Sunday, September 29, 2013

DC Aquarium Shuts its Doors After 128 Years

DC's National Aquarium shuts its doors for good tomorrow

128 years is a long time for any place to stay open... which makes tomorrow's closing of the first-ever public aquarium in the United States, all the more painful. The DC branch of the National Aquarium is shutting its doors forever after close of business Monday. For more than 80 years, it has occupied part of the basement of the Herbert Hoover Building (HQ for the Department of Commerce) but due to pending renovations, has to transfer most of its vast collection to the new National Aquarium in Baltimore and several other spots across the country.

Today's visit was my first in over a decade (Turns out you're even allowed to take photos again) and it was great to see the old gal one final time. What it lacks in size, the DC Aquarium makes up for in substance. It begins with the trip downstairs, which seems strikingly similar to boarding a submarine. The dark confines add an air of suspense to your visit: The ocean is beautiful, but kinda creepy when you think about it. There are over 2,500 different creatures (250 species) to look at and admire, starting with the aquarium's main stars... the Leopard Sharks, whose daily feeding will be sorely missed.

Leopard Sharks (photo courtesy of the National Aquarium)

So too will the pair of American Alligators (Snappy and Munch Munch) who will soon be released into the wilds of Louisiana. Over two-thirds of the DC collection will move to nearby Baltimore, where they'll find bigger crowds but less ambiance. Don't get me wrong: The Baltimore Aquarium is the best in the world, in my opinion... but I'm all about the history, and DC's is without equal. For example, did you know that the Aquarium actually started as a collection of ponds on the grounds of the Washington Monument? These "Carp Ponds" oversaw the final phases of construction for the Monument, which opened back in 1884 (six years after the ponds.) The Department of Commerce got involved in 1903, and the Aquarium opened in its basement 29 years later.

Archive photo of National Aquarium, circa 1931

For decades it flourished, until 1982 when the Federal Government stopped funding it. Forced to fend for itself, it faced closing 10 years ago, prompting an alliance with the popular Baltimore Aquarium. DC isn't throwing in the towel just yet: There's still hope for a new location, but that could take a while. I couldn't help but notice at least 100 visitors yesterday, just before noon. Most were oblivious to the Aquarium's looming closing; but almost everyone appeared to be having a grand time. Demand is surely there: Let's hope we come up with something new and even better.

So it's with a heavy heart that this Washingtonian (and the 200,000+ locals/tourists who visit each year) bid adieu to the one that "started it all." Fair winds and following seas: You'll be missed.

American Alligator... Louisiana-bound!

American Toad

Lionfish (Pterois)

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