National Aquarium (Baltimore), MA, USA | CruiseBe
Average: 9.7 (10 votes)

National Aquarium (Baltimore)

Activities, Natural sights
aquarium, sightseeing, nature, fish, exhibitions

The National Aquarium (formerly known as the National Aquarium in Baltimore) is a non-profit public aquarium located at 501 E Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. Constructed during a period of urban renewal in Baltimore, the aquarium opened on August 8, 1981. The aquarium has an annual attendance of 1.5 million. The Aquarium holds more than 2,200,000 US gallons (8,300,000 l) of water, and has more than 17,000 specimens representing over 750 species. In 2003, the National Aquarium and the independent National Aquarium in Washington joined as one National Aquarium. The National Aquarium's mission is to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures. The aquarium's stated vision is to confront pressing issues facing global aquatic habitats through pioneering science, conservation, and educational programming.

The National Aquarium houses several exhibits including the Upland Tropical Rain Forest, a multiple-story Atlantic Coral Reef, an open ocean shark tank, and Australia: Wild Extremes, which won the "Best Exhibit" award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2008. The aquarium also has a 4D Immersion Theater. The aquarium opened a marine mammal pavilion in 1990 and currently holds eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Of the eight, six were born at the National Aquarium, one was born at another American aquarium, and one was collected by another aquarium in the late 1970s or early 1980s from U.S. waters.


Recognition and awards

In 2012, the National Aquarium was named one of the best aquariums in the United States by the Travel Channel and also received the popular vote as one of the top five best aquariums to visit by Coastal Living magazine named the National Aquarium the #1 aquarium in the United States in 2011. In November 2006, the National Aquarium won a Best of Baltimore award from City Paper as the "Best Over Priced Destination for Families." In September 2011, the City Paper Reader's Poll awarded the National Aquarium with the title of "Best Attraction" and the "Best Place to Take Kids".


The aquarium began in the mid-1970s when then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer and the Commissioner of Housing and Community Development, Robert C. Embry, conceived and championed the idea of an aquarium as a vital component of Baltimore’s overall Inner Harbor redevelopment scheme. In 1976, Baltimore City residents supported the aquarium by voting for it on a bond referendum, and the groundbreaking for the facility took place on Pier 3 in the city’s Inner Harbor on August 8, 1978.

Although no federal funds were used for its construction, the United States Congress designated the facility as the "national aquarium" in 1979. The aquarium opened to the public on August 8, 1981, after three years of construction.

The National Aquarium, Baltimore’s initial conceptual design, architecture and exhibit design was led by Peter Chermayeff of Peter Chermayeff LLC while he was at Cambridge Seven Associates.

The conceptual, architectural, and exhibit design for the Glass Pavilion expansion was led by Bobby C. Poole while at Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole. Construction began on the Glass Pavilion on September 5, 2002, and it opened to the public on December 16, 2005. It measures 64,500 sq ft (5,990 m2), and is 120 ft (37 m) high at the tallest point.

Conservation, research, and green practices

The National Aquarium was selected as the National Wildlife Federation’s Maryland affiliate in 2011. The aquarium conducts conservation efforts through events to clean up the Chesapeake Bay Wetlands, and the aquarium's Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP), which rescues, rehabilitates, and releases marine mammals. MARP has successfully rescued, treated, and returned seals, dolphins, porpoises, pilot whales, pygmy sperm whales, sea turtles, and a manatee to their natural habitats.

The National Aquarium Conservation Center (est. 2009) leads the aquarium's research efforts in resolving critical issues currently impacting coastal ecosystems and watersheds, ocean health, ecological aquaculture, and informs issues of environmental policy and advocacy through conservation research focused on aquatic ecosystems. Some of the Center's projects include "The Chesapeake Bay Initiative," tracking mercury levels through the food chain in wild and captive bottlenose dolphins, and assessing chronic natural resource damages from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2011, The National Aquarium was honored with the Maryland Green Registry Leadership Award, as an organization that shows “a strong commitment to sustainable practices, measurable results, and continuous improvement” and was recognized by the Baltimore Business Journal and Smart CEO Magazine for exceptional green business practices in 2009.


Pier 3 Pavilion

This building contains five levels or floors that are accessible via escalator and elevator except to guests with strollers. Guests with toddlers must carry them on their person. Each floor possesses several exhibits that communicate a main theme. This building also houses two large tanks, one of which simulates an Atlantic coral reef, and one of which simulates the open ocean.

Level 1: Blacktip Reef

This 265,000-US-gallon (1,000,000 l) habitat, replicating an Indo-Pacific reef landscape (living corals are exhibited elsewhere in the National Aquarium), can be seen from many vantage points, including a new floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window. It contains 65–70 species, mostly fish (including blacktip reef sharks). One of the largest animals in the exhibit is Calypso, a 500-pound green sea turtle that was rescued off the shore of Long Island in 2000. Her left front flipper had become infected and required amputation in order to save her life. Calypso was introduced into Blacktip Reef in July 2013.

Level 2: Maryland: Mountains to the Sea

This level features animals that are native to Maryland. The four exhibits create the illusion that the viewer is traveling down a Maryland stream from its source in the Allegheny Mountains, to a tidal marsh, to a coastal beach, and finally ending at the Atlantic shelf. Featured animals include painted turtle, wood turtle, American bullfrog, and rosyside dace in the Allegheny Stream, diamondback terrapin, feather blenny, and sheepshead minnow in the Tidal Marsh, striped burrfish and blue crab on the Coastal Beach, and clearnose skate and summer flounder in the Atlantic Shelf exhibit.

Level 3: Surviving Through Adaptation, Living Seashore

This level features fish that possess adaptations that are needed to survive in their various environments. For example, the electric eel has the rare ability to shock its prey with electricity. Featured animals include electric eel, chambered nautilus, and giant Pacific octopus.

Living Seashore features two touchpools and a variety of hands-on experiences, giving guests the opportunity to explore the ever-changing Mid-Atlantic shoreline. Animals guests can interact with include clearnose skate, Atlantic stingray, horseshoe crab, knobbed whelk, and moon jelly.

Level 4: Sea Cliffs, Kelp Forest, Pacific Coral Reef, Amazon River Forest

This level displays several aquatic habitats, including a sea cliffs exhibit, which houses several species of seabirds; a Pacific coral reef exhibit; a kelp forest exhibit; and an Amazon River forest exhibit, in which animals can be seen down in the water and up in the overlying foliage. Animals here include Atlantic puffin in the Sea Cliffs exhibit, Banggai cardinalfish in the Pacific Coral Reef, and Arrau turtle in the Amazon River Forest exhibit.

Level 5: Upland Tropical Rain Forest, Hidden Life

This level simulates the Amazon rainforest, and includes two elevated platforms for bird-watching and a cave of various glass enclosed displays of reptiles, amphibians, and terrestrial arthropods.

Featured Animals Include:

  • Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia)
  • Scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber)
  • Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)
  • Yellow-headed amazon parrot (Amazona oratrix)
  • White-tailed trogon (Trogon viridis)
  • Blue-crowned motmot (Momotus momota)
  • Blue-gray tanager (Thraupis episcopus)
  • Blue poison dart frog (Dendrobates azureus)
  • Linnaeus's two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus)

Atlantic Coral Reef

This large exhibit replicates the Atlantic coral reef, and is filled with more than 500 exotic species that would be found anywhere from closer to shore to out into the trench and open ocean, including a green moray eel, triggerfish, and porcupine fish.

Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators

Sharks of varying sizes and species, including sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, and sawfish, slowly encircle visitors inside this 225,000-US-gallon (850,000 l), ring-shaped exhibit.

Pier 4 Pavilion

This smaller building, opened in 1990, features the marine mammal exhibit, which is home to Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in a 1,300,000-US-gallon (4,900,000 l) pool. It also holds a temporary exhibit on assorted jellyfish called "Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance".

Dolphin Discovery

This exhibit houses the aquarium's eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Guests can watch training, feeding, and play times with the dolphins and interact with dolphin experts.

The dolphin colony consists of two males (Foster, Beau) and six females (Nani, Maya, Spirit, Chesapeake, Bayley, Jade), the youngest being Bayley, 2008, and the oldest being Nani, 1975. Chesapeake was the first dolphin born at the aquarium in 1992.

Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance

This temporary exhibit in the Pier 4 Pavilion building showcases nine different species of jellyfish, and also illustrates how these animals are important bioindicators, which means that they are sensitive to changes within their environment, and therefore, serve as an early warning sign that changes are occurring within an ecosystem, whether from pollution, invasive species, climate change, or other factors.

Featured animals Include:

  • Atlantic sea nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha)
  • Pacific sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens)
  • Purple-striped jellyfish (Chrysaora colorata)
  • Northern sea nettle (Chrysaora melanaster)
  • Black sea nettle (Chrysaora achlyos)
  • Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita)
  • Egg-yolk jellyfish (Phacellophora camtschatica)
  • Lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata)
  • Spotted jelly (Mastigias papua)
  • Blue blubber jellyfish (Catostylus mosaicus)
  • Upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea xamachana)
  • Leidy's comb jellyfish (Mnemiopsis leidyi)

Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes (Glass Pavilion)

Like the Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit, this exhibit is structured like a large walk-in aviary, and allows many of the flying animals to roam freely throughout the exhibit. The exhibit represents a river gorge in Australia, and contains many pools in which Australian aquatic life can be found. It is designed to show the wild extremes faced by this particular part of Australia: fire, drought and flood. Guests can see more than 1,800 individual native animals including freshwater crocodiles, turtles, free-flying birds, snakes, lizards, and flying foxes.

The Aquarium completed the renovation and a multimillion-dollar expansion on December 16, 2005; the expanded portion is 64,500 square feet (5,990 m2). The exterior of the expansion features an interactive area designed to teach visitors about bayscaping, bird-box building, the National Aquarium's nationally recognized Marine Animal Rescue Program, water quality testing, marine debris issues and wetland restoration.

Inside the expanded portion of the Aquarium, directly in the main entrance, is a 35-foot (11 m) waterfall that was modeled from an actual waterfall in a Maryland state park. The prominent display is also visible from outside the Aquarium. Also inside the expanded portion is a recreation of an Australian habitat. The Umbrawarra Gorge of Australia is carefully depicted inside the upper portion of the expanded building, and the exhibit depicts lands of fire, drought, and flood. Aboriginal artwork, based on actual work discovered in Australia, is also found in the gorge exhibit. These images depict aboriginal interpretations of the land that they live on.

Featured animals include:

  • Gray-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)
  • Laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)
  • Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus)
  • Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata)
  • Snake-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis)
  • Pig-nosed turtle (Carettochelys insculpta)
  • Black-headed python (Aspidites melanocephalus)
  • Death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)
  • Frilled lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii)
  • Spiny-tailed monitor (Varanus acanthurus)
  • Freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni)
  • Empire gudgeon (Hypseleotris compressa)
  • Archerfish (Toxotes chatareus)
  • Barramundi (Lates calcarifer)

Relationship with the National Aquarium, Washington, D.C.

The National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. was a separate aquarium housed in the lower level of the Herbert C. Hoover Building in Washington, D.C.. Founded in 1873, it was originally distinct from the National Aquarium in Baltimore. On September 4, 2003, the National Aquarium Society and the Board of Governors for the National Aquarium, Baltimore announced an alliance, in which the National Aquarium, Baltimore would operate the D.C. aquarium. The two aquariums were joined together under one name with two venues. A signing ceremony hosted by Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans was held at the Commerce Department building. On September 30, 2013, the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., closed its doors after 128 years for the first time since its opening in 1885 due to renovations of the Hoover Building. Approximately 1,700 animals were moved to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Funding and staffing

The National Aquarium is a public, nonprofit aquarium. The aquarium building and the land upon which it is built are owned by the City of Baltimore, but the aquarium is managed by the non-profit National Aquarium, Inc. which consists of a volunteer 25-member Board of Governors and larger Advisory Board, plus a full-time paid staff. The National Aquarium is run by CEO, John Racanelli who came into the position in June, 2011.

Under the terms of its management agreement with the City, the non-profit corporation strives to remain self-supporting for operations. Details regarding funding, staffing, and programming are made available to the public within each year's annual report downloadable on the National Aquarium Institute's website.


Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0