The New England Aquarium, situated on the scenic Central Wharf, has more than a dozen exhibits that highlight hundreds of different species from around the world. Attracting 1.3 million visitors each year, the Boston Waterfront attraction recreates natural habitats ranging from reefs and tide pools to rocky shorelines. In addition to its exhibits, the aquarium offers Whale Watch excursions that take visitors 30 miles east of Boston to Stellwagen Bank where you can see whales, dolphins, sea birds and other marine life. The aquarium also has an IMAX® Theater that features films of animals and their habitats, 3-D movies and first-run feature
Connecting Boston to its Maritime Surroundings
Before the aquarium was built, three other aquariums operated in the city of Boston. Planning for this permanent facility began in 1962 and the facility opened to the public seven years later. At that time, the Great Ocean Tank (GOT) was the largest aquatic display of its kind in the world. In June 1970, Myrtle the Turtle, the iconic 500-pound green sea turtle, took up residence here. Over the ensuing decades, the aquarium expanded and introduced additional exhibits. Before its retirement because of old age, the multistory barge Discovery served as an amphitheater and gallery space.
Completed in 1998, the new steel and glass west wing is home to the lobby, new exhibits, a gift shop and a café. The IMAX® Theater opened in 2001. A 10-month renovation of the GOT, completed in 2013, brought new lighting, enhanced viewing windows and a pre-Columbian reef as well as a dramatic increase in the number of fish and species residing inside the tank. The changing exhibits and innovative educational programs keep pace with the changing environments while maintaining a connection between Boston and its maritime surroundings.
Exhibits and Inhabitants
The GOT, a massive 200,000-gallon structure, is the centerpiece of the New England Aquarium. The Yawkey Coral Reef Center is an extraordinary fabricated reef surrounded by heated Boston Harbor seawater situated at the top of the cylindrical GOT. It contains over 100 species, including sharks, sea turtles, eels, barracudas and tropical fish. A spiral staircase lined by 52 viewing windows enables you to see the reef from a variety of angles. You can even watch as the the staff dives inside the tank to clean the habitat and interact with the animals.
Surrounding the GOT are various pools that house penguins, sea lions and otters. There are also fresh water and northern water galleries that introduce visitors to the coastal, Amazonian and tropical habitats where these animals thrive. The Harbor Seal exhibit is located in front of the building. Highlighting the life cycle of sharks and lobsters, the Blue Planet Action Center shares the role that the aquarium plays in developing solutions to the problems facing today’s oceans. The aquarium also hosts a variety of special exhibits.
Presentations and Shows
The aquarium offers several informative and entertaining live animal presentations throughout the day. In addition to two daily feedings, the staff provides interesting details about the three species of penguins that live at the aquarium. Great Ocean Tank Talks give information about the creatures living inside the enormous display as well as the care that the aquarium staff provides. You can also attend harbor seal and fur seal training sessions as the staffs helps these animals stay healthy and active.
Guests can enjoy a meal and refreshments at the Harbor View Café, which is situated just above the lobby. The outdoor Plaza Café provides wonderful views of the Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline. You can place a to-go order at either of these eateries and enjoy a picnic lunch on the Greenway.
The gift shop has keepsakes and educational items that you can purchase to commemorate your visit to the New England Aquarium and the city of Boston.
Tips for Visiting the Aquarium
The aquarium attracts its largest crowds during the summer and school vacation periods. It is also a popular destination for local field trips when school is in session. If you want to avoid large crowds, you should plan to visit during off-peak times, such as early mornings on weekdays and during the winter months.
Buy online to save money and avoid long lines at the general admission booth.
There is limited parking on the Central Wharf so its recommended you take public transportation to the aquarium. The aquarium has its own MBTA subway stop on the Blue Line. The aquarium is also a short walk from the State Street stop on the Orange Line, the Haymarket stop on the Green Line and South Station on the Red Line. Present your Charlie Card for discount admission. And for a full day of sightseeing fun, hop aboard the Old Town Trolley for a complete tour of Boston. The New England Aquarium is located at stop #1. Once you’ve explored the aquarium, hop on the next trolley to continue your journey around Beantown.
Things to Do Nearby
HarborWalk is a waterfront promenade that follows the piers, beaches and shoreline of Boston Harbor. In addition to scenic water and skyline views, the promenade features public art, memorials and historic exhibits as well as a variety of shops and eateries along its path.
The Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park is home to a delightful playground with climbing nets and splash fountains. This popular urban green space is the setting for outdoor movies, concerts and cultural festivals.
Across the street is the Greenway Carousel, an inexpensive and fun time for the youngsters in your family. The Rings Fountain is an interactive water feature that provides a wonderful place to cool off on a hot summer day. The fountains are on 9am to 11pm from late May to early October.
Since its opening, the New England Aquarium has hatched and raised more than 80 penguins that eat about 40 pounds of fish each day.
The aquarium’s sea life rescue program returns approximately 90 percent of its sick and injured turtles back into the wild.
The GOT is so large that it had to be built first, and the rest of the aquarium was constructed around it.
The shark and ray touch tank is the largest on the East Coast.