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A 335,000 U.S. gallon (1.3 million litre) aquarium at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California displaying a simulated kelp forest ecosystem

A public aquarium (plural: public aquaria or public aquariums) is the aquatic counterpart of a zoo, housing living aquatic species for viewing. Most public aquaria feature tanks larger than those which could be kept by home aquarists, as well as smaller tanks. Since the first public aquariums were built in the mid-1800s, they have become popular and their numbers have increased. Most modern accredited aquaria stress conservation issues and educating the public.[1]



Various aquaria at the Detroit Aquarium, Michigan c.1900, USA.

The first public aquarium was opened in London Zoo in May 1853; the "Fish House", as it came to be known, was constructed much like a greenhouse.[2] P.T. Barnum quickly followed in 1856 with the first American aquarium as part of his established Barnum's American Museum, which was located on Broadway in New York before it burned down.[2] In 1859, the Aquarial Gardens were founded in Boston.[2] A number of aquaria then opened in Europe, such as the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris and the Viennese Aquarium Salon (both founded 1860), the Marine Aquarium Temple as part of the Zoological Garden in Hamburg (1864), as well as aquariums in Berlin (1869) and Brighton (1872).[2]

The old Berlin Aquarium opened in 1869. The building site was to be Unter den Linden (along a major avenue), in the center of town, not at the Berlin Zoo. The aquarium's first director, Alfred Brehm, former director of the Hamburg Zoo from 1863 to 1866, served until 1874.[3] With its emphasis on education, the public aquarium was designed like a grotto, part of it made of natural rock. The Geologische Grotte depicted "the strata of the earth's crust". The grotto also featured birds and pools for seals. The Aquarium Unter den Linden was a three-story building. Machinery and water tanks were on the ground floor, aquarium basins for the fish on the first floor. Because of Brehm's special interest in birds, a huge aviary, with cages for mammals placed around it, was located on the second floor. The facility closed in 1910.[4]

The Artis aquarium at Amsterdam Zoo was constructed inside a Victorian building in 1882, and was renovated in 1997. At the end of the 19th century the Artis aquarium was considered to be state-of-the-art, as it was again at the end of the 20th century.[5]

The oldest American aquarium is the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., founded in 1873. This was followed by the opening of other public aquaria : San Francisco (Woodward's Garden, 1873-1890), Wood Hole (Science Aquarium, 1885), New York (Battery Park, 1896-1941), La Jolla (Scripps, 1903), Detroit (Belle Isle, 1904-2005), Philadelphia (Fairmount Water Works, 1911-1962), San Francisco (Steinhart Aquarium, 1923), Chicago (Shedd Aquarium, 1929). For many years, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago was the largest aquarium in the world, until the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta opened.

The first Japanese public aquarium, a small freshwater aquarium, was opened at the Ueno Zoo in 1882.[6]

In 2005, the Georgia Aquarium, with more than 8 million US gallons (30,000 m³; 30,000,000 liters) of marine and fresh water, and more than 100,000 animals of 500 different species opened in Atlanta, Georgia. The aquarium's notable specimens include whale sharks and beluga whales.

Current public aquaria

Picture of a male Whale Shark at Georgia Aquarium

Modern day aquarium tanks can hold millions of U.S. gallons of water and can house large species, including dolphins, sharks or beluga whales. This is accomplished though thick, clear acrylic glass windows. Aquatic and semiaquatic mammals, including otters,[7] and seals[8] are often cared for at aquaria. Some establishments, such as the Oregon Coast Aquarium or the Monterey Bay Aquarium, have aquatic aviaries.[9][10] Modern aquaria also include land animals and plants that spend time in or near the water.[11]

For marketing purposes, many aquaria promote special exhibits, in addition to their permanent collections. Some have aquatic versions of a petting zoo. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a shallow tank filled with common types of rays[12] which visitors are encouraged to touch.


Feeding time at the Melbourne Aquarium draws a large crowd

Most public aquaria are located close to the ocean, for a steady supply of natural seawater. An inland pioneer was Chicago's Shedd Aquarium[13] that received seawater shipped by rail in special tank cars. The early (1911) Philadelphia Aquarium, built in the city's disused water works, had to switch to treated city water when the nearby river became too contaminated.[13] Similarly, the recently opened Georgia Aquarium filled its tanks with fresh water from the city water system and salinated its salt water exhibits using the same commercial salt and mineral additives available to home aquarists.

In January 1985, Kelly Tarlton began construction of the first aquarium to include a large transparent acrylic tunnel, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World in Auckland, New Zealand. Construction took 10 months and cost NZ$3 million. The 110-meter tunnel was built from one-tonne slabs of German sheet plastic that were shaped locally in an oven. A moving walkway now transports visitors through, and groups of school children occasionally hold sleepovers there beneath the swimming sharks and rays.[14]


Public aquaria are often affiliated with oceanographic research institutions or conduct their own research programs, and sometimes specialize in species and ecosystems that can be found in local waters. For example, the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, BC is a major center for marine research, conservation, and marine animal rehabilitation, particularly for the rich ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest.[15] The Vancouver Aquarium was the first aquarium to capture and display an orca whale, Moby Doll, for 3 months in 1964; as well as belugas, narwhals[16] and dolphins. None of these whales has ever left the aquarium alive, with the exception of Bjossa, a female orca who was sent to SeaWorld San Diego in April 2000 and died shortly afterward in October 2001.

See also


  1. ^ Visitor Impact, AZA official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d Brunner, Bernd (2003). The Ocean at Home. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 99. ISBN 1-56898-502-9.  
  3. ^ Strehlow, Harro, "Zoos and Aquariums of Berlin" in New World, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century, Hoage, Robert J. and Deiss, William A. (ed.), John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1996, p.69. ISBN 0-8018-5110-6
  4. ^ Strehlow, Harro, "Zoos and Aquariums of Berlin" in New World, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century, Hoage, Robert J. and Deiss, William A. (ed.), John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1996, p.70. ISBN 0-8018-5110-6
  5. ^ Van Bruggen, A.C., "Notes on the Buildings of Amsterdam Zoo", International Zoo News Vol.49/6 (No.319), September 2002.
  6. ^ Kawata, Ken, "Zoological Gardens of Japan", in Zoo and Aquarium History: Ancient Collections to Zoological Gardens, Kisling, Vernon N. (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, 2001, p.298. ISBN 0-8493-2100-x
  7. ^ Sea Otters, Oregon Coast Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  8. ^ Seals, Oregon Coast Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  9. ^ Birds, Oregon Coast Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  10. ^ Sandy Shores, Monterey Bay Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  11. ^ Taylor, Leighton R., Aquariums: Windows to Nature, Prentice Hall General Reference, New York, 1993. ISBN 0671850199
  12. ^ Sharks and Rays, Monterey Bay Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Shedd History, Shedd Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  14. ^ Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World, Auckland
  15. ^ Research, Vancouver Aquarium's official website, accessed February 3rd, 2007.
  16. ^ Narwhal (Monodon monoceros)

External links



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