It was founded in 1969 by a consortium of universities in Eastern Canada, and several government departments, who pooled their resources in order to provide field research and teaching facilities that would complement their programs in marine biology and oceanography. The Huntsman Marine Laboratory was established on 20 acres (8.1 ha) of land that was provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and included two residential buildings that were called the Ambridge Estate. The government assisted with the purchase of the Sir Thomas Tait Estate which included another 50 acres, and the large Anderson House, which provides accommodation for visiting students. A public aquarium opened in 1972. The name was changed to Huntsman Marine Science Centre in 1987. In 1991 and again in 1999, the HMSC was awarded the Gulf of Maine Visionary Award. 
HMSC has teaching and aquacultureresearch laboratories and a 15 metres (49 ft) research vessel. The HMSC hosts the executive office of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. HMSC's education branch offers academic and public education programs for schoolchildren, undergraduate students and school teachers. The research branch works with governmental agencies and private industry, while its biodiversity unit, the Atlantic Reference Centre, has the largest collections of Atlantic organisms in Canada. The HMSC hosts the executive office of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System. The Huntsman Aquarium and Museum includes a teeming touch tank. Live marine specimens, displays, and marine ecology films are available from May to October.