Update From the CEO: Our Future in Washington, DC

update from the CEO - national aquarium

As a friend or follower of the National Aquarium, you probably know about the nation’s original aquarium, located since 1932 in the U.S. Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington, DC.

National Aquarium, Washington, DC

When the building (now called the Herbert C. Hoover Building) opened, one of its unique features was that it housed the fledgling National Aquarium, which had been operated in one form or another by the Fisheries Service since 1873. In its 140 years of existence, the National Aquarium, Washington, DC, has had a long and illustrious history.

Yet, due to major renovations to the Commerce building, the Aquarium must vacate its current space and close on September 30. When that wing of the Commerce building reopens in two years, the space will be taken up by a new pedestrian mall to provide better access to the Ronald Reagan building across 14th Street, NW. Although our Aquarium will welcome its last guest next week, its legacy and role in the capital are far from over. More on that in a minute.

The process of closing an aquarium is neither easy nor quick. It began months ago, with a careful assessment of every animal and plant in the facility. Staff then developed detailed plans for transferring 1,700 of the 2,500 animals to our Animal Care Center in Baltimore; homes were found for the remaining 800 animals at other accredited institutions.

Over the next six weeks, our Animal Care staff will be concentrating on transporting these animals safely and securely to their new homes, where all will continue to educate and inspire the public. National Aquarium, Washington, DC, staff members have been offered positions at our aquarium in Baltimore or at other facilities, while others will be given support for finding new work. Pumps, filters, acrylic windows, holding tanks and a host of other equipment must be inventoried, disassembled and reused or recycled. In total, it will take at least three months to demobilize a facility that has been hosting visitors for 81 years.

It is for that reason that we are unequivocally committed to a National Aquarium presence in the nation’s capital. The closing of our historic, but aging, facility opens new doors even as old ones close. We have recently embarked on a strategic plan process, called BLUEprint, to identify feasibility and potential uses for a new facility in the capital. Over the next six months, our team will work with expert planners and designers from Studio Gang Architects and IMPACTS Research & Development to establish exactly what form any future endeavors should take. Knowing the talents that this team brings to bear, I am confident that our future in the capital will do justice to the legacy of the nation’s longest continuously operating aquarium.

So many individuals and organizations have supported the National Aquarium, Washington, DC: a passionate Board of Directors, the District of Columbia government, our dedicated partners in both the public and private sectors, visiting teachers and students and a terrifically committed staff—each has helped to shape this next stage in the National Aquarium’s long journey. I offer my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of them.

I look forward to sharing our future plans with you as they take shape. Visit aqua.org/dc for the latest news and information about the big move, new plans and next steps. As always, thank you for your interest, support and connection.

34 Responses to “Update From the CEO: Our Future in Washington, DC”


  1. 1 Alex Taday September 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Have you looked at possibilites of a presence at the National Harbor? Although it is not “in the city”, it is a thriving/growing tourist destination.

    • 2 National Aquarium September 27, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      A great suggestion, Alex! Our team of expert planners and designers are definitely exploring all of the great areas (like the National Harbor) that our nation’s capital has to offer!

  2. 3 Cynthia Heber September 27, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Although, I have not visited the facility in DC and was planning on going on my next trip. But, it will not be fulfilled. How about developing an aquarium down at the National Harbor?

    • 4 National Aquarium September 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion, Cynthia! Our team of expert planners and designers are definitely exploring all of the great areas (like the National Harbor) that our nation’s capital has to offer!

      We also have our facility in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor that you can hopefully visit on your next trip!

  3. 6 Tara C. September 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    “National” Harbor is in Maryland, not in DC. I appreciate National Aquarium’s commitment to maintaining a presence in the nation’s capital. As such, the new location should not be in Maryland, which already has the Baltimore location. Perhaps a location along the newly rejuvenated Anacostia waterfront would be an option?

    • 7 National Aquarium September 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Thanks for the input, Tara! We definitely appreciate everyone’s thoughts of support and insight into what our future in the nation’s capital should be.

  4. 8 allysonfinch September 27, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I wrote this once and it didn’t post, and lost my copy so I have to rewrite :(

    I think DC has to have an aquarium and I think you guys now have an amazing opportunity to provide residents and the millions who visit from around the country, and the world, a world class facility.

    No one at the aquarium talks about the elephant in the room- that fact that Baltimore’s facility is super old. Having been built in the 1960′s or 70′s, it is not at all impressive to anyone who has visited Atlanta or Chattanooga’s aquariums.

    Now is the time to build the type of facility that the city should have. If the city can find land and money to build the soccer team, DC United, a new stadium near Nationals Park, surely they can find land for an aquarium.

    I know the argument has been made that a “real” DC aquarium would cannibalize the Baltimore facility, but I think if you found a way to give each facility a theme, you could entice visitors to check out both, with a two-day pass or some other creative marketing.

    I would not go with National Harbor. I know it’s an easy way out for many new museums and tourist things, but National Harbor is a pain to get to and there is very little free parking. The new aquarium should be Metro accessible.

    • 9 National Aquarium September 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Thanks for the support and insight, Allyson. We agree – there now exists a great opportunity to show both our local community and the visitors that come from around the world to see the nation’s capital how amazing our blue planet truly is!

      As we work closely with Studio Gang Architects and IMPACTS Research & Development on what the future of our presence in DC will look like, we’ll be sure to keep our online community updated!

    • 10 Judy Ewart November 29, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      The Aquarium in Washington DC is my favorite place to tour of all the museums in the area. I have visited it several times and was planning to visit it again during my upcoming trip to DC. Very disappointing to read of its dismantling and hope it can find a new home soon.

      I especially loved the exhibits showing the corals and marine life of the reefs being studied by the Aquarium researchers. I spent many hours enjoying them.

      I totally agree with the thoughts by Allysonfinch above: (1) If DC can find the money for a new stadium, it should be able to find the money to build a proper national aquarium that meets and exceeds the standards of the Smithsonian’s museums and (2) very important, it should be accessible by the Metro.

      I’m also very sorry I never took advantage of the Galapagos tours offered by the Aquarium and am even more disappointed to see that the tours have not been assumed by the Baltimore National Aquarium.

      I wish only the best for the future of a true National Aquarium in Washington DC.

  5. 11 Jim Schmidt September 27, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    It would be nice to see a new location that nestles next to (or even into) one of Washington’s rivers.

  6. 13 Jim A September 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Many mixed emotions and very glad I have had the opportunity to visit, take photos and enjoy the facility. As a hobbyist I can honestly say I loved the exhibits and they influenced my own aquascaping. My first wish for the new facility is to have a similar theme that represents the aquatic life of our nation and their environments. My second wish is that the saltwater and freshwater hobbyist, researchers, educators, and professionals come together to help and assist the future version of the National Aquarium in Washington DC. I will be looking forward to the grand opening.

    • 14 National Aquarium September 27, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks for the message, Jim!

      We agree that the story of our nation’s aquatic treasures is an important one to share with our local community and those who visit the nation’s capital from around the world!

      We will continue to keep our online community updated as our expert team of designers and planners begin their work.

  7. 15 Karen Stromberg September 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    The Smithsonian is still looking for a use for the historic Arts & Industries building. They are going to open an Innovation Pavilion next summer. How about a partnership with them? That would give you a presence on the Mall.

    • 16 National Aquarium September 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks for the thought, Karen! We’re working closely with our partners to determine our best options and will be sure to keep everyone updated as we know more!

  8. 17 Deborah Bigelow September 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    It may be a little out of the realm of possibility, but honestly, if I were to visit any national aquarium in the Capitol City in any country, I would hope to see a different exhibit dedicated to each state/territory/province in that nation, with a focus on the unusual or unexpected things you might find in each local. I know we have a lot, but I think that would really be the key to showing off as many varied aquatic national treasures as would be possible, and would give visitors from other countries a real respect for our combined national respect for those same aquatic treasures.

    • 18 National Aquarium October 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks for the input, Deborah! We’ll certainly keep this great idea in mind as we’re shaping our future presence in the nation’s capital!

  9. 19 Jim M. September 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    What about a partnership with the National Zoo (Smithsonian)?

    • 20 National Aquarium October 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for the thought, Jim! The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is certainly doing an exemplary job of sharing the diversity and beauty of the animal world with Washington DC’s residents and visitors.

      We’re working closely with our partners to determine our best options and will be sure to keep everyone updated as we know more!

  10. 21 Bonnie Keller September 27, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    VA Reptile Rescue was invited to do a weekend display there a few years ago, but had to cancel due to personal illness. I’m sad that I never got a chance to see this location. I do hope that any new facility will be as awesome as the capital area deserves. And if I can help in any way with a reptile exhibit, I’d love to. http://www.vareptilerescue.org

  11. 22 Jessica September 28, 2013 at 12:22 am

    Feel free to keep your friends over at WAMAS in mind if you have any saltwater equipment that needs new homes! Or any saltwater fish, inverts or corals.
    I was really happy I made it over before the closing. I wish you all the best luck in whatever endeavors you decide on.

  12. 23 Tukz Taaca September 28, 2013 at 5:47 am

    Greetings Mr. Racanelli, I am sad to hear this news. But, there’s one thing that in the you and your predecessors have done and that’s to have a prescence in your city for 81 wonderful years. You have a good problem on your hands.

    I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I have never visited your aquarium, but I have seen it virtually. We do not have an aquarium. We are surrounded by the St. John’s River and the Atlantic Ocean and have really no big draw to our downtown.

    I am part of an advocacy group called AquaJax, who wants to build an aquarium. We have used your sister aquarium in Baltimore as an example of how to transform a bad enviroment into a good environment.

    Even as you, your staff, the sealife, residents, and guests go through this difficult transition; know that when one door closes another one opens. Good Luck and God Bless!

    P.S. – if you have any insight that you can give us during your transition that will give us information on trying to build an aquarium here. That would be much appreciated!

    Sincerely,
    Tukz Taaca
    AquaJax.net

    • 24 National Aquarium October 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      Hi Tukz!

      We really appreciate the kind words and will be sure to forward your message on to John.

      Best of luck with your AquaJax plans!

  13. 25 Adam September 30, 2013 at 12:25 am

    I look forward to the Aquarium coming back to DC soon! I’ve done volunteer work there and the the staff in DC are top notch and have put alot of heart into it, I hope they get well taken care off, they are dear to me.

  14. 27 Ruth Shehigian October 16, 2013 at 8:03 am

    My son and I visited the National Aquarium, both in Baltimore and DC this summer and were so impressed with the facility in the District. Our trip was motivated by your closure and we both feel that the lack of a facility in DC is a real vacuum in our national museum system. This facility was one of our favorites. The lack of support and attention for this aquarium and it’s subsequent loss is a real shame. Baltimore is spectacular, but DC was the kind of aquarium where you could really get up close and learn about the animals displayed. My son and I visited 2 times in the course of our trip. So much to see and learn in a welcoming environment.

    Will keep our eyes open to new possibilities.

    Thanks for all you have done and will continue to do for those of us who love aquariums and the life they’re present.

    Ruth

    • 28 National Aquarium October 16, 2013 at 9:36 am

      Thank you so much for your comment, Ruth.

      We absolutely agree that a presence in the nation’s capital is important for us to continue! As we work closely with our task-force, we’ll be sure to keep everyone updated!

  15. 29 Lisa N. November 2, 2013 at 8:57 am

    A few years ago, I wrote about the DC location for my federal agency internal newsletter, including the history of the fisheries that were across town decades ago, near the railway lines in the L’Enfant area. The people I spoke with at the aquarium couldn’t have been nicer about it. People at the agency remarked they didn’t know much about the aquarium at all and were happy to hear more about it. I wish you well in your future endeavor and am excited to see what will be the next chapter for the aquarium. I found the smaller scale of the aquarium to be perfect for younger children who weren’t old enough to appreciate the grander scale of the Baltimore facility and that they could see things up close more easily. And, I myself felt like a kid exploring the Touch Pool, too. So, thank you for many lovely experiences and best of luck to you.

  16. 30 Jeff December 12, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I would love to see an amazing dolphin habitat like Baltimore has in the next DC location!

  17. 31 Harry Brake January 3, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Hola! As a former volunteer at the Baltimore Aquarium for several years, while the facility outside might look aging, and I agree, it is aged, the amazing staff in Baltimore supplies workers and animals to aquariums all over the world and I would say is hyper sensitive to the needs of all the animals there, parallel to no other staff in the world – yet the opportunity to open a partner location in D.C. is exciting! I hope the funding that went into the renovations for the aquarium when it was taken over at the bottom of the commerce building will not be lost in moving and reinvested in a newer facility. Thanks for the detailed info to keep us abreast of everything and all things transparent! Harry Brake – Mexico City

  18. 32 Harry Brake January 3, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Reblogged this on PAVEing a Blog and commented:
    Exciting changes in the D.C. Aquarium – I miss volunteering in Baltimore but exciting to see plans for a new move in the future1


  1. 1 1,500 creatures exiled from D.C. as National Aquarium closes « Political Blok Trackback on September 30, 2013 at 1:05 pm
  2. 2 DC Update: Animal Transports to National Aquarium, Baltimore | National Aquarium - WATERblog Trackback on October 7, 2013 at 5:55 pm

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