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Three and a Half Decades Later, National Aquarium Celebrates Its Coral Anniversary

Iconic Baltimore attraction turns 35 this August


On August 8, the National Aquarium will celebrate its 35th anniversary. When the Aquarium opened its doors for the very first time back in 1981, it welcomed 8,400 guests. Three and a half decades later, the nonprofit aquatic education and conservation organization has welcomed more than 50 million guests and is home to almost 20,000 animals.

“What began as an attraction for Baltimore's bold vision to revitalize its Inner Harbor has become a national conservation leader with a mission to inspire conservation of our world’s aquatic treasures,” said John Racanelli, National Aquarium CEO. “On August 8, we celebrate 35 years of changing people's understanding of the natural world to which they belong through amazing exhibits, delightful encounters, the best in animal care, and conservation education that inspires action.”

In 1974, inspired by the public aquarium in Washington, D.C., Baltimore’s then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer conceptualized a similar attraction for downtown Baltimore. Since opening 35 years ago, the organization has evolved from a visitor attraction to a conservation organization that operates a world-class aquarium. Today, the National Aquarium acts on its mission through award-winning exhibits, educational conservation initiatives and a state-of-the-art animal rescue program.

Here are a few landmark successes the Aquarium has celebrated over the years:

• The National Aquarium has grown from one building to three, with an animal collection that has increased from 5,000 animals to close to 20,000; paid staff from 77 to over 400 individuals; and volunteers from 273 to more than 600 individuals.

• The organization has an annual economic impact of more than $314 million for the State of Maryland. Visitors to the Aquarium spend an additional $206 million locally on lodging, transportation, food, shopping, gas and recreation. (According to the Economic Contributions of the National Aquarium 2012 Assessment)

• As a part of its effort to ensure that all people have the opportunity to visit the Aquarium, the organization offers several community access programs, including:

o Half-Price Friday Nights, presented by M&T Bank
o Dollar Days
o Pay What You Want Day, made possible with the generous support of T. Rowe Price
o Read to Reef Book Club, in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library
o Maryland Mornings, which provides exclusive access for Maryland residents.

• The organization educates more than 100,000 Maryland school children a year, both in the Aquarium and in classrooms across the state

• In 1990, the Aquarium opened its Marine Mammal Pavilion on Pier 4. Today, the Pavilion houses eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that will retire to the nation’s first oceanside dolphin sanctuary by 2020. Aquarium CEO John Racanelli announced the decision earlier this summer.

• Since 1991, National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue team has been responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the Delmarva Peninsula. On June 9, 2015, the team successfully released its 150th rescue animal, a juvenile grey seal named Lily. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the program.

• In 1979, the Baltimore Aquarium was renamed the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a designation that recognized its world-class potential. In 2003, the National Aquarium in Baltimore merged with the National Aquarium in D.C. in a landmark partnership and became the National Aquarium.

• In 2005, the Aquarium expanded by 65,000 square feet to include a new exhibit: Australia: Wild Extremes, which won the “Best Exhibit” award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008.

• On Friday, September 4, 2015, 34 years and 27 days after opening its doors to visitors for the first time, the National Aquarium welcomed its 50 millionth visitor.

Leadership, Conservation, Education, Exhibits