2023 Recap: National Aquarium News

Before jumping feet-first into 2024, we're looking over our shoulder at some of our favorite National Aquarium moments of 2023.

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The National Aquarium is open 363 days a year, and we spend every single one of them living our mission to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures. Even on the two days a year we're not open to guests, our team is here caring for animals in their Aquarium habitats as well as in behind-the-scenes spaces and at the Animal Care and Rescue Center. Join us as we revisit some of the past year's most memorable and noteworthy days!

And because, at our heart, we are a conservation organization, don't miss the separate recap about our efforts this year to stop plastic pollution, combat climate change, and save wildlife and habitats.

Seen From Above, Drag Queen Evon Dior Michelle Performs on a Catwalk in a Peacock Costume Under Blue Lights at Voyages Chapter 4

Impacting Baltimore and Maryland

At the very start of 2023, an independent assessment by travel research expert Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, showed the Aquarium to be a vital economic driver and anchor institution for Baltimore City and Maryland. The report found that the Aquarium generated more than $1.3 billion in tourism-related economic impact and $109 million in state and local tax revenue over the four-year period ending in 2022, which included the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, we earned renewal of our accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). This renewal, which lasts five years, extends the National Aquarium's continuous accreditation since its original application in 1984, and is critical to our work as a leader in animal care and well-being.

The Aquarium debuted our immersive, adults-only event series, Voyages, in 2022 to inspire connection to nature and celebrate all things Baltimore. In 2023, we held two Voyages events. At Voyages: Chapter 3 in July, featured artist Nicoletta Darita de la Brown explored the restorative effects of water. Chapter 4 in November celebrated the beauty of adaptation interpreted through the artistry of drag with featured artist Devon Vaow.

In August, the Aquarium celebrated the installation of new Network to Freedom signage outside the Aquarium. "Dugan's Wharf: Site of Tilly's Escape" is the first stop on the Underground Railroad story in Baltimore. This signage is part of a journey that moves people from Howard County to Cecil County as the Underground Railroad's history in Maryland unfolds. This marker is the first physical signage in Baltimore City to identify a Network to Freedom site.

On September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel caused a record-setting storm surge that impacted Baltimore and the National Aquarium. To mark the 20th anniversary, we looked back at the devastation the storm caused and how the Aquarium team at the time responded.

Work is now officially underway on the newest Aquarium exhibit. The National Aquarium Harbor Wetland presented by CFG Bank will be a free, outdoor exhibit in the Inner Harbor between Piers 3 and 4. When it opens in 2024, guests will be able to immerse themselves in a re-created salt marsh habitat like those that existed in Baltimore City hundreds of years ago.

2 Featherless Blue-Headed Pionus Chicks Resting Together in a Clear Plastic Container with Bedding

Caring for Animals

As part of our work to establish North America's first dolphin sanctuary, we partnered with experts at Great Britain's SEA LIFE Trust and Canada's Whale Sanctuary Project to establish guidelines for marine mammal sanctuaries. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) reviewed the submitted guidelines and approved them as the first-ever officially adopted set of best practices for cetacean sanctuaries.

In June, we welcomed three brand-new hatchlings—blue-headed pionus chicks nicknamed Chris, Vera and Cal. Their older brother Gianni can be seen in Upland Tropical Rain Forest.

In September, we had to say goodbye to Duncan, the charismatic map pufferfish who lived at the Animal Care and Rescue Center and captured the hearts of Aquarium staff and guests alike. He passed peacefully with his loving keepers and caretakers around him.

Four Students Pose with Fluid Movement Performer and Soap Bubbles at the 2023 School Shell-ebration Event

Serving Students

This year marked our seventh year of partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library to offer Read to Reef—an award-winning program through which Baltimore City students can earn free Aquarium admission for up to four guests by reading five aquatic- or conservation-themed books. The program runs twice each year, once in the spring and once in fall.

Another successful long-term program that continued in 2023 is Terrapins in the Classroom. This spring, Maryland students from 39 schools returned 40 diamondback terrapins back to Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay after caring for them throughout the school year. And this fall, 44 new terrapin hatchlings joined classrooms in 44 schools across the state through the program.

In June, we held our annual School Shell-ebration event to recognize the exceptional achievements of Baltimore-area students. During this year's event, we welcomed more than 1,800 guests over two nights. School Shell-ebration grants free, after-hours admission to local students and their families in celebration of the completion of a successful school year.

That's a wrap! We hope to see you at the Aquarium in 2024.

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