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

A sunset view of Scripps Pier from Birch Aquarium
A sunset view of Scripps Pier from Birch Aquarium

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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

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.

Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins Exhibit
Beyster Family Little Blue Penguins Exhibit

Recognition of Excellence 

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.

Ariel view of Oceans at Night
Oceans at Night at Birch Aquarium 

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