More than 50 years ago, the New England Aquarium opened its doors to the public. Since then, we’ve been working to inspire people to love the ocean and take action to protect it.
On June 20, 1969, the New England Aquarium we know today opened its doors to the public. This timeline highlights many of the Aquarium’s changing exhibits, expeditions, and innovations—over 50 years of innovative education and programming, as well as a physical space that has evolved to welcome millions of visitors each year.
1969: On June 20, the New England Aquarium opens its doors to the public as one of the world’s first modern aquariums, with more than 12,000 visitors on the first day. By year-end, 425,000 visitors see our exhibits.
1970: Myrtle, the green sea turtle, takes up residence in the Giant Ocean Tank, where she can still be seen today.
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, named for the Aquarium’s visionary founder.
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.
1980: A New England Aquarium research team unexpectedly discovers 25 North 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.
1985: The Marine Animal Health Care Center opens.
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.
1996: In September, the Aquarium breaks ground for its new West Wing.
1999: The Aquarium begins the Marine Conservation Action Fund to support entrepreneurial conservation work from ocean leaders in low- and middle-income countries around the globe.
2001: The Matthew and Marcia Simons 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.
2004: The Aquarium’s right whale research project turns 25, making it one of the longest-running whale studies in the world.
2006: The Aquarium earns full accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums; the committee commends the ongoing commitment to marine conservation.
2009: The Aquarium marks its 40th anniversary.
2010: 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.
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.
2012: The Aquarium receives a $5.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for leading a nationwide educational program on climate change.
2015: The Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Team program launches following a 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.
2020: As the Covid-19 pandemic forces the Aquarium to close its doors to the public, our staff continues to care for our animals on-site. Through our social media and virtual visits, we continue to inspire and engage our audience until we safely reopen four months later.
2022: The Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund funds its 200th project, awarded to Daniela Font, who will be working to understand and develop fisheries management practices in Argentina to prevent accidental bycatch of sea turtles.
2023: For the first time in its history, the Aquarium sponsors and files legislation alongside Massachusetts lawmakers in support of growing a responsible blue economy.