2004, Aquarium scientist Greg Stone leads an expedition with the National Geographic Society to survey Thailand’s coral reefs.
Bud Ris, a figure in both the scientific and environmental fields, becomes President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aquarium. He replaces Edmund Toomey, who returned to academia after his years as President and CEO. Ris is former head of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He has been at the forefront of debates on key issues such as climate change and began his career working on marine conservation and coastal zone management.
2006: The Aquarium earns full accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums; the committee commends the ongoing commitment to marine conservation.
We welcome Ursula, Cordova, and Chainsaw, three female Northern fur seals, a new species for the Aquarium. The seals, on loan from the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, are seen by thousands of visitors.
The Walk Like a Penguin program launches with interactive features, live presentations, ice sculptures, podcasts, and more, enabling visitors to understand penguins in new ways. After six penguin chicks hatch, one from an egg donated by the Detroit Zoo, the Aquarium’s penguin population swells to 65 birds. Since 1968, the Aquarium has hatched and raised 60 penguin chicks.
Stars of the Sea features the Aquarium’s most popular animals, including the sand tiger shark, green seaturtle, giant Pacific octopus, barracuda, and more.
With funding from Conservation International, the Aquarium, lead by Greg Stone, collaborates with the country of Kiribati in the South Pacific to establish one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. The goal of this project is to preserve the rare biodiversity in this pristine area, which has eight coral atolls and two submerged reef systems.
The Simons IMAX Theatre welcomes its 2 millionth guest. In addition to showing Hollywood movies, the theater features animals too large, too small, too dangerous or too endangered to be shown inside the Aquarium.
2007: The Aquarium’s newest theme program, Killer Instincts, opens to the public. This exhibit helps visitors learn the truth about the animals we most fear—such as the sand tiger shark, anaconda, great barracuda, electric eel, lionfish, moray eel, giant Pacific octopus and southern stingray. The program includes a larger-than-life shark video and an IMAX film, Sea Monsters 3D: A Prehistoric Adventure.
After five years of planning, the Aquarium conducts a major expedition with National Geographic and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to the 10,000-foot deep Celebes Sea in the Indo-Pacific. The expedition is notable in that the relatively warm Celebes Sea harbors living fossils, prehistoric animals dating back tens or hundreds of millions of years. The team uses time-delayed video cameras, nets, scuba gear and a sub-like ROV (remotely operated vehicle) on the hunt for strange creatures and new habitats.
The Aquarium launches a new comprehensive five-year plan for upgrading exhibits and strengthening education and conservation programs.
1.3 million people visit the Aquarium in 2007, including more than 100,000 schoolchildren.
The Aquarium completes a detailed review of the science pertaining to the impact of climate change, entitled Global Change and the Marine Environment.
The sustainable seafood initiative now includes the development of a new business model for Aquarium partners who buy seafood in quantity—Ahold, Gorton’s and Dardens—in order to ensure sustainable stocks of seafood.
Researchers began a multi-year study to assess the impact of a major new offshore Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminal off Gloucester.
Spearheaded by Aquarium scientist Dr. Moira Brown, a team from the New England Aquarium and the Canadian Whale Institute convince the Canadian government to designate the Roseway Basin, where right whales congregate, as an area to be avoided by shipping traffic. (Collisions with ships are one of the leading causes of death of right whales, which are highly endangered.) In addition, Harvard University Press publishes The Urban Whale, edited by Scott Kraus and Rosalind Rolland, scientists at the Aquarium. The book presents current knowledge about the biology and plight of critically endangered right whales.
2008: The Aquarium’s Right Whale Research Team achieves a major policy victory when the federal government enacts a speed limit on commercial shipping traffic. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the largest contiguous marine protected area at that time, doubles in size thanks to efforts by the New England Aquarium, Conservation International, and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
A temporary Shark and Ray Touch Tank exhibit generates excitement among visitors and paves the way for a permanent exhibit to be installed in the Aquarium’s West Wing.
The Aquarium launches the live blue™ concept and a redesigned website, making use of new technologies to reach a broader audience of about 1.8 million viewers annually.
2009: The Aquarium marks its 40th anniversary.
The New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center opens. The open-air exhibit gives visitors an unforgettable look at Northern fur seals and stunning views of Boston Harbor, as well as presents a well-rounded vision of the Aquarium’s global conservation efforts.
The Aquarium co-sponsors a major symposium on climate change’s effects on oceans and coastlines with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The Community Nights series launches with culturally sensitive translated materials to welcome new families to the Aquarium.
The Right Whale Research Team celebrates the birth of 39 right whales in the calving grounds off the Southeastern coast of the U.S. The Marine Animal Rescue Team rescues 83 cold-stunned sea turtles.
2010: Aquarium President Bud Ris makes a special plea for ocean conservation at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Aquarium researchers collaborate with Roger Williams University to successfully rear queen triggerfish from eggs harvested from the Giant Ocean Tank, a first for any aquarium. The findings are the first steps toward sustainable ornamental fish trade.
A new education initiative called Sea Turtle introduces teens to marine biology and conservation issues during a semester-long scuba certification program.
Planning begins for renovations to the Giant Ocean Tank to transform the visitor experience. An off-site husbandry facility is secured to accommodate the needs of the growing Marine Animal Rescue Team.
The Aquarium’s principal founder, David B. Stone, passes away.
2011: The Aquarium opens The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank, an exhibit that features sharks and rays in a mangrove-themed tank surrounded by shallow edges and viewing windows, allowing visitors to experience a close encounter with these animals.
Two rescued California sea lion pups, Zoe and Sierra, join the Aquarium’s colony of Northern fur seals in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.
The upgrade of the Aquarium’s laboratory facilities, including the first fully equipped animal stress lab in the U.S., gets underway.
2012: The Aquarium receives a $5.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for leading a nationwide educational program on climate change. Construction commences on renovation of the Giant Ocean Tank and installation of the Blue Planet Action Center. Mission Blue Campaign concludes with $43.0 million achieved.
2013: The New Aquarium Experience featuring a fully renovated Giant Ocean Tank and a new Blue Planet Action Center opens July 1, with record breaking attendance for the remainder of the year. The population of endangered North Atlantic right whales is counted at approximately 500 animals, demonstrating the success of various Aquarium initiatives to protect the animal from extinction.
2014: The Aquarium completes a planned leadership transition, welcoming new CEO and President Dr. Nigella Hillgarth and CFO/COO P. Eric Krauss. In a major victory for North Atlantic right whale conservation, regulations recommended by Aquarium researchers that reduce the speed of boats in shipping lanes to prevent collisions with right whales are made permanent. The Aquarium expands the live blue™ Service Initiative, an innovative program designed to bring together volunteers to work with the Aquarium and partner conservation organizations on projects that positively impact the environment.
2015: The Aquarium’s Turtle Rescue Team program launches following an historic season in which the Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy, in partnership with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, rescued and rehabilitated a record 733 cold-stunned sea turtles.
2016: The New England Aquarium launches the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, a groundbreaking initiative designed to expand the Aquarium’s cutting-edge applied marine research and data-driven conservation solutions.
A History of Boston Aquariums
Boston has had four aquariums over the past 150 years: the Boston Aquarial Gardens (1859), the Boston Aquarial Gardens and Zoological Gardens (1861), the South Boston Aquarium (1912), and the present-day New England Aquarium (1969).
The Forgotten Aquariums of Boston
By Jerry Ryan
Download this PDF book for a full, illustrated history of the aquariums summarized on this page. The book covers Boston aquarial history from 1859 and features artist’s renderings, diagrams, playbills and newspaper advertisements.
The path to opening the New England Aquarium, a private non-profit aquarium, in 1969 in Boston was a long and circuitous one, and the idea of what an aquarium should be has evolved over the years.
The Boston Aquarial Gardens (1859 – 1860)
Perhaps due to its turbulent history, the significance of the first aquarium in Boston, the Boston Aquarial Gardens, has been overlooked. It can however lay claim to being the first public aquarium in the world that was exclusively dedicated to the exhibition of marine life — even though this period was short-lived.
The Boston Aquarial Gardens and Zoological Gardens (1860 – 1863)
After eighteen months in existence, the Boston Aquarial Gardens were re-baptized the Boston Aquarial and Zoological Gardens, and moved to Central Court, a street off Washington Street.
The South Boston Aquarium (1912 – 1954)
Boston was without a true aquarium for nearly fifty years after the closing of the Boston Aquarial Gardens and Zoological Gardens and it was not until 1912 that the City of Boston undertook the construction of a new aquarium.
The New England Aquarium (1969 – present)
The demise of the South Boston Aquarium left a void in Boston. Through the South Boston Aquarium, generations of Bostonians had learned to appreciate the wonders of marine life. The seed had been sown for something larger and more ambitious.
The failures of both the Boston Aquarial Gardens and the South Boston Aquarium were instructive. The first was a purely mercantile venture that measured its success by its profits. The second was a civic institution with very limited goals, severe budget restrictions, and political pressures. Even prior to the closing of the South Boston Aquarium, a replacement was envisaged as a private, non-profit organization that would incorporate the best elements of the previous aquariums, while avoiding their pitfalls.
At first, a small, modern aquarium was projected as part of the Museum of Science and preliminary studies were undertaken in this direction. In 1957, however, a group of local businesspeople formed what the New England Aquarium Corporation with the intent of founding an aquarium that would be independent. The directors of the new organization chose the then-rundown Boston waterfront as the site for their project.
The New England Aquarium was an immediate success, serving as a model for similar ventures the world over; it also helped to resurrect the Boston waterfront, changing a neglected part of the city into a civic treasure.
How We Make a Difference
At the New England Aquarium, we are committed to engaging and educating the public through our exhibits in Boston—but also in taking an active role in the world. Today, we see many threats facing the oceans—including overfishing, climate change, pollution and habitat loss. Our commitment is to build awareness and find innovative solutions through our marine conservation and research. Some of our signature programs include:
Discovering the Blue Planet: Creating the Next Generation of Ocean Protectors
Aquarium visitors, including thousands of schoolchildren, delight in seeing marine animals in beautiful and interesting habitats. More than ever, we are working to expand this sense of wonder to a level of interest that can last a lifetime. Our goal is to turn visitors into explorers, and explorers into stewards of the oceans.
Today, our more than 1.3 million annual visitors include over 100,000 schoolchildren, as well as 30,000 New England students who are served by outreach programs and thousands more reached through our Teen Internship program, Harbor Discoveries Camp and Teacher Resource Center. Going forward, our outreach efforts will also focus on adult learners and the growing population of new immigrants to the city.
Protecting Endangered Species and Habitats: North Atlantic Right Whales
Fewer than 500 critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are believed to remain alive today, making this one of the most endangered of all large whales. Once heavily hunted by whalers for their oil, right whales now suffer from fatal ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements. Approximately half of right whale deaths can be attributed to human actions.
In 2003, the Aquarium, in cooperation with the Canadian government and several conservation organizations, spearheaded an particularly important conservation effort. The shipping lanes that run through the Bay of Fundy, a right whale breeding ground, were shifted by approximately 4 nautical miles. This small change has reduced the probability of whale-ship collisions by 80 percent.
The Aquarium’s right whale team—the longest running marine mammal research project in the U.S.—also observes, counts and collects data on right whales and maintains a photographic record of every known North Atlantic right whale. Our team continues to forge government, shipping and fishing industry partnerships to help save these critically endangered whales.
Creating the Largest Marine Protected Area in the World: Phoenix Islands
The Aquarium was central to one of the most important global conservation efforts in the last several years: the creation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). With eight coral atolls and two submerged reef systems, this is now the largest marine protected area in the world. At 158,453 square miles, this area includes some of the world’s most pristine and primal ocean.
Aquarium Vice President for Global Marine Programs Greg Stone was at the center of negotiations, acting as scientist and conservationist, diplomat and fundraiser. The Aquarium is committed to working with key partners Conservation International, National Geographic and the government of Kiribati, the nation of which the Phoenix Islands are a part.
Changing How Fish is Bought and Sold: Sustainable Seafood Programs
Today, many species have been fished to near extinction and some seafood is caught or produced in ways that harm the environment. Through our Sustainable Seafood Programs the Aquarium’s conservation department is working to help maintain healthy fish populations while supporting the fishing industry.
The Aquarium works directly with seafood buyers and sellers (such as Stop & Shop parent company Ahold USA and Gorton’s) to help them make environmentally responsible seafood choices for their stores. We also educate consumers on which fish provide the best seafood choices and sponsor events, such as the Celebrate Seafood Dinner Series, to highlight sustainable seafood.
Protecting New England’s Resources: Pioneering Research on Lobster Shell Disease
Over the past decade, fisherman and scientists have noticed an increase in the prevalence and severity of lobster shell disease, when bacteria eat away at their shells. In 1999, scientists became alarmed when a 30 percent increase in the disease was noted among Rhode Island lobsters. Today, Michael Tlusty, the Aquarium’s director of research, is focusing his work on the potential causes of the diseases, such as whether the result of rising water temperatures or a change in lobster diet is the likely cause.
Conserving Resources with Unconventional Methods: Amazon Rainforest
In a region called Barcelos in Brazil, people’s livelihoods depend on selling the cardinal tetra, an ornamental fish, much prized by collectors and hobbyists. At least 20 million are harvested each year and their sale accounts for two-thirds of the local economy.
Scott Dowd, a senior aquarist at the Aquarium, has spearheaded Project Piaba (piaba is the local name for the ornamental fish). The idea is to keep these fisheries in business and prevent workers from having to work in more ecologically destructive jobs such as timber harvesting. By teaching environment-friendly and sustainable ways to catch and sell the fish, the scientists are making huge strides against poverty and the exploitation of natural resources.
Marine Animal Rescue Program
The New England Aquarium has treated and released hundreds of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles as well as many green and loggerhead sea turtles. These numbers are especially significant since the Kemp’s ridley is the most endangered sea turtle in the world.