Have you ever wondered what the New England Aquarium looks like before and after closing time?

Once the lights are turned down, the ambiance is quite serene.

Why turn the lights off? Aside from saving electricity, the darkness mimics naturally occurring hours of nighttime.

The Olympic Coast Sanctuary Exhibit on Level 3 at night.
The Olympic Coast Sanctuary Exhibit on Level 3 at night.

This is important because it affects something known as the circadian rhythm, the process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in many beings (including humans). The cycle repeats about every 24 hours and while the process is mostly internal, it can be influenced by outside factors such as light and darkness. Various forms of sea life regulate their circadian rhythms differently.

Inside the New England Aquarium at night

Some of the animals throughout the building keep moving, even in the dark. Certain species of fish in the Giant Ocean Tank are active in the wee hours, diligently swimming against the current of the tank in order to efficiently push water over their gills. There are a few species, however, that have unique ways of resting. Parrotfishes like the ones found in the Giant Ocean Tank, for example, secrete a mucous that forms a protective cocoon around their bodies during the night.

In the early hours of the morning, the exhibits light up in a variety of ways. The Giant Ocean Tank gradually transitions from dim to bright while some of the surrounding exhibits are on a timer, giving way to morning much more quickly. Even once the lights start shining at full strength, animals such as the yellow-spotted river turtle in our Amazon exhibit (Level 3) can be seen resting.

Yellow-spotted river turtle in the Amazon exhibit (Level 3).
Yellow-spotted river turtle in the Amazon exhibit on Level 3.

Ruddy, one of our two giant Pacific octopuses in the Olympic Coast Sanctuary exhibit on Level 3, likes to snooze in the top right corner of her tank.

Ruddy sleeps in her tank

Other animals tend to start the day off with a splash! Penguins are very sensitive to light, so they’re up and active early in the morning. Sprinklers turn on in the African penguin exhibit (Level 1), replicating natural water spray they would experience in the wild, and the black-and-white birds hop around before kicking off the morning with a swim around their exhibit.

African penguins

All beings at the New England Aquarium experience the natural cycles of light and darkness, and everybody reacts in their own, individual way.

Edge of the Sea touch tank on Level 3 before the lights come on.
Edge of the Sea touch tank on Level 3 before the lights come on.

See more of the Aquarium at night