History of the Woods Hole Science Aquarium
Spencer Baird established a research station in Woods Hole, Massachusetts during the summer of 1871. A permanent marine science laboratory was constructed by 1885. The Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center is located on that same ground today.
Spencer Baird, the nation’s first U.S. Fish Commissioner, established a research station on Little Harbor in Woods Hole, Massachusetts during the summer of 1871. In 1875, a research aquarium was added to the station, and was opened for public tours in the summer. A permanent marine science laboratory was constructed nearby on Great Harbor by 1885 to continue the work Baird supported, studying the nation’s ocean resources. The descendant of that effort, the Woods Hole Laboratory of NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center, is located on that same ground today.
Even in those days, Cape Cod was a busy vacation destination. Baird set aside space in the aquarium for educational displays and opened its doors to the public daily during the season. It featured local sea life and exhibits to help people learn more about the sea around them. Visitors might also encounter a researcher or two, since it was also a working research aquarium. To further interest people in this work, Baird arranged for harbor seals to inhabit the open granite pools otherwise used to hold marine specimens. The seals were on display in the summer and re-released into the wild every fall.
The Woods Hole Lab is the origin point for both NOAA’s Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The laboratory’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium has also persisted since the days of Mr. Baird. It continues to maintain as its core collection sea life that can be found in local waters during some part of the year.
For more than 150 years, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium has been a stable and valued destination for visitors, students, and researchers drawn to ocean life. Like the lab itself, it has withstood flood, fire, and three major hurricanes. It has served in peacetime and during both world wars, when the laboratory was occupied by the U.S. Navy. It continues to serve science and the country today.