National Aquarium in Baltimore, Inc.

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Pier 3
East Pratt Street
Baltimore, Maryland

Telephone: (410) 576-3800
Web site:

Nonprofit Corporation
Employees: 300 (1995)
Sales: $43.00 million (2003)
NAIC: 541710 Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences 712120 Historical Sites; 712130 Zoos and Botanical Gardens; 712190 Nature Parks and Other Similar Institutions

National Aquarium in Baltimore, Inc., runs one of the country's leading aquariums: the National Aquarium in Baltimore (NAB). Owned by city government, NAB is Baltimore's largest paid tourist attraction, with 1.6 million visitors a year, 75 percent from out-of-state. The aquarium is involved in a number of education, conservation, and research programs.

The centerpiece of Baltimore's Inner Harbor urban revitalization, NAB has a national reputation for family appeal. Its success helped spawn aquariums in other cities such as St. Louis and Atlanta. The National Aquarium in Baltimore hosts more than 10,500 specimens of more than 560 species. Its management also runs the much smaller National Aquarium in Washington, D.C.


The National Aquarium in Baltimore (NAB) was created during a period of urban renewal. Its August 8, 1981 opening followed closely upon a new convention center and retail development in the Inner Harbor. Three years in the making, the aquarium cost $21.3 million, which was mostly provided by the City of Baltimore. Congress gave the aquarium its name (if not any funds), although there was already an existing National Aquarium in the Interior Department's basement. (NAB would take over management of the smaller aquarium in 2003.)

The largest of several tanks contained the Atlantic coral reef exhibit, which held one-third of the aquarium's one million gallons. The coral reef tank and one below it dedicated to the open ocean were both shaped like doughnuts, allowing visitors to be surrounded by sharks behind the glass of the two aquariums.

NAB originally hosted 6,000 specimens of 600 different species, including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, in a facility seven stories high. About 100 people were employed in their care. A 65-foot tall simulated rain forest capped the building's five levels.

In its first year, the National Aquarium in Baltimore attracted more than twice as many visitors as expected. By 1985, it was estimated to have an economic impact exceeding $80 million a year. In 1990, NAB had 5,000 specimens of aquatic animals and an economic impact of $130 million.

A New Home for Marine Mammals in 1990

The National Aquarium promoted environmental conservation through its award-winning educational programs. It emphasized the importance of pure water to various ecosystems. From the beginning, the institution was involved in studies of Chesapeake Bay's water quality. In spite of such efforts, NAB and other aquariums weathered a wave of criticism from activists opposed to keeping dolphins in captivity.

The Marine Mammal Pavilion opened at the end of 1990. This 94,000-square-foot addition showcased the aquarium's three beluga whales and five Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in a tank of 1.2 million gallons surrounded by a 1,300-seat amphitheater. There was also a life-size sculpture of a humpback whale. The addition cost $35 million to build.

The Atlantic Coral Reef and Open Ocean tanks underwent a $13 million renovation in 1993 and 1994 to repair corrosion damage to steel-reinforced concrete and make improvements. An elaborate laser show entertained visitors during their closure. The aquarium was then staffed by about 300 paid employees. There were also more than 500 volunteers, including 100 scuba divers.

In the late 1990s, NAB had an annual budget of more than $20 million; admissions and concessions provided about 60 percent of funds. The aquarium had about 1.7 million visitors a year, including 650,000 children under the age of 11. 75,000 Maryland school children attended for free.

Keeping It Fresh for 2000 and Beyond

An existing rain forest exhibit was expanded in 1999 with an aquatic riverbank. To refresh its offerings, the aquarium began bringing in traveling exhibits. One of these, an exhibit on jellyfish, remained for two years. Television advertising at the time was promoting the aquarium as a fun and inspirational educational experience. "Our vision is that connecting people with aquatic wildlife makes a better world for both," the acquarium's marketing director told the Baltimore Sun.

Dozens of six-foot-long fiberglass fish sculptures placed throughout downtown Baltimore helped celebrate the aquarium's 20th anniversary in 2001. During that year, the aquarium uncorked a wildly popular exhibit on seahorses that filled nine tanks with specimens from the Pacific Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. It later became a traveling exhibit, touring as far away as Italy.

Visitor demand prompted NAB allow more public access to its operations. In 2002, it began taking small groups of visitors to view the exhibits behind the scenes through its new Immersion Tours. Other appropriately named programs were Breakfast with the Dolphins and Sleeping with the Sharks. An aquarium representative told Baltimore's Daily Record, "Studies show in the museum industry if you don't freshen your product you're at risk of losing three percent of your business annually."

In 2003, NAB opened its sleepovers, ever popular with special groups and friends of the aquarium, to nonmembers. However, it experienced lower revenues as a result of a signifi-cant drop in donations and grants in a weak national economy.

NAB began managing the National Aquarium in Washington in September 2003. According to the Baltimore Sun, the goal was to become the leader in training aquarium professionals.

The National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., claimed to be the oldest in the country. Originally formed in 1873 as part of the Anderson School of Natural History in Woods Cross, Massachusetts, it was moved to Washington, D.C., in 1888. Located in the headquarters of what was then called the Fish Commission, in 1934 it was moved to the new Department of Commerce building on 14th Street and Constitution Avenue. The Commerce Department oversaw the Bureau of Fisheries, which later helped form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the 1960s, the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., had about 100 species, mostly freshwater varieties, displayed in 47 wall tanks each holding between 50 and 2,000 gallons. (A 6,000-gallon tank was later obtained.) It operated as a private nonprofit when its federal funding was discontinued following the opening of the aquarium in Baltimore, which received only its name, not money, from Congress. In spite of its smaller size, the D.C. aquarium housed some rare species that NAB did not have, such as a chambered nautilus.

NAB hired Event Network Inc. to manage its concessions in late 2004. The San Diego company also handled retail operations for other major aquariums. NAB had gift shop sales of about $4 million a year; the new arrangement was expected to boost net income from them to more than $1 million, reported the Baltimore Business Journal.

Company Perspectives:

Our Mission: The National Aquarium in Baltimore seeks to stimulate interest in, develop knowledge about, and inspire stewardship of aquatic environments. A member of the Baltimore community, Maryland's leading tourist attraction, and an international icon, the Aquarium provides cultural, recreational, and educational experiences that meet the needs of diverse communities. We are committed to contribute substantially to the economic development of the local region by conducting a financially stable business in a way that demonstrates an awareness of community needs. The Aquarium adheres to the highest principles of husbandry, staff development, fiscal responsibility, and economy of resources, and we strive to provide effective outreach and conservation programs. Meanwhile, we conduct research and utilize state-ofthe-art technology. The Aquarium's Values: In all operations, we practice and promote the highest standards of animal husbandry. To be the best aquarium in the world, we owe our visitors the finest possible experience from their first point of contact. By constant evaluation of visitor satisfaction, we strive to exceed expectations for facts, fun, friendliness, and service. We strive to recruit, train, and develop exceptionally talented and effective boards of directors and staff. We create a safe work environment which encourages teamwork, personal initiative, and accountability. We are accountable for the efficient use of our internal resources of capital, facilities, and personnel. We promote appropriate use of natural resources through example, education, and action.

Key Dates:

The first public aquarium in the United States is established near Cape Cod.
National Aquarium is moved to Washington, D.C.
National Aquarium in Baltimore opens.
The Marine Mammal Pavilion is added.
Atlantic Coral Reef and Open Ocean tanks undergo a $13 million renovation.
National Aquarium in Baltimore begins managing the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C.
Massive exhibit/expansion Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes opens.

An exhibit based on an Australian river gorge habitat opened in the spring of 2005. It cost $66 million to create and was sponsored by Discovery Communications, which acquired the right to name it after its cable channel. "Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes" was NAB's most expensive expansion to date. It included more than 3,000 specimens and featured a 35-foot waterfall. The 65,000-square-foot glass pavilion built to contain the exhibit expanded the aquarium by one-third. A spokesperson told the local Daily Record that Australia's Northern Territory environment was chosen because it was unlike anything depicted in the United States.

A Zagat survey had rated NAB the second-best aquarium in the country, after Monterey Bay Aquarium, for family travelers. The aquarium continued efforts to grow bigger and better. A $112 million expansion was scheduled to open in the spring of 2007.

Principal Competitors

Maryland Science Center; Monterey Bay Aquarium; Mystic Aquarium; National Zoological Park; Shedd Aquarium Society.

Further Reading

Allen, Karen Tanner, "Finding Finned Friends," Washington Post , Weekend Sec., March 27, 1998.

Arney, June, "Baltimore Aquarium to Take Over Management of Washington, D.C. Aquarium," Baltimore Sun , September 4, 2003.

"Baltimore Aquarium and Zoo Revenues Down; Search Continues for New Funding Resources," Daily Record (Baltimore), July 3, 2003.

"Baltimore's Natl. Aquarium Marks 13th Anniversary," Amusement Business, January 23, 1995, p. 24.

"Bathtub Snorkeling an Image to Woo Them; New TV Ads with a Touch of Fantasy Aim to Persuade Viewers That Visiting the National Aquarium Is Fun as Well as Educational," Baltimore Sun , March 16, 1999, p. 1C.

Calos, Katherine, "The Reef Is Ready . . . at Aquarium," Richmond Times-Dispatch , April 6, 1995, p. D4.

Culbertson, D.C., "Deep Sleep in a Shark Lair; Slumber Party at Baltimore National Aquarium," Washington Times , July 17, 2003,p. M14.

Dash, Julekha, "National Aquarium to Outsource Retail," Baltimore Business Journal , October 29, 2004.

DeFord, Susan, "Baltimore Art Exhibit Advances Swimmingly; Columbia Resident Hatched Fish Idea," Washington Post , July 5, 2001, p. T5.

"The Day of the Dolphins; Behind the Scenes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore," Washington Post , October 24, 2000, p. C15.

El-Khoury, Tamara, and Bill Atkinson, "Animal Planet Gets Naming Rights to New Pavilion at National Aquarium," Baltimore Sun , June 18, 2004.

Goldberg, Karen, "Hooked on Dolphins; Public Has Whale of a Good Time at Aquarium in Baltimore," Washington Times , April 2002,p. D4.

Kercheval, Nancy, "Baltimore Aquarium Helps Preserve Endangered Seahorse," Daily Record (Baltimore), April 5, 2001.

Kridler, Kara, "Baltimore's National Aquarium Exhibit to Showcase Australia's Northern Territory," Daily Record (Baltimore), February 27, 2004.

Lipscomb, Hetty, "A Feeding Frenzy at Commerce," Washington Post , Weekend Sec., June 10, 2005.

McManus, Kevin, "In the Jaws of an Aquarium," Washington Post , August 10, 1990.

Miller, Bruce, "Nat'l Aquarium in Baltimore Now Offers Behind-the-Scenes Tours," Daily Record (Baltimore), October 19, 2002.

The National Aquarium , Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, Circular 93, 1960.

"Nat'l Aquarium in Baltimore to Host Adults-Only Sleepover," Daily Record (Baltimore), January 9, 2003.

Pendered, David, "Aquarium Provides Tourists Reason to Spend Time, Money in Baltimore," Atlanta Journal and Constitution , June 2, 2003.

Piccoli, Sean, "Baltimore Takes a Dive (for Dolphins)," Washington Times , December 27, 1990, p. M4.

"Q&A: WBR Talks with James A. Flick Jr. and David M. Pittenger," Warfield's Business Record , Sec. 1, January 6, 1995, p. 27.

Samuel, Paul D., "Aquarium Turns on the Lights to Mask $12.7M Renovation," Warfield's Business Record , Sec. 1, October 8, 1993,p. 4.

Schaffer, Athena, "Aquariums Find Success with Life on the Road," Amusement Business , April 20, 1998, p. 18.

"Survey: National Aquarium in Baltimore No. 2 in U.S.," Daily Record (Baltimore), May 27, 2004.

Uhlenbrock, Tom, "Tank Tale: Aquarium Anchors Baltimore Renewal," St. Louis Post-Dispatch , November 5, 1989, p. A1.

Valentine, Paul W., "Md. Aquarium Readies New Mammal Pavilion," Washington Post , September 14, 1989, p. A30.

Webster, Bayard, "Baltimore Aquarium: Birds, Fish, Reptiles Adapt to New Life," New York Times , August 18, 1981, p. C3.

Wilgoren, Debbi, "Couple Makes Fish a Family Affair," Washington Post , March 22, 1990.

Worden, Amy, "Aquarium Divers Plumb Depths of Dedication," Plain Dealer (Cleveland), March 24, 1996, p. 7F.

—Frederick C. Ingram

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