Woods Hole Science Aquarium
166 Water Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543
Open 11:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Closed all federal holidays.
What We Do
Established in 1885, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium is the country’s oldest marine aquarium. It is owned by the federal government, operated by NOAA Fisheries, and partners with the Marine Biological Laboratory on educational programs. The aquarium features:
- Animals of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic waters.
- Exhibit cases with bones, skulls, and teeth.
- Information about Woods Hole science and history, fishery science, marine mammals, sea turtles, and local fish species.
- Touch tanks where you may find small fish, shellfish, sea stars, shells, and egg casings.
Visitors are allowed behind the scenes, where they can watch the staff feed animals, clean tanks, and work on the life support systems. Approximately 80,000 people visit the aquarium every year, including 10,000 children in school groups.
A Google search reveals that several aquariums claim to be the oldest in the country. None have as good a claim on the title as the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, which arguably started in 1875 when Spencer Baird, the first U.S. Fish Commissioner, established a summer research station in Woods Hole and invited the public in to view the marine animals and learn about the new commission’s research. If that's too flimsy of a claim for our birth year, 1885 is an easily certified founding date—that's the year the fledgling U.S. Fish Commission in Woods Hole opened a state-of-the-art research building that featured a public aquarium. Its cabinets displayed preserved specimens of fish, invertebrates, and birds, and large tanks holding live marine specimens.
Believing that people are entitled to know about work supported by public funds, Baird established a policy of openness in Woods Hole with his public aquarium.
The aquarium thrived in the 19th-century laboratory building until 1954, when Hurricane Carol ravaged the village. The badly damaged laboratory and aquarium were torn down in 1958 and replaced by two buildings, one of which has housed the aquarium since 1961.
Now well into its second century, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium continues to carry out the dual missions Baird envisioned: supporting fisheries research, and educating the public about marine life and marine science.
In the late 20th century, the aquarium took on a third mission: conservation. The aquarium staff now rehabilitates and releases cold-stunned turtles and provides a permanent home for stranded seals that cannot be released to the wild.