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millionth visitor in doorway
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Two families walk through the Woods Hole Science Aquarium doors to find they are the millionth visitor, and the one before and after one million, since 9/11. Photo credit: Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA.
group photo
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The group posed for photos outside the Aquarium with NEFSC Deputy Director Russ Brown and the Aquarium staff.  The one millionth visitor, Shea Baggeroer (in turquoise hat) holds the painting by Bumper. Photo credit:  Shelley Dawicki, NEFSC/NOAA.

August 7, 2015
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Woods Hole Science Aquarium Reaches a Milestone: One Million Visitors Since 9/11

A visit to NOAA’s Woods Hole Science Aquarium is an experience for many, but for six-year-old Shea Baggeroer of Menlo Park, California, the visit August 6 was truly a special event. Baggeroer was the one millionth visitor to the nation’s oldest marine aquarium since 2002, when visitor sign-in was instituted.

Baggeroer’s cousin, 8-year-old Leo Turner of Berkeley, California, was visitor 1,000,001. The two were accompanied by their grandmother, Carol Baggeroer of Cambridge and Falmouth, Mass. Visitor 999,999 was also recognized. Three-year-old Leo Goldschneider of Sharon, Mass., came with his mother Christina and 6-month-old brother Owen. The Goldschneider’s had not planned to come, but Leo loves to visit and wanted to come to celebrate his birthday, which happens to be August 6.

Russell Brown, Deputy Science and Research Director of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and director of the center’s Woods Hole Laboratory, which owns and operates the Aquarium, recognized the special visitors as they were presented gifts to mark the occasion.

“Spencer Baird established the Aquarium in Woods Hole in 1874. He wanted to make the science that we do here transparent to the public,” Brown said. “I’m really proud that we have the Aquarium here, and that we have the public education piece to reach out to people. It’s fantastic that we have 80,000 people come to the Aquarium every year, and we’re delighted to welcome our 1 millionth visitor.”

As the one millionth visitor, Shea Baggeroer received a framed painting created by Bumper, one of the two harbor seals in the outdoor seal exhibit. A photo and paragraph about Bumper appears on the back of the painting. Each of the three special visitors was presented with a t-shirt noting their place in the event.

Eight-year-old Bumper is blind and has been at the Aquarium since he was six months old. He had stranded on Long Island with various injuries which prevented him from being returned to the wild. He now spends his days sharing the seal pool with 13-year-old LuSeal, helping staff inform visitors about harbor seals. Painting is one of his activities.

“It’s exciting. I never expected our visit today to turn into this celebration,” Carol Baggeroer said. “I’ve been coming to the Aquarium for 35 years, and really enjoy it.” Her grandchildren love to visit the aquarium and she brings them whenever they come to visit. Shea and Leo were a bit overwhelmed by all the attention, but excited to see the seals and all the exhibits inside, which they did after the celebration. Shea's favorite part is seeing the seals.

Several college interns from the Aquarium’s 2015 summer program helped plan the millionth visitor celebration. Clara Stahlmann Roeder from St. Paul, Minnesota, who will be a senior at the University of Chicago, used a clicker to count each visitor once the doors opened at 11. Sarah Stanley, a senior at Bates College, helped in planning and filmed the event, as did Kelly Peyton from Chandler, Arizona, who will be senior at the University of Chicago in September.

Just about 11:30 a.m., as they stood in the doorway waiting to sign in, Aquarium staff notified them of the honor and Brown began clapping. Cameras flashed and the crowd cheered. Brown introduced himself to the crowd and announced the significance of the visit to those inside, who joined in the applause. Gifts were then presented and pictures taken inside and out in front of the building.

Aquarium staff keep track of visitors, who have signed in at the front reception desk since 2002. Prior counts used electronic eye counters. In a typical summer the Aquarium hosts more than 50,000 visitors from all 50 states and more than 50 countries. Among the 80,000 annual visitors are hundreds of school groups on class field trips or from summer camps and other educational programs. Several camp groups entered the aquarium just ahead of the one millionth visitor.

In 2014, the Aquarium had 76,000 visitors, including 4,500 who came as part of a school group, representing all 50 states and 75 foreign nations. The majority of visitors come during the three summer months, but an increasing number visit during January through May. About forty percent are repeat visitors, and the majority come from Massachusetts.

Indoor exhibits include several dozen tanks providing cold water, temperate water, and tropical water habitats for approximately 95 species of marine animals. A major renovation in 2013-2014 brought several new interactive exhibits, with more updates planned. A touch tank and behind the scenes look at operations are among visitor favorites, along with the daily seal feedings and information sessions outdoors at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The Aquarium is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday, except for federal holidays, and is open on special occasions like the Woods Hole Science Stroll August 9. While admission is free, donations are accepted to help fund special exhibits and educational programs, including summer internships for high school and college students. Programs during the academic–year include collaborations with local high schools, among them Falmouth High School and the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, as well as schools in Boston and beyond.

The Aquarium has been in existence since 1874, when the original Woods Hole Laboratory facility on Little Harbor was renovated to allow visitors to see what scientists were studying. When larger, permanent laboratory facilities for federal fisheries scientists were built at the corner of Water and Albatross Streets in 1885, the Aquarium moved as well and shared space in the main laboratory building with a fish hatchery. Age and hurricane damage resulted in the demolition of those facilities in the late 1950s. The current Aquarium building was completed and opened to the public in 1961.

In the decades since 1961, an estimated 6 -10 million people have visited the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. The numbers vary since reports of 200,000 to 250,000 visitors per year in the decades between 1961 and 2001 used an electric eye counter and are not as accurate as the recent method of counting.

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