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Our Story

With an extensive history in both Washington, DC, and Baltimore, today the National Aquarium carries on the legacy of the nation’s first aquarium. As a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, the National Aquarium champions environmental initiatives by engaging with visitors, volunteers, students and citizens from around the world to actively participate in the preservation of our natural resources and living systems.

Originally established in 1873 in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, National Aquarium, Washington, DC, was considered the nation’s first public aquarium. In 1878, the National Aquarium moved to the site of the Washington Monument, and in 1932, the Aquarium was incorporated into the lower level of the Commerce Building. Federal funds were eliminated from the operating budget for the National Aquarium, Washington, DC, in 1982. Threatened with closing, the National Aquarium Society ® was formed to keep the Aquarium open.

Meanwhile, during the 1970s, then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer conceived and championed the idea of an aquarium as a vital component in the redevelopment of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. In 1976, Baltimore City residents voted on a bond referendum in favor of building the National Aquarium, Baltimore. Groundbreaking for the facility took place on August 8, 1978. In 1979, the new aquarium was recognized by the United States Congress, which granted the facility "national" status. The National Aquarium, Baltimore, opened to the public on August 8, 1981.

In 2003, the National Aquarium Society ® Board of Directors signed an alliance agreement with the Board of Directors of the National Aquarium, Baltimore, enabling the two aquariums to work together to strengthen the animal collection and educational impact of the National Aquarium.

On September 30, 2013, National Aquarium, Washington, DC, closed its doors to the public, due to necessary renovations in the Department of Commerce. For more information on the closing and a future National Aquarium presence in Washington, DC, visit

Today, the National Aquarium, Baltimore, features a living collection of more than 20,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and marine mammals living in award-winning habitats. In summer 2013, the Aquarium opened Blacktip Reef, a breathtaking exhibit replicating an Indo-Pacific reef and featuring more than 700 animals, including a school of blacktip reef sharks.

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