Oldest Aquarium in US Shuts Down – What’s Next (if anything) for the National Aquarium?

Posted by Rachel S on Monday, October 7th, 2013

National Aquarium in DC is closed

There have been a lot of things shut down in our nation’s capital lately thanks to the budget sequester but this closure is permanent and its residents more likely to be missed than the political sharks swimming around DC. The National Aquarium, a fixture in Washington for more than 140 years, was permanently shuttered last week leaving 2,500 aquatic residents looking for new digs. Why? The Commerce Department says it must expand and needs to take over the space in the Herbert Hoover Commerce Building the National Aquarium has occupied since the 1930s. So how did the aquarium end up housed with Commerce? Read on!

History of the Aquarium

When the National Aquarium opened in 1873, it was in Massachusetts. With an initial installation of 180 species, it became America’s first public aquarium. After five years in MA, the aquarium was brought to DC and first resided at the Washington Monument. In the 1880s it relocated again to an area with ponds that could serve as hatcheries since the aquarium first fell under the auspices of the Fishing Commission.

One of the two small alligators at the National Aquarium

When the Fishing Commission was swept into the Department of Commerce, the aquarium swam in with it which explains why it was installed at the new Commerce Department Building in 1932. Later, the Fishing Commission migrated with the Biological Survey Bureau to form the Fish and Wildlife Service, but the aquarium stayed with the Commerce Department.

Privatization of the Aquarium

50 years after setting up shop in the new Hoover Commerce Building, in 1982, the government eliminated the funding for the National Aquarium. To save the aquarium, the non-profit National Aquarium Society was formed and took over the day to day running of the aquarium. But after 140 years, the government has decided it needs the space and has ejected the historic aquarium. 1,700 of the 2,500 animal residents are being sent to the Animal Care Center in Baltimore and the rest were found homes or are being released into the wild.

Small window at National Aquarium

Is This the End of the National Aquarium in DC?

Although there is still another National Aquarium in Baltimore, it’s a shame to see the longest running aquarium in the US close its doors. The National Aquarium Board has promised that it is “exploring opportunities and funding options” to revive the aquarium’s presence in the capital. To keep up with any developments on bringing the National Aquarium back to DC, click here.

Will DC Suffer Because of this Closure?

In all honesty, the National Aquarium was tiny and you didn’t get much bang for your $10 admission fee. Granted that’s significantly cheaper than world class facilities like Baltimore’s National Aquarium or the Georgia Aquarium charge (roughly $35). But you couldn’t really ever squeeze more than an hour out of the DC facility, so relative to what you got, the admission was pretty steep. It’s more the sense of history that’s the loss as the site itself was less than stellar. If the aquarium is revived in DC, hopefully it will be of size, scope and design worthy of the capital and an attraction worth the trip!


image sources: TripAdvisor.com, WashingtonPost.com

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