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2020 at the Aquarium

Here are the top stories from the Aquarium this year, including all the ways we adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Girl with family feeding lorikeets from cup

Aquarium of the Pacific/Andrew Reitsma

2020 was a year the world will be glad to leave behind. Far too many have suffered from the ravages of a devastating global pandemic. Our heart goes out especially to anyone who has lost someone they care for this year.

As a result of being fully open only ninety-one days in 2020, losses in revenue forced the Aquarium of the Pacific to cut the number of staff by more than 50 percent. This was hard for the staff, but it also brought out the best in everyone. Everyone learned new skills, covered for each other, and conducted food and toy drives for those who lost their paychecks.

Our education team reached more people than ever before, our conservation work continued, a new coral exhibit opened, our 12,000 animals continued to receive the best possible care, and several new features were added to Pacific Visions—such as the Paint a Fish wall. The Aquarium continued to bring people together through its many cultural programs, albeit it virtually. And for the 157 days when only the outdoor exhibits were open, the Aquarium implemented rigorous safety practices and even added a few new experiences for low-density visitor groups.

A Selection of the Year's Accomplishments

Peter Kareiva portrait with Pacific Visions in background

Peter Kareiva Aquarium of the Pacific/Andrew Reitsma

We Welcomed a New CEO
The Aquarium welcomed Dr. Peter Kareiva as our new president and CEO on August 1, 2020. Dr. Kareiva came to the Aquarium from his position as director of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

He was drawn to the Aquarium out of concern for the future of marine ecosystems and a conviction that environmental policies will thrive only if they are rooted in personal connections between people and nature. “The future of the world depends on the future of the ocean, and there is no better place than the Aquarium of the Pacific to help make sure that future is vibrant,” he said.

Connecting with the Aquarium Online
When the Aquarium closed, we gathered all of our existing online programs and created new ones and packaged them into the Online Academy. The live webcams installed in several of the Aquarium’s exhibits and the live interactive classes with Aquarium educators have been among the most popular Online Academy programs. Another popular program has been the Pacific Pals’ virtual puppet show. Since March the Aquarium has posted 876 live classes, with viewers tuning in from across the country and even around the world. Over the summer viewers tuned in from as far away as England, India, and Israel.

Kid looking at squid blue

Aquarium of the Pacific/Andrew Reitsma

African American Scholar Program
On June 8, 2020, World Ocean Day, the Aquarium announced a new scholarship. Kathie Eckert, chair of the Aquarium’s Board of Directors, made the announcement on behalf of the Aquarium, its Board of Directors, and staff in a video. The new scholarship program will award at least $50,000 each year to African American students who express interest in the aquarium field. Applicants will pursue programs in ocean education, animal husbandry, microbiology, facilities, or business administration. Winners will be announced in January 2021.

Virtual Sea Fare Broke Fundraising Record
The Aquarium’s first-ever virtual Sea Fare fundraiser was held on October 17, 2020, and raised over $214,000, a record for funds raised at this annual event. Viewers bid on auction items and made donations from home throughout the event. The funds raised help the Aquarium with the $750,000 monthly cost of caring for its 12,000 animals, including food, veterinary care, saltwater for the exhibits, labor, etc.

New Coral Reefs Exhibit
The Aquarium’s new exhibit for 2020, Coral Reefs: Nature’s Underwater Cities, featured a newly reimagined Tropical Pacific Gallery with many new animals and exhibits, new films, and more. People at home will get the chance to see this exhibit on upcoming virtual tours of the Tropical Pacific Gallery. We hope to share this new exhibit with everyone in 2021.

New Sea Otter & New Partnership
In late February the Aquarium welcomed a new sea otter, a four-year-old female named Millie, and announced that it will become a partner facility for rehabilitating stranded sea otter pups, rearing them with the help of surrogate mothers, and coordinating their release back into the wild.

This project initiated a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sea otter surrogacy program. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has rescued, rehabilitated, and released stranded sea otter pups since the 1980s, helping in the recovery of wild populations of this endangered species. Millie successfully raised a pup previously through this program, and based on her experience and disposition, experts believe she is ideally suited to serve as a surrogate mom.

The new surrogacy area at the Aquarium of the Pacific will be built behind the scenes of its Molina Animal Care Center and will accommodate three to four rescued sea otter pups each year.

Releasing Endangered Giant Sea Bass
In early 2020 California State University, Northridge (CSUN), the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium announced a successful joint effort involving raising and releasing juvenile giant sea bass into the ocean.

In March the partners conducted the first of the planned releases off California’s coast. Giant sea bass are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Their populations are believed to be increasing slowly after years of decline.

Masked family at Tropical with bonnethead shark

Aquarium of the Pacific/Andrew Reitsma

Connecting With You
The Aquarium’s most important work in 2020 was connecting with you, our followers and supporters. We relied on your ongoing support to help the Aquarium recover and grow from the impacts of the pandemic. You can continue to support the Aquarium by purchasing a membership, sharing our programs with friends, family, and colleagues, and making a charitable donation. Together we can ensure that the Aquarium will engage, inspire, and empower the public to care for our planet for years to come. We wish you all a happy and safe New Year.