Endangered species. You’ve heard the term, but what does it mean? Around the world, more than 40,000 species are designated “endangered” meaning they’re at risk of extinction.

The New England Aquarium and our Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life are dedicated to keeping the ocean healthy and helping endangered species not just survive, but thrive.

From working with the fishing industry and policymakers to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales to caring for hundreds of endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles cold-stunned on Cape Cod every year or protecting African penguins through a Species Survival Plan, we’re working hard to protect the most vulnerable species on our blue planet.

What makes an animal endangered?

IUCN Endangered Species Chart

An endangered species is a species that “faces a high risk of extinction in the near future,” according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S.-specific law to protect endangered species in the United States, a species is considered endangered if they “are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.” In 2018, more than 40,000 species were listed as endangered (or critically endangered) on the IUCN Red List.

Endangered Species at the Aquarium

It might surprise you to know that you can visit endangered species every day at the New England Aquarium! Meet just a few of our ambassador animals below.

Myrtle the green sea turtle

Green Sea Turtles
(Chelonia mydas)

Myrtle, the 550-pound green sea turtle and the undisputed queen of the Giant Ocean Tank, is our most well-known ambassador animal. Green sea turtles are threatened by accidental bycatch in fishing gear, habitat loss, water pollution, and the collection of turtles and their eggs for human consumption.

You can visit her in the Giant Ocean Tank. 

African Penguins

African penguins
(Spheniscus demersus)

African penguins are in danger of extinction. The species has seen a population reduction of about 90% since the beginning of the 20th century, and population trends  are continuing to decline. Major reasons include depletion of their food from overfishing, climate change, and pollution from incidences such as oil spills. Most African penguins nest on islands, where they should be safe from predators, but cats, mongooses, and other introduced predators are now present on many of these islands.

You can visit them in the Penguin Exhibit! 

Helping the Penguin Populations: The Aquarium is part of a Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The mission of such a plan is to oversee the population management of select species to enhance conservation of this species in the wild. By breeding specific pairs, we will ensure that we have a healthy and genetically diverse population in zoos and aquariums across the country for years to come!
Carolina the Loggerhead

Loggerhead Sea Turtles
(Caretta caretta)

The Aquarium is home to two rescued loggerheads, named Carolina and Retread. You will recognize them by the brownish red coloring on the top of their head and shell. Carolina weighs 152 pounds, and Retread weighs 196 pounds.  Globally, they are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, but there are populations of endangered loggerheads. They face major threats such as accidental bycatch in fishing gear, boat activities such as dredging the ocean floor, and human intrusion on their nesting beaches.

You can see them in the Giant Ocean Tank. 

asian arowana

Asian Arowana
(Scleropages formosus)

The Asian Arowana is a freshwater fish distributed geographically across Southeast Asia. It’s endangered. Habitat degradation throughout the species range caused by a variety of human activities is the species’ main threat, though it was once prized strongly for the private aquarium trade.

You can see them in the Ancient Fishes Exhibit.

Banggai Cardinalfish
(Pterapogon kauderni)

The Banggai cardinalfish is a small, endangered tropical cardinalfish in the family Apogonidae. It is the only member of its genus. It’s threatened by overexploitation, pollution from agricultural and forestry sectors, and threats from invasive species.

You can see them in the Living Corals Exhibit. 

Beyond Central Wharf

Aquarium scientists, researchers, and fellows are protecting endangered species across the globe. 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. The Aquarium’s Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life 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.

Kemp's ridley turtle swims in rehab

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles
(Lepidochelys kempii)

Kemp’s ridley turtles are the smallest marine turtle in the world and the most endangered. Every year, hundreds of sea turtles, mostly young Kemp’s ridleys, strand on Cape Cod late each autumn. The cold-stunned phenomenon happens every fall when the water in Cape Cod Bay cools down. Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck, become sick and hypothermic, and wash up on Cape Cod beaches. Our Marine Animal Rescue Team works diligently to treat the turtles until they are healthy enough to be released back into the ocean.

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA permit 20556-01

North Atlantic Right Whale
(Eubalaena glacialis)

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the rarest whale species in the world. With fewer than 425 individual whales remaining, our researchers are working tirelessly to study and protect this critically endangered species.
Established in 1980, our program is one of the longest-running and most comprehensive whale research and conservation initiatives in the world. We are a leading institution in developing innovative, science-based approaches to conserving the North Atlantic right whale. Our research has been integral to informing national and international efforts to protect these elusive giants.

These are just a handful of the endangered and vulnerable species the Aquarium is dedicated to protecting. The Anderson Cabot Center’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) has supported researchers gathering key data on threatened and endangered animals, aided grassroots leaders in engaging and educating communities through local conservation projects, and supported efforts to offer long-term protection for marine species and habitats.

Conservation Context

In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law. The act protects species that are at risk of extinction and calls for the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend. Its purpose is simple: Prevent the extinction and foster the recovery of the nation’s most at-risk plants and animals. And it works. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Species Act has been more than 99% successful at preventing extinction. Scientists estimate at least 227 species would have gone extinct since 1973 if not for the Endangered Species Act. The Act currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and U.S. territories, and many are successfully recovering.

Right Whale Photos: Right whale Catalog #2145 and calf in 2014.
Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission under NOAA permit #15488.

Banner Image: Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
under NOAA permit #20556-01