At the New England Aquarium, our mission is to protect the blue planet.

As we kick off 2019, here are a few highlights from last year that illustrate how the Aquarium continues to be an effective advocate for a vital and vibrant ocean. Thank you to our visitors, members, and donors for your support—just look at what we have accomplished together! 


Protecting Ocean Ecosystems and Animals

MA Attorney General’s Press Conference at the Aquarium

At a Dec. 20 press conference, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey stood at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank to announce attorneys general along the Eastern Seaboard would file suit against the Trump administration to prevent oil and gas drilling in the U.S. Atlantic. This came after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave approval in late November to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to launch a series of seismic surveys by private companies along the Atlantic Coast. Dr. John Mandelman, Vice President and Chief Scientist at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, introduced Attorney General Healey and detailed how sonic blasts from such testing can be lethal to marine life. The Attorney General reached out to the Aquarium after we joined with other public aquariums in early December to voice opposition to seismic testing.

sea star deep in marine national monument
A sea star found deep in the marine national monument
Protecting Our Monument

The Bangor Daily News ran a version of Aquarium President and CEO Vikki Spruill’s op-ed advocating for the protection of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. It was originally published in September in The Patriot Ledger and other GateHouse Media newspapers and online. The public was then invited to support protections for the monument by visiting the Anderson Cabot Center website and signing a petition. The Aquarium’s petition exceeded expectations by drawing more than 700 signatures within days. 

rescuer examines turtle patient
A New England Aquarium rescuer examines a rescued cold-stunned sea turtle.
Sea Turtle Rescue

The New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Team is in the midst of its second-busiest cold stranding season on record, as recently documented in The Guardian. From October through the end of 2018, the Aquarium’s marine animal hospital admitted more than 430 endangered and threatened sea turtles suffering from hypothermia and other medical issues after being rescued from Cape Cod beaches. Most are Kemp’s ridley turtles, the most endangered sea turtle species in the world. In 2014, 733 sea turtles came through our hospital doors. We’re dedicated to doing everything we can to help protect this vulnerable species.


Engaging Our Community

Skip the Straw You Don’t Need

The Aquarium is participating in a campaign with the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP), along with more than 20 other aquariums, to reduce single-use plastics and encourage our audiences to do the same. The goals of the campaign are to raise awareness about single-use plastics and alternatives, how both individuals and businesses can reduce their use, and take a pledge for healthier oceans. In addition to signs in our café that remind visitors to skip the straws they don’t need and bring and/or purchase reusable bottles, we’re encouraging our social media community to take a stand against single-use plastics.


For the first time, the Aquarium participated in HUBweek, a weeklong festival highlighting innovative art, science, and technology. The October 8 event connected the public to three “lightning talks” given by Anderson Cabot Center scientists, including one discussing how researchers use technology in their shark research. In another talk titled Right Whale, Right Gear, senior scientist Amy Knowlton shared how collaboration is at the heart of the Center’s work to develop fishing gear that reduces the chances of entangling whales. The third talk shared how the Aquarium-led National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI), now used in 140 institutions across the country, is changing the narrative on climate change to discuss it more productively.

researcher holds shark
A scene from Andy Mann's video of the FSET program
Andy Mann Partnership

This past June, the Aquarium had the pleasure of hosting photographer, director, and cinematographer Andy Mann for a lecture at the Aquarium. Through outreach funding from one of our generous donors, we were able to partner with Andy to feature some of the ongoing work in our Fisheries Science and Emerging Technologies program. We embedded him with our team, and he spent eight days at the Anderson Cabot Center and in the field — with scientists and volunteers catching groundfish aboard the F/V Annie B, studying sand tiger sharks in Quincy Bay, and night fishing for sand bar sharks off the Cape. The result is an engaging film, which focuses on the need to create and support sustainable fisheries.

KultureCity Accessibility

This summer, the Aquarium partnered with KultureCity to make Central Wharf more accessible to people with sensory-processing needs. In addition to providing kits with fidget tools and noise-canceling headphones upon request, staff members received training designed to make the Aquarium a more welcoming place for all to visit. Building on those efforts, the Aquarium now hosts a series of sensory-inclusive events designed specifically for those with sensory-processing needs. The events use soft lighting, limit the use of microphones, and make additional modifications to the building to ensure a comfortable environment for all in attendance to feel welcome and supported.

aluminum water bottles
Walking the Talk

After months of planning, the Aquarium removed all single-use plastic water bottles from campus and now sells Open Water in aluminum cans. Guess what? There has not been a drop in water sales! Being mindful of those with special needs, we continue to offer compostable lids and straws upon request.

Advancing Ocean Research

Endangered Species Research

In an effort to learn more about the endangered North Atlantic right whale population that totals about 411, Dr. Elizabeth Burgess, a scientist at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, looked toward the whale blow. Elizabeth and her colleagues, including our own Drs. Rosalind Rolland and Scott Kraus, published a paper on a North Atlantic right whale blow hormone study in Scientific Reports. The paper details the first time ever that researchers have successfully quantified hormone levels in breath from large whales at sea, a difficult feat because these “respiratory” samples can often be contaminated or diluted by seawater. The work is significant because breath samples contain various biological markers, such as hormone levels, that scientists can use to study the health of whales. This research garnered significant attention from media outlets, including The Atlantic, National Geographic, CBC News, and The Cape Cod Times.

horribly entangled right whale
A right whale entangled in ropes and buoys
Right Whale Entanglement Simulator

A paper detailing computer models that allow researchers to simulate how whales become entangled in fishing gear was published in Marine Mammal Science and received widespread media coverage, including in The New York Times. The paper, co-authored by Dr. Tim Werner and his team at the Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center, details video simulations of entanglements to better understand how North Atlantic right whales swim in the ocean, confront vertical fishing lines, and wrap themselves unwittingly in the lines. If scientists understand how whales are getting entangled, they can help prevent this often-deadly event. The survival of the species is in jeopardy with only an estimated 411 right whales in the North Atlantic and, so far, only one confirmed new birth this season.

ROV in the Field

Autodesk recently donated a Teledyne Marine vLBV300 SeaBotix ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to the Aquarium to be used for research and education purposes. A number of Aquarium employees have been trained in the use of the ROV, and it has already been deployed in the field twice. Most recently, Barbara Bailey, Curator of Husbandry and Sustainability; Keith Ellenbogen, photographer; and Ben Haskell, Deputy Director of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, deployed the ROV in support of a project to photo-document life in the sanctuary on behalf of NOAA Fisheries.


As proud as we are of our accomplishments in 2018, we look forward to an exciting year to come on Central Wharf.

In April 2019, we will debut a reimagining of the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef exhibit featuring a 9,000-gallon, floor-to-ceiling concave tank that accentuates the biological richness of this habitat.

Appreciated for their beauty and spectacular biodiversity, coral reefs are also critical components to ocean health. They are nurseries to thousands of fish species, many of which could not reproduce without these unique habitats. Earth’s coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including more than 4,000 species of fishes, 800 kinds of hard corals, and hundreds of other types of marine life. Coral reefs found in the Indo-Pacific are more diverse and complex than anywhere else in the world.

rendering of IndoPacific exhibit

We can’t wait to share this vibrant new exhibit with our visitors!