The National Aquarium houses over 750 aquatic species and 2,200,000 gallons of water. Over 1.5 million people visit the aquarium each year to see dolphins, sharks, and other exotic species. The National Aquarium is not only a tourist attraction but also an organization that promotes conservation. Its main purpose is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. Many of these aquatic treasures are native species of Maryland because one of the aquarium’s main goals is to promote conservation in the adjacent Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
While the National Aquarium is a beloved attraction, many
people were opposed to its construction. In 1976, Baltimore Mayor William
Donald Schaefer desired to revitalize the Inner Harbor. A key element of his
proposal was the construction of a large-scale aquarium. An aquarium seemed
like an enticing concept to Baltimore’s residents, but there were not
sufficient funds for the project. Opponents were concerned that the aquarium
would not attract enough tourists to be a sufficient source of revenue for
Baltimore City. Debate ensued between Mayor Schaefer’s administration and
opponents; Baltimore citizens ended this bickering with a bond referendum that
allowed Schaefer’s idea to become a reality
The Baltimore Aquarium officially opened to the public on August
08, 1981. Mayor Schaefer estimated that 600,000 visitors would attend the
aquarium during its opening year. However, he greatly underestimated the
aquarium’s popularity because 1.6 million people visited the aquarium during
its first year. The aquarium’s popularity grew exponentially after U.S. Senator
Paul Sarbanes passed a bill that designated it as “The National Aquarium.” This
designation was a misnomer because the actual National Aquarium was in the
Herbert C. Hoover Building in Washington, D.C. For the next 24 years, the
United States had two “national aquariums.” In September of 2003, the National
Aquarium Society Board of Directors worked with the National Aquarium Board of
Directors to consolidate the two aquariums into one aquarium with two different
locations. The primary reason for consolidation was to enhance educational and
conservation efforts. In 2013, the federal government closed the Washington,
D.C. venue for repairs; thus, aquarium workers relocated all of the species to
Baltimore. These species are still in Baltimore as the repairs are taking
longer than expected. Since its opening, the National Aquarium has welcomed
over 50 million visitors and educated approximately 2.5 million students.
Additionally, the National Aquarium reaps a 314 million dollar profit for Baltimore City and
the State of Maryland each year. Mayor Schaefer’s idea in 1976 received mass
criticism, but it was an intelligent investment.
National Aquarium’s profits have provided funds for vast conservation efforts.
Most notably, the National Aquarium has made great strides to combat
environmental problems in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. For instance, wetland
revitalization and habitat restoration are top priorities for the National
Aquarium. In 2014, aquarium workers planted over 14,000 native wetland grasses.
Furthermore, the National Aquarium leads campaigns to remove debris from
historic locations such as Fort McHenry. On the international level, the
aquarium sponsors the development of marine sanctuaries, which provide refuge
to endangered species. The National Aquarium was influential in establishing
the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which has reduced whale strikes in
shipping lanes by 81%. The National Aquarium also conducts groundbreaking
research, especially on jellyfish and bottlenose dolphins. In fact, the
aquarium is home to eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. The National Aquarium also
conducted research on aquatic species in the Gulf of Mexico following the 2010
B.P. Oil Spill. The National Aquarium has become a leader in aquatic
conservation and research efforts.