Banner Year for Birch Aquarium

Aquarium closes out its 30th year “on the hill” with record attendance, record scholarships and a prestigious AZA Award

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.”


Major Milestones

Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins Exhibit

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 

Oceans at Night at Birch Aquarium 

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. 

To learn more about Birch Aquarium, visit


About Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium features the groundbreaking work of Scripps Oceanography and UC San Diego scientists as well as conservation breeding programs, and interactive exhibits. Birch Aquarium’s mission is to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet, which the aquarium achieves through engaging hands-on learning opportunities for more than 500,000 guests and 40,000-plus pre-K-12 students each year. Visit for more information.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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