Research at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium

A brief look at how the aquarium located in Woods Hole has been used for scientific research from the very start.

Black and white photo of McDonald Jar aquaria on shelf in front of window and square aquaria on floor beneath them.

Some of the early research aquaria, circa 1890, in the aquarium space in the old Woods Hole Laboratory's main research building.

The Woods Hole Science Aquarium has a three-part mission: education, conservation, and research in support of NOAA Fisheries’ role in stewardship of the nation’s living marine resources. Woods Hole Laboratory founder Spencer Baird wanted the public to see the species researchers were studying, and that continues to this day.

On occasion the facility is also a working research aquarium as it was nearly 150 years ago. Researchers conduct experiments from time to time in basement facilities, where tanks and small aquaria are set-up for special needs. Recent research projects have focused on striped bass, and sex determination in black sea bass, most of which change sex as they mature.

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center's research projects sometimes need help to conduct growth experiments or to better understand the behavior of tagged fish and shellfish. A current experiment involves techniques for determining growth rings in the earbones of cusk, a member of the cod family. 

Students viewing research tanks in aquarium.

Students in an aquarium operations course view tanks in our basement area, set aside for research, specialized animal care, and other needs.

Research facilities are limited, but the staff pursue projects to improve Aquarium care and procedures. One recent example focused on ways to increase survival of specimens intended for the Aquarium collection taken during research cruises.

Collecting cold-water species for the Woods Hole Science Aquarium is a challenge. Learn more from Kristy Owen's 2017 trip on the R/V Gloria Michelle: Stayin' Alive.

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on December 04, 2019