New England Aquarium

New England Aquarium

New England Aquarium plaza
Date opened June 20, 1969
Location Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Coordinates 42°21′33″N 71°2′58″W / 42.35917°N 71.04944°W / 42.35917; -71.04944Coordinates: 42°21′33″N 71°2′58″W / 42.35917°N 71.04944°W / 42.35917; -71.04944
Land area 75,000 square feet (7,000 m2)
Number of animals 20,000[1]
Number of species 600[1]
Volume of largest tank 200,000 US gallons (760,000 l; 170,000 imp gal)[2]
Annual visitors 1.3 million[3]
Memberships AZA,[4] AAM[5]
Public transit access

Aquarium station


The New England Aquarium is an aquarium located in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to the main aquarium building, attractions at the New England Aquarium include the Simons IMAX Theatre and the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, which operates from April through November.[6] The aquarium has more than 22,000 members[7] and hosts more than 1.3 million visitors each year.


New England Aquarium, viewed from the harbor

Planning for the aquarium began in 1962, with the principal designer being Peter Chermayeff of Cambridge Seven Associates. The building was opened to the public in 1969.[8][9] The Giant Ocean Tank opened in 1970, and at the time was the largest circular ocean tank in the world.[10]

In 1974, a multi-storied barge, Discovery, was moored next to the Aquarium. It served as a floating mammal pavilion for the aquarium as the lack of land limited the aquarium's ability for expansion. This 1,000-seat observer stadium overlooked a 116,000-US-gallon (440,000 l; 97,000 imp gal) pool. It hosted dolphins until they were transferred in the mid-1990s, and sea lions, until the ship's decommissioning. Discovery was officially retired in the mid-2000s due to its old age and high cost of maintenance.[11]

In 2013, the Giant Ocean Tank was given a major facelift, with the addition of a replica of a Caribbean coral reef.

The new West Wing was completed in 1998 by Schwartz/Silver Architects. The glass and steel addition includes the harbor seal exhibit on the public plaza, ticketing booth, changing exhibit galleries, gift shop, cafe, and lobby.[12]

In 1999 the aquarium opened a new rehabilitation center for harbor porpoises in Duxbury, Massachusetts. The facility includes a 29,000-US-gallon (110,000 l; 24,000 imp gal) rehabilitation tank that can house three porpoises at a time.[13]

The 428-seat[14] Matthew and Marcia Simons IMAX Theatre opened in 2001 in a separate building designed by E. Verner Johnson and Associates. The six-story high screen is 85 feet (26 m) wide by 65 feet (20 m) high,[15] and its projector can show both 2D and 3D movies.[13][16]

In 2003 the aquarium opened "Amazing Jellies", a $1.9 million, twelve-tank jellyfish exhibit emphasizing that jellyfish are survivors and are actually likely to increase with climate change.

In 2006, the aquarium earned full accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

In 2009, the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center opened. This open-air exhibit lets visitors view the aquarium's Northern fur seals.[13]

In 2010, the Animal Care Center opened. This 23,000-square-foot (2,100 m2) off-site facility in Quincy, Massachusetts, includes holding space for animals during exhibit renovations, quarantine space for new arrivals, and is home to the marine animal rescue and rehabilitation center.[17]

In 2013, the Aquarium reopened the Giant Ocean Tank after a ten-month renovation. The new Giant Ocean Tank features a new reef designed to represent a pre-Columbian Caribbean reef, new lighting with the reflective dome, and better views with the new viewing windows along the tank. Additionally, the number of fish in the tank has increased from 800 to 2,000 and number of species has increased from 90 to 140.[18]

Leadership and staff

The current CEO of the aquarium is Nigella Hillgarth, an Oxford-educated evolutionary biologist.[19]


Japanese sea nettle

Located in the central open atrium of the main building, the principal feature of the Aquarium is the Giant Ocean Tank, a cylindrical 200,000-US-gallon (760,000 l) tank simulating a Caribbean coral reef. This tank houses bonnethead sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, barracuda, and many smaller reef-living fish. Open at the top, the concrete tank is surrounded by a walkway that spirals down, allowing visitors access to 52 windows that offer views of the reef from every angle and level.[20]

At the bottom, the tank stands in a large, square 150,000-US-gallon (570,000 l) penguin exhibit, hosting African penguins, Northern and Southern rockhopper penguins and little penguins. The penguin exhibit can be seen from the spiral walkway of the central tank or from elevated viewing areas that completely surround the perimeter. The penguins live on several artificial rock islands in the exhibit.[21] Surrounding the atrium are four levels of smaller exhibits including:

In front of the Aquarium is a harbor seal exhibit, which can be seen for free without entering the building.[28] Five Northern fur seals and two California sea lions are on exhibit behind the Aquarium in the open-air New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center on the harborside terrace, which opened in 2009 with views of Boston Harbor.[29] All the New England Aquarium's marine mammals participate in daily training sessions that are open for public viewing and participation.

The "Amazing Jellies" exhibit in the West Wing features Aurelia aurita, sea nettles, Cassiopea, Palauan Lagoon jellies and Phyllorhiza punctata, all from diverse habitats around the world.[30] In 2011, the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank opened in the West Wing. At 25,000 US gallons (95,000 l), it is the largest on the east coast. Some of the species in the exhibit include cownose rays, yellow rays and guitarfish. It is a permanent exhibit that will allow for more interaction between the animals and the visitors.[31]

Special exhibits

An African penguin tests the water in the penguin exhibit

Penguin Power

Focusing on the aquarium's penguins in 2010, this theme helped show off the natural powers of penguins. Visitors learned how penguins survive in the wild and how to protect them.[32]

Move It! Marine Mammals in Motion

Coinciding with the opening of the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center in 2009, Marine Mammals In Motion highlighted the athleticism of the Aquarium's Northern fur seals and Atlantic harbor seals. A program pathway encouraged kids to be active with calf stretches, dancing, spinning and jumping. The Marine Mammal Center also draws connections between marine mammals and humans and points out the challenges marine mammals face in our oceans today.[29]

Turtles Uncovered

In this 2008 exhibit, visitors learned that turtles and tortoises have lived on Earth for about 300 million years, long before the dinosaurs were around, but now some turtles are faced with the threat of extinction due to pollution, habitat loss and global climate change.[33]

Ocellate river stingray

Sharks and Rays

A temporary touch tank in 2008, home to southern stingrays, cownose rays, yellow stingrays and coral catsharks,has now become a permanent exhibit, officially named the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank. The clear, shallow water allows visitors to touch and feel the different species, watching them feed in the reconstruction of their natural mangrove and lagoon themed habitat. The tank not only promotes the animals' importance in maintaining the ecosystem, but also the maintenance humans can provide for the environment.

Killer Instincts

This special program in 2007 helped visitors learn about the animals that we fear the most. The special program included an interactive passport program along with live animal presentations and a large-format, high definition shark video. Prehistoric marine reptiles appeared in 3D at the Simons IMAX Theatre in Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure. Featured animals included the sand tiger shark, anaconda, great barracuda, electric eel, lionfish, moray eel, giant Pacific octopus and southern stingray.[13]

Presentations and shows

The aquarium has informative and entertaining live animal presentations every day. These events bring the visitors up close with the animals.

Twice a day Aquarium staff feed the penguins with herring in the Penguin exhibits.

Aquarium staff teach the visitors about the three different species of penguins the aquarium has, including where they live in the wild, and what they eat.

Aquarium divers hand feed the animals in the 200,000-US-gallon (760,000 l; 170,000 imp gal) tank.

At the top of the Tank, visitors learn about the animals (sea turtles, sharks, barracuda, etc.) that live in this huge exhibit. Also explained is how this exhibit's enormous tank was built, and how the staff take care of the animals in the exhibit.

In the front plaza, visitors see how harbor seals interact with their trainers. These seals can "kiss", "wave", and "say hello".

Northern Fur Seals in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center show visitors how they stay healthy and active.

Located at the presentation area on Level 1, this presentation focuses on the aquarium's most interesting animals.

At the Blue Planet Action Center, aquarium staff teach the visitors how they can help protect ocean animals from climate change.


Aquarium viewed from the north

The New England Aquarium is on Central Wharf along Atlantic Avenue in Boston and adjacent to Long Wharf and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Boston Harborwalk goes around the perimeter of the Aquarium. The nearest subway stop is Aquarium Station on the MBTA's Blue Line, but the Aquarium is a short walk from the Haymarket Station on the Orange and the Green Lines. The Aquarium is within walking distance of the North End, Government Center, and the Financial District.


The aquarium staff often participates in rescue efforts for stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.[34][35]

Whale watch

Whale sightings during one of the cruises

During the months of April to October, the aquarium hosts a whale watch cruise with partners at Boston Harbor Cruises.[36] Watchers interact with naturalists and educators. The ship whisks the watchers to a location 30 miles (48 km) east of Boston called the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This rich feeding ground is home to a wide diversity of large whales, such as humpback whales, finback whales, minke whales, pilot whales, and the endangered right whales. Also, in some cases, a white-sided dolphin might be seen. Most trips last around 3 to 4 hours.[37]

If the unusual circumstance happens that no whales are sighted, then a voucher is given to the watchers to return for another trip.

Cancelled expansions

The Aquarium in 1985 (thirteen years before the addition of the West Wing)

In 1988 the aquarium announced plans to sell the current land in order to build a bigger aquarium in the Charlestown Navy Yard (Drydock #5).[38][39] The project was to have cost $150 million and was to have taken up 278,300 square feet (25,850 m2) of land. Designs had the drydock to be flooded, and at one exhibit visitors were to have been 19 feet (5.8 m) below ground. If it had been built it would have been the largest aquarium constructed at that time. The proposed aquarium was predicted to have attracted around 2 million visitors each year.[40] However, the proposal to move the aquarium was cancelled in 1991, when neighbors of the proposed site objected to its construction, and when the aquarium appeared unlikely to sell its original Central Wharf site for a sufficiently high price.

When the site relocation was canceled, the Trustees proposed to expand the current aquarium on both sides in 1992 (East wing expansion and West wing expansion). The East wing project would have been a 79,000–90,000 sq ft (7,300–8,400 m2) expansion costing $43 million, and would include a 1,100,000-US-gallon (4,200,000 l; 920,000 imp gal) Gulf Stream Exhibit.[41][42] Also it included a 20 ft (6.1 m) x 30 ft (9.1 m) window of the new 550,000-US-gallon (2,100,000 l; 460,000 imp gal) Gulf of Maine exhibit.[43]

The project was proposed to be finished in 2004, but was cancelled after 9/11 due to a serious attendance drop because of fear of bombing of crowded areas, the Big Dig project's closing of the Aquarium MBTA station, and the rising cost of the project, up to $125 million. In order to pay back the money they had raised, the aquarium made major budget and staff cuts ($1.4 millions in debt), causing the aquarium to lose its accreditation in 2003.[44] However, the aquarium regained accreditation in 2006, and as of 2014 was back on track financially. If the new facility had been built in 2012, it would have cost about $400 million to build.[7]


Cambridge Seven Associates recently worked with the museum on upgrades to the Giant Ocean Tank, as well as creating other exhibits.[9] As a final part to their five-year $42 million upgrade, which started in 2007, the New England Aquarium renovated its Giant Ocean Tank from Labor Day of 2012 to July 2013. The 200,000-US-gallon (760,000 l; 170,000 imp gal) tank received enlarged viewing windows, a new reef designed to represent the pre-Columbian Caribbean reef, enhanced lighting, and a reflective domed ceiling overhead. In addition, the wooden wall encircling the ocean tank was replaced with a transparent acrylic wall to facilitate better viewing; a new ramp was constructed from the fourth floor elevator to the top of tank; a new education center was located on the top floor; giant screens were added that connect to a diver's helmet camera for onlookers to see; and on the ground floor a new exhibit called the Blue Planet Action Center was constructed to show the aquarium's conservancy efforts.

During the renovation, the Giant Ocean Tank's inhabitants were temporarily relocated to the penguin exhibit. Most of the aquarium's penguins were in turn moved to the Aquarium's Animal Care Center in Quincy. However, the little blue penguins stayed at the aquarium in a temporary exhibit near the New Balance Marine Mammal Center.[45] By June 2013, the animals were returned to their homes, along with 70-80 new species of sharks and fishes, including three five-year-old axolotl triplets named Georgio, Fredrick, and Pasqualay.[7][46]


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