The Woods Hole Science Aquarium re-opened to the public on July 5th, after being closed since March of 2020 in NOAA’s effort to help contain the COVID virus. Founded in 1885, it is the oldest public aquarium in the country. Located in the heart of the Woods Hole scientific community, the intimate setting of the Woods Hole Science Aquarium allows visitors to go behind the scenes to learn more about how the aquarium operates, ask biologists questions, and even touch some of the marine species!
What you’ll see at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium
The Woods Hole Science Aquarium focuses on fish and invertebrates that are found in New England and Mid-Atlantic waters. Visitors can view and learn about species like cod, haddock, and flounder important to commercial fisheries as well as unique tropical fish that ride the warm waters of the Gulf Stream as summer visitors. The aquarium has around 140 species as well as dry exhibits.
Owned by the US government and operated by NOAA Fisheries, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium welcomes visitors year-round and is primarily focused on education. Admission is free, though donations are accepted. The first floor of the aquarium is filled with tanks lining the walls. They are great for little ones to look eye-to-eye with fish and crustaceans! There are also colorful displays and large replicas of sea turtles with information on the marine animals found offshore.
The second level features an open work area, giving visitors a behind the scenes look at the aquarium operations. Here visitors will find the popular touch tank- a big attraction at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium on busy days! The tank allows visitors to get their hands wet- touching shells, and tolerant critters like sea stars and crabs that don’t mind being handled gently! In the open work area visitors can watch biologists prepare meals for the aquarium’s residents- from chopped up capelin to a gel diet made of fish and vegetables, to shrimp for the picky eaters! The staff scientists are happy to answer visitors’ questions and share their knowledge. This behind-the-scenes access sets the Woods Hole Science Aquarium apart from some of its larger counterparts.
When visiting the aquarium, it’s important to keep in mind that parking is limited, especially in the busy summer months. There is no off-street parking and the few metered parking spaces nearby fill up fast! The Woods Hole Science Aquarium advises visitors to park in Falmouth and take public transportation to Woods Hole. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority operates a Sealine bus route between Woods Hole and Hyannis. Adventurous visitors looking to skip the traffic can also bike from Falmouth to Woods Hole, using the bike rack at the aquarium. The Shining Sea Bikeway winds from North Falmouth to Woods Hole and can turn a trip to the aquarium into a real adventure. Bike rentals are available at bike shops in Falmouth.
Visitors with children should be aware that due to the small size of the aquarium strollers are not allowed inside and plan accordingly.
The Woods Hole Science Aquarium’s creatures come from local anglers, research vessels, trading with other aquariums, rescued animals, and collection walks. Summer visitors can participate in guided collection walks in local marshes and are led by knowledgeable staff and interns. The walks are a fun way to get outside, learning about coastal creatures in their natural environment. The public can sign up to participate in the collection walks at the aquarium during the summer season.
In addition to the tanks and live species, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium also features exhibits on the New England marine environment, Sounds of the Sea, whale protection, and on the aquarium’s work on turtle rehabilitation.
Visitors can also marvel at bones, teeth, baleen, and shells from a range of species.
Along with its education mission, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium also is invested in conservation. They have been involved in rehabilitating marine turtles since the 1990’s. As those familiar with Cape Cod knows, the late fall brings not only colder air temperatures, but also a drop in the ocean temperatures. This chilly water can harm the straggling turtles who haven’t migrated South, causing cold-stunning and sometimes strandings of turtles. These turtles are rescued and rehabilitated until they can be released in August when the water is warm again. The turtles are not on display at the aquarium, but visitors can learn and ask questions about the important work being done to help these endangered and threatened species. The aquarium’s website features a fun video of Joy, a loggerhead sea turtle the aquarium released in August of 2020.
From time to time the Woods Hole Science Aquarium also is home to rescued harbor seals. Though the seal enclosure has been under construction since 2017, the aquarium generally takes in seals that can no longer survive in the wild. Past seals had injuries resulting from shark attacks, blindness, and other injuries that would prevent them from thriving on their own. When the aquarium has seals, they are always a favorite with visitors, especially at feeding time!
The Woods Hole Science Aquarium is a great excursion for people of all ages and well worth a visit!