Director's Biography

Harry Helling

Harry Helling

Executive Director

When Harry Helling took the helm of Birch Aquarium as the executive director in October 2015, he introduced his vision for a reimagined Birch Aquarium. In the years since, he has led the aquarium through the opening of seven major exhibits and embraced a new mission: to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet. 

The reimagined aquarium has also included ambitious goals for redefining the role of a public aquarium in meeting the challenges of climate change.  Birch Aquarium’s response has included the launch of a new department called The Hub that connects Scripps’ climate science to innovative outreach, an energized Education Department creating ground-breaking new K-12 on-the-water learning experiences, and an expanded Husbandry Team exploring new approaches to conservation programming.

As the aquarium looks ahead to an exciting future, Helling’s original vision for the aquarium continues to come to life with an expansive capital improvements plan that will significantly improve the guest experience and behind-the-scenes animal care and conservation facilities.  The plan will refresh five different regions around the aquarium and is expected to be implemented over the next 4-5 years.

Building Birch into the aquarium of the future is coming full circle for Helling, whose work at the T. Wayland Vaughan Aquarium (now Birch Aquarium) as an undergrad at UC San Diego inspired him to change career paths — a journey that eventually brought him back as executive director of the aquarium. 

Before landing at Birch Aquarium, Helling served for 7 years as CEO for the Crystal Cove Conservancy in Newport Coast, California. For more than 23 years, he served as President and Vice President of Education and Research at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Marine Biology from UC San Diego and master’s in science and environmental education from California State University, Humboldt (now Cal Poly Humboldt).