Birch Aquarium

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Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Aq facility rental.jpg
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Date opened 1903[1]
Location Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, San Diego, California, USA
Coordinates 32°52′04″N 117°14′59″W / 32.8678°N 117.2496°W / 32.8678; -117.2496Coordinates: 32°52′04″N 117°14′59″W / 32.8678°N 117.2496°W / 32.8678; -117.2496
No. of animals 3,000+
No. of species 380
Volume of largest tank 70,000 U.S. gal (260,000 l)[2]
Annual visitors 435,000+
Memberships AZA[3]

Birch Aquarium at Scripps (sometimes referred to as Scripps Aquarium or Birch Aquarium) is the public outreach center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.[4] Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium at Scripps has an annual attendance of more than 435,000, including more than 40,000 school children, and features more than 3,000 animals representing 380 species. The hilltop site provides spectacular views of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography campus and the Pacific Ocean.

Mission statement[edit]

To provide ocean science education, interpret Scripps Institution of Oceanography research, and promote ocean conservation.[4]


The original Scripps marine biological laboratory, 1910

The aquarium was established in 1903 after the Marine Biological Association of San Diego was created to conduct marine research in the local waters of the Pacific Ocean. (Its name was later changed to Scripps Institution of Oceanography to honor supporters Ellen Browning Scripps and E.W. Scripps, part of the Scripps family of newspaper pioneers.) The founders built and maintained a small public aquarium and museum to communicate their discoveries to the world.[1]

The researchers outgrew their modest laboratory in the boathouse of the Hotel del Coronado and moved to a small laboratory at La Jolla Cove in 1905. Several years later, the association purchased 174 acres (70 ha) at La Jolla Shores for $1,000 at a public auction from the city of San Diego. The first permanent building at the new site was constructed in 1910. Today the Old Scripps Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1][5]

In 1915, the first building devoted solely to an aquarium was built on the Scripps campus. The small, wooden structure contained 19 tanks ranging in size from 96 to 228 U.S. gallons (360 to 860 l). The oceanographic museum was located in a nearby building. The institution's name changed to Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1925 to recognize the growing faculty's widened range of studies.[1]

The Scripps Aquarium-Museum opened in 1951 and named to honor former institution director T. Wayland Vaughan. The three-story facility served the institution for more than 40 years. A ring of 18 tanks, the largest at 2,000 U.S. gallons (7,600 l), surrounded a central museum of glass exhibit cases displaying Scripps research projects. Within a month of its opening, visitors from all 48 states had signed the guest book.[1]

In 1985, the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation started a fund-raising effort for a new aquarium by donating $6 million. JCJ Architecture of San Diego was selected as the design architect[citation needed] and in 1992, the current $14 million Birch Aquarium at Scripps opened its doors. UC San Diego donated the land.[1] Birch Aquarium at Scripps celebrated its 20th anniversary in September 2012 by introducing a new visual identity.


At 64,157 square feet (5,960.4 m2), Birch Aquarium at Scripps is designed around a central lobby with entrances to exhibit areas. Display tanks contain 175,000 U.S. gallons (660,000 l) of seawater.

70,000-U.S.-gallon (260,000 l) kelp tank

Hall of Fishes[edit]

Hall of Fishes features more than 60 tanks of Pacific fishes and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and the Caribbean. The largest habitat is a 70,000-U.S.-gallon (260,000 l) kelp forest tank.[2] The tank can be viewed live online through the Kelp Cam.[6]

Shark Reef[edit]

This 13,000-U.S.-gallon (49,000 l) tank houses shark species that inhabit tropical reef habitats, including blacktip reef sharks, brownbanded bamboo sharks, Port Jackson sharks, and wobbegongs. Interpretive panels on shark biology and conservation accompany the reef.[2]

Tide-Pool Plaza at Birch Aquarium

Tide-Pool Plaza[edit]

Tide-Pool Plaza features three living tide pools where visitors can touch and learn about tide-pool animals with docents. Windows in the habitats provide up-close views of starfish, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, lobsters, and other animals local to San Diego's tide pools.[7] The tide pool overlooks La Jolla and the Pacific Ocean.

Coral Reef[edit]

This area features live coral and reef inhabitants such as lionfish, chambered nautilus, and giant clams. The gallery has interactive displays on the latest Scripps research on coral reefs around the world. The staff propagates live corals for aquarium displays without harming natural coral reefs.

There's Something About Seahorses[edit]

There's Something About Seahorses features more than a dozen seahorse species and their relatives, a special seahorse nursery, and hands-on activities for all ages about seahorse biology. Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a world leader in seahorse propagation, reducing the need for other zoos and aquariums to collect from the wild.[8]

Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge[edit]

This exhibit presents the science of global warming and highlights Scripps Institution of Oceanography's half-century of research on climate change.[9] Through interactive activities, the exhibit shows visitors current environmental changes and those projected for the future. It also presents the latest ideas for reducing carbon emissions. In Fall 2007, the exhibit was named the Silver winner in museum design for the 2007 Event Design Awards sponsored by Connecticut-based Event Design Magazine.[citation needed]

Boundless Energy[edit]

This is an outdoor playground that celebrates the innovative ways we can use natural forces to power our lives. Interactive stations explore ways to harness renewable energy from the sun, the wind, and ocean motion. Visitors can expend their own "boundless energy" at a play area for kids in which stationary bikes, hand cranks, and a seesaw powers a whimsical water sculpture.[10]

Education Programs[edit]

Birch Aquarium at Scripps offers dozens of educational programs for all ages about the ocean, Earth and atmosphere.[11]

  • On-site: SEA Days, birthday parties, Shark Week, Spring EGGStravaganza, Haunted Aquarium, Perspective on Ocean Science lecture series, Ocean Author programs
  • In the Field: Guided tours of the Scripps Pier, grunion runs, tidepooling, snorkeling, whale watching
  • Summer: Summer Learning Adventure Camps are available for children of ages 4 through 15.[12]

Special events[edit]


  • Summer 2012 San Diegans vote Birch Aquarium at Scripps the Best Museum in San Diego in the annual A-List poll for the second year in a row.[13]
  • Fall 2011 San Diegans vote Birch Aquarium at Scripps the Best Museum in San Diego in the annual A-List poll.[14] The aquarium was voted the #2 museum in 2008,[15] 2009,[16] and 2010.[17]
  • Spring 2011 Birch Aquarium at Scripps' Education Department is a recipient of the 2010 Diversity Award at UC San Diego.[citation needed]
  • Winter 2010 For the second year in a row, San Diegans who participated in Museum Month visited Birch Aquarium at Scripps more than any other local museum.[citation needed]
  • Winter 2009 CityBeat recognized Birch Aquarium at Scripps as the Best Place to Admire Sea Life Without Getting Wet in its seventh-annual “Best of San Diego” list.[citation needed]
  • Winter 2008 Executive Director Nigella Hillgarth is recognized as a 2009 Metro Mover to Watch by San Diego Metropolitan Magazine.[18]
  • Spring 2008: Birch Aquarium at Scripps is named San Diego's Best Children's Activity Center or Museum in Ranch & Coast magazine's third-annual "Readers' Choice: Best of 2008" survey.[citation needed]
  • Fall 2007: Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge exhibition is named the Silver winner in museum design for the 2007 Event Design Awards.[citation needed] Sponsored by Connecticut-based Event Design Magazine, the annual awards recognize the best designs worldwide across events, exhibits and environments.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "History". University of California at San Diego. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c "Hall of Fishes". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  3. ^ "List of Accredited Zoos and Aquariums". AZA. Retrieved 19 February 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "About Us". University of California at San Diego. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Old Scripps Building". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  6. ^ "Kelp Cam — Live!". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Tide Pool Display". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ "There's Something About Seahorses". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Boundless Energy". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  11. ^ "Education". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Summer Learning Adventure Camps". Birch Aquarium at Scripps. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "2011 A-List poll". KGTV. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  15. ^ "2008 A-List poll". KGTV. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  16. ^ "2009 A-List poll". KGTV. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  17. ^ "2010 A-List poll". KGTV. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  18. ^ "New Energy At The Birch Aquarium". San Diego Metropolitan. Archived from the original on February 17, 2009. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 

External links[edit]