The New England Aquarium opened its doors to the public on June 20, 1969. Located on Central Wharf, it was designed with the intention of providing an underwater experience for visitors as well as a cultural institution that would connect Boston to its waterfront. In its nearly five decades, it has grown to become one of the world’s foremost applied marine research centers in the world. On June 8, 2016, the Aquarium launched the Anderson Cabot Center for Marine Life at the New England Aquarium. It will advocate for science-based solutions to threats to the oceans, building on the Aquarium’s nearly 50-year legacy of protecting our blue planet and ensuring vital and vibrant oceans.
1969: The New England Aquarium Opens
On June 20, 1969, the New England Aquarium opens its doors to the public with more than 12,000 visitors the first day. By year-end, 425,000 visitors see its exhibits.
1971: Edgerton Laboratory Dedicated
The Harold E. Edgerton Laboratory, a center for basic and applied science at the Aquarium, is dedicated, honoring time-lapse photo inventor and Aquarium trustee Harold “Doc” Edgerton.
1977: Aquarium Marine Mammal Stranding Program Begins
With the consent of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Aquarium begins a program of responding to stranded marine mammals in New England.
1980: Aquarium Discovers Right Whales in Bay of Fundy
A New England Aquarium research team unexpectedly discovers 25 North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy. Before the discovery, scientists believed the right whale was nearly extinct. As one of the scientists recalled, “It was like finding a brontosaurus in the backyard.” Later research mapped a right whale migration route from Nova Scotia to Georgia.
1986: Right Whale IDing Methods, Turtle Rescue Program Begins
Aquarium researchers publish methods for identifying individual right whales and report on definitive evidence of migrations from Florida and Georgia to the Gulf of Maine.
Also in 1986, the Aquarium becomes a global leader in rescuing cold-stunned endangered sea turtles. Each November, young sea turtles—most of them critically endangered Kemp’s ridley—are rescued from the beaches of Cape Cod Bay. In an average year, about 90 turtles are rescued by volunteer walkers from the Massachusetts Audubon Society who comb dozens of miles of beach trying to find the sea turtles. In 2014, a record-smashing 733 turtles were treated at the Aquarium’s Quincy Animal Care Center.
Sea turtles—including Kemp’s ridley, green, and loggerhead—come to the veterinarians at the New England Aquarium with extreme hypothermia, severe dehydration, pneumonia, and often shell or bone fractures. Their treatment can last from several months to two years. More than 90 percent of the sea turtles that arrive at the Aquarium alive survive and are released back into the ocean.
1990: Marine Mammal Gear Entanglement Papers Published
Aquarium scientist Scott Kraus publishes two scientific papers that show harbor porpoise, right whales, and other marine mammals are subject to serious levels of entanglement in fishing gear in the Atlantic Ocean. The data also showed that large whales were getting killed in collisions with ships.
1991: Project Piaba Established
Aquarium biologist Scott Dowd co-founded Project Piaba, established to study the aquarium fishery of Brazil’s Rio Negro with the goals of maximizing socioeconomic and environmental benefits from a sustainable fishery. After years of monitoring the fishery, it was observed that the capture and export of fishes for the global home aquarium hobby provided a source of livelihoods for resident fishing communities and an effective driver of environmental stewardship. When communities thrive selling fish for the aquarium trade, local people protect the resource that sustains them.
1994: Research Shows Pingers Reduce Harbor Porpoise Bycatch
Aquarium research by scientist Scott Kraus and colleagues on acoustic deterrents (pingers) showed they can reduce harbor porpoise bycatch by 90 percent in gillnet fisheries. The use of pingers quickly becomes a regulatory requirement in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, spreads in the next few years to the U.S. Pacific Ocean, and is now required in several fisheries in Europe.
1995-1997: Bluefin Tuna Surveyed by Aircraft
Aquarium scientists Molly Lutcavage and Scott Kraus demonstrate that bluefin tuna populations can be surveyed by aircraft.
1999: Marine Conservation Action Fund Founded
The Marine Conservation Action Fund is founded to protect and promote ocean biodiversity through funding of small-scale, time-sensitive, community-based programs. It supports seven to 10 projects per year that have proved effective to solve indigenous problems with wide implications for ocean and marine animal health—from saving river dolphins in Pakistan to creating a marine mammal stranding network in Iran to protecting manta rays in Peru and Sri Lanka.
Since its founding, MCAF has funded more than 120 key projects around the world, administered by conservation leaders who are catalyzing positive change for the ocean. The Aquarium develops enduring relationships with these programs to foster their continued growth.
2002: Ships Rerouted in Bay of Fundy to Reduce Whale Strikes
Based on more than two decades of Aquarium research, the routing of vessel traffic in the Bay of Fundy is changed to reduce the likelihood of vessels striking endangered North Atlantic right whales. The small shift reduces whale-ship interactions by 90 percent.
2004: Aquarium’s Right Whale Research Project Turns 25
The Aquarium’s Right Whale Research Project turns 25, making it one of the longest-running whale studies in the world. The Aquarium’s Right Whale Research Team seeks to prevent the extinction of the species (currently only about 350 North Atlantic right whales exist) by working with scientists, fishermen, government agencies, and shipping companies. The Aquarium has pioneered work using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to track movement patterns of these whales and provide real-time information about their locations to avoid collisions with ships.
2004: Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction Established
Aquarium scientists Tim Werner and Scott Kraus and several fishing organizations and universities establish the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction to support collaborative research and the development of bycatch reduction solutions for endangered species.
2004-2005: Endocrinology Methods Successfully Assess Reproductive Status of Free-Swimming Whales
Aquarium scientist Rosalind Rolland successfully applies endocrinology methods to assessing the reproductive and health status of free-swimming whales for the first time. The right whale team also develops a visual health assessment method that only uses photographs.
2006: World's Largest Marine Protected Area Established
With funding from Conservation International, the Aquarium, led by Greg Stone, collaborates with the country of Kiribati in the South Pacific Ocean to establish one of the largest marine protected areas in the world. The goal of this project is to preserve the rare biodiversity in this pristine area, which has eight coral atolls and two submerged reef systems.
Aquarium scientist Tim Werner and colleagues publish a review of methods to reduce the catch of endangered species in fisheries.
2007: Major Expedition to Celebes Sea
After five years of planning, the Aquarium conducts a major expedition with National Geographic and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to the 10,000-foot-deep Celebes Sea in the Indo-Pacific area. The expedition is notable in that the relatively warm Celebes Sea harbors living fossils, prehistoric animals dating back tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years. The team uses time-delayed video cameras, nets, scuba gear, and a sub-like ROV (remotely operated vehicle) during its hunt for strange creatures and new habitats.
The Aquarium completes a detailed review, entitled Global Change and the Marine Environment, of the science pertaining to the impact of climate change.
The sustainable seafood initiative now includes the development of a new business model for Aquarium partners who buy seafood in quantity—Ahold, Gorton’s, and Darden Restaurants—in order to ensure sustainable stocks of seafood.
Spearheaded by Aquarium scientist Dr. Moira Brown, a team from the Aquarium and the Canadian Whale Institute convinces the Canadian government to designate the Roseway Basin, where right whales congregate, as an area to be avoided by shipping traffic. (Collisions with ships are one of the leading causes of death of right whales.) In addition, Harvard University Press publishes The Urban Whale, edited by Aquarium scientists Scott Kraus and Rosalind Rolland. The book presents current knowledge about the biology and plight of critically endangered right whales.
2008: Phoenix Islands Protected Area Doubles in Size
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the largest contiguous marine protected area at that time, doubles in size thanks to efforts by the Aquarium, Conservation International, and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
The Right Whale Research Team achieves a major policy victory when the federal government enacts a speed limit on commercial shipping traffic in U.S coastal waters when right whales are present.
2009: Climate Change Symposium
The Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution co-sponsor a major symposium on climate change’s effects on oceans and coastlines.
The Right Whale Research Team celebrates the birth of 39 right whales in the calving grounds off the southeastern coast of the U.S.
The Marine Animal Rescue Team rescues 83 cold-stunned sea turtles.
2011: Nation's First Fully-Equipped Marine Animal Stress Lab Established
The upgrade of the Aquarium’s laboratory facilities, including the first fully-equipped marine animal stress lab in the U.S., gets underway.
2012: Leader in National Educational Program on Climate Change
The Aquarium receives a $5.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for leading a nationwide educational program on climate change.
Aquarium scientists Rosalind Rolland, Kathleen Hunt, and Scott Kraus and their colleagues report on a groundbreaking study that shows that ship noise affects the stress levels of large whales.
A team of Aquarium scientists, led by Amy Knowlton, demonstrates that over a 30-year period right whale entanglements in fishing gear continue to increase in both number and severity.
2013: Innovative Mathematical Model Estimates Whale Health
Aquarium scientists and colleagues publish an innovative mathematical model that estimates individual and population health in whales from photographic data.
Aquarium scientist Tim Werner and colleagues publish a global review of bycatch in gillnet fisheries.
2014: Aerial Survey Team Invents Photographic Method for Counting Sea Turtles, Marine Mammals
The Aquarium’s aerial survey team invents and reports on a new photographic method for counting sea turtles and smaller dolphins and porpoises.
The Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy, in partnership with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, rescued and rehabilitated a record 733 cold-stunned sea turtles.
2015: Scientist Edits ICES Journal
Aquarium scientist Tim Werner edits a special edition of the ICES Journal of Marine Science on reducing bycatch in long-line fisheries.
2016: Aquarium Team Completes Four-Year Study of Marine Animals in Leased Wind Energy Areas
The Aquarium aerial survey team completes a four-year study of the distribution, abundance, and seasonality of marine mammals and sea turtles in the wind energy areas leased by the Bureau of Energy Management of the south coast of Massachusetts.
Aquarium ocean health and right whale researchers team up to produce several papers on the effects of declining health on reproduction and survival of right whales, laying the groundwork for assessing the sublethal effects of entanglements, noise, and disease on the conservation of this species.