Our Staff’s Top Moments of 2023

We asked the New England Aquarium team to share some of the work they're most proud of from 2023.

By New England Aquarium on Friday, January 12, 2024

See caption below
Poa, our new southern rockhopper chick, hatched in June, 2023 Poa is one of two penguins hatched at the Aquarium during 2023—the first new penguin chicks since 2019

From welcoming new animals into our care to engaging visitors to advocate for the ocean and conducting impactful research, 2023 was a busy year at the Aquarium. As the new year is just getting started, we asked our staff to take a quick look back and tell us about some of the work they’re most proud of. Here’s a bit of what they shared below:

Cirri the nurse shark swimming
Cirri the nurse shark in the Giant Ocean Tank Getting Cirri prepared for living in the Giant Ocean Tank was a collaborative effort across different Animal Care teams

Animal Care

“My team is proud to have acclimated our two new California sea lions, Gio and Farley, into their new home at the Aquarium—and of the months of work it took to make it happen!”

— Patty Leonard, Assistant Curator, Pinnipeds

“We’re excited to have introduced our new nurse shark, Cirri, to the Giant Ocean Tank—the first nurse shark in our care since 2012! And we’re proud of the collaboration behind the scenes leading up to getting here.”

— Lindsay Phenix, Senior Aquarist

“The team at our Quincy Animal Care Center worked on training Cirri, getting her acclimated to other animals, and making sure she was healthy and ready for her big move to the Giant Ocean Tank.”

— Kristen Ulrich, Senior Aquarist, Quincy

“The Penguins team successfully welcomed two new penguin chicks to our penguin colonies—the first since 2019. Our African penguin chick, Bray, and our southern rockhopper chick, Poa, are both out on exhibit and doing well!”

— Amanda Barr, Senior Penguin Trainer

People looking at a wall of postcards at the Aquarium
Visitors learned about protecting right whales during World Whale Day Postcards signed in support of right whale protections were delivered to legislators in Washington, D.C.

Conservation Learning & Conservation Policy

“As part of Aquarium advocacy activities around World Whale Day in February, we collected 686 postcards from visitors to send to their legislators in support of right whale protections and got 522 signatures of support online.”

— Taylor Engelsman, Associate Director, Content & Evaluation

“We launched our Conservation Education Volunteer position! We’ve been able to bring on 30 new volunteers and counting so far, and we’re excited to add even more to the team in 2024.”

— Katie O’Brien, Senior Educator

“For Conservation Policy, both the advocacy activities on World Whale Day—collecting signatures in support of right whale protections—and our work to support Blue Economy legislation in Massachusetts were milestones for the year.”

—  Alissa Weinman, Government Relations Manager

Visitor Experience

“The Simons Theatre launched three great new films this year, and we hosted a number of really exciting special events!”

— Mark Henderson, Theatre & Events Production Manager

“We’re proud of our expanded volunteer program—with over 300 volunteers active across 25 departments.”

— Daniel Denaro, Associate Manager of Visitor Experience

Three MCAF fellows sharing their shark conservation work at a table
Marine Conservation Action Fund Fellows gathered in Boston for the 2023 Fellows Summit Fellows shared their work with visitors at the Aquarium, among other activities for the week

Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life

“2023 was an exciting year for the Marine Conservation Action Fund. Our team is most proud of the MCAF Fellows Summit, which was a wonderful week full of learning exchange, building relationships, deepening connections, invigorating workshops, and fun activities!”

—  Emily Duwan, Manager, MCAF

“The aerial survey team is proud of flying 300+ hours, identifying 110 right whales, and helping to create or extend six Dynamic Management Areas with our right whale sightings in 2023 (Also: zero naps were taken, and only two jackets were lost out of the plane!)”

—  Orla O’Brien, Associate Scientist

“As a group, the Wildlife and Ocean Health team worked on ten different species. We received over 250 samples from individual animals, including 37 beaked whale blow samples from 11 unique individuals—the first time these samples were ever collected and analyzed. We are also very proud about making progress on collaborations with Animal Care!”

—  Danielle Dillon, Associate Scientist/Lab Manager

“In 2023, BalanceBlue Lab helped support the continued growth of ten ocean-focused startups through the BlueSwell incubator program, a partnership between SeaAhead and the New England Aquarium. After “graduating” from the incubator, the founders of BlueSwell Cohort III raised over $1 million in funding and created five new jobs! With our partners at SeaAhead, we also launched the first in a series of education modules as part of our UpSwell program, which is focused on educating investors on the scientific, environmental, and market aspects of various aspects of the blue economy.”

—  Matt Thompson, Manager of Aquaculture Programs

man leaning over side of a boat, reaching towards a shark
Dr. Jeff Kneebone of the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life prepares to release a female common thresher that was tagged with a pop-up satellite archival tag in southern New England

“Here’s FSET’s 2023 in numbers!”

  • 7 publications
  • 332 tags deployed
  • 103 days in the field
  • 2,337 person-hours on the water
  • 17 species tagged
  • Studied: 9 species of sharks, 3 species of sea turtles, and 5 bony fishes!

—  Emily Jones, Associate Scientist I

“In 2023, we spent another spring season in Cape Cod Bay training and collecting blow samples via drone for ongoing microbiome work in large whales in collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, conducting 38 flights over whales in seven days. In August 2023, both of our Aquarium right whale team pilots were added to our NOAA Protected Species permit.”

—  Monica Zani, Associate Scientist I

Right Whale Catalog stats for the year:

  • 18 new whales added to the catalog (all recent calves)
  • 799 whales total in the catalog (living and deceased)
  • ~3773 sightings matched
  • ~4239 sightings confirmed
  • ~3880 sightings processed
  • ~54,000 photos added to the catalog (no way to calculate the hundreds of thousands of photos received!)”

— Amy Warren, Assistant Research Scientist II


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