As Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego’s 30th year “on the hill” comes to a close, the aquarium has much to celebrate including its all-time attendance record as well as an historic number of scholarships. The aquarium also just received the Quarter Century Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), marking 25 years of continuous accreditation.
Birch Aquarium closed out its fiscal year on June 30, 2023 with 523,703 guests, surpassing the previous record of 496,651 from 2019.
“This is such an exciting time in the history of Birch Aquarium,” said Executive Director Harry Helling. “To have come back from the pandemic stronger than ever before is a testament not only to the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers, but also to the strong support from our community.”
The fiscal year started in July with the opening of Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins — the biggest aquarium addition to the aquarium in 30 years — enticing audiences from all over the country to see the world’s smallest penguins in person.
In January, Oceans at Night — a monthly event that has been wowing a 21+ audience with ocean phenomenon that take place after dark — was launched followed by the birth of more than 70 Weedy Seadragons in March, and the return to near pre-pandemic numbers for school groups and venue rentals.
The aquarium also offered two additional months of seasonal summer hours, staying open late from Memorial Day through Labor Day for the first time ever and added new behind-the-scenes tours and feedings to its daily schedule of offerings.
During the 22/23 school year, Birch Aquarium welcomed 41,000 Pre-K-12 students distributing more than $375,000 in scholarships, an all-time record.
Recognition of Excellence
Just in time for the Sept. 16 anniversary, Birch Aquarium received the AZA Quarter Century Award, recognizing the aquarium’s commitment to maintaining the highest standards in animal care, welfare, management, veterinary care, conservation, education, staffing, facilities, safety, guest services, and more. The award acknowledges the aquarium’s continuous dedication to the best modern zoological practices and philosophies — the hallmarks of AZA accreditation, which Birch Aquarium has held since 1998.
The award was announced during the AZA’s Annual Conference yesterday in Columbus, Ohio.
History on the Hill
A public aquarium has been part of Scripps Institution of Oceanography since the very beginning, starting in 1905 with the Little Green Laboratory at La Jolla Cove. Though there were several iterations of aquariums at Scripps, the opening of Birch Aquarium on Sept. 16, 1992 in its current location “on the hill” took the aquarium to the next level, expanding the institution’s public outreach arm.