The Birch Aquarium was founded in 1903 by the Marine Biological Association of San Diego for displaying the results of their research and studies to the public. As the institution grew, it occupied a few different buildings, until 1992, when the current building was opened, with the aid of a $6 million donation and further fundraiser by the Stephen & Mary Birch foundation.
Today the aquarium covers more than 64 thousand square feet, with display tanks holding 175 thousand gallons of seawater! The collection currently includes more than three thousand fish from 380 species. The aquarium is divided up between eight main exhibits:
Hall of Fishes is central to the museum, with 60 tanks showcasing marine life up and down the Pacific, from the top of California, down to Mexico and the Caribbean. As you get halfway through the exhibit area, you’ll come across the kelp forest tank, which contains 70 thousand gallons of water, and a huge variety of sea life, including leopard sharks, barracuda, giant sea bass, eels, and many others. In this exhibit you’ll also be able to learn about the geology and oceanography of the Southern California Bight—a part of the Pacific Ocean formed by the curve of the coastline—through an interactive display.
Boundless Energy is a more hands-on exhibit, which explores the many ways that we can use natural energy sources to work for us, and why renewable energy is so great. In the middle of the area is a water sculpture, where visitors can turn cranks, work a seesaw, or pedal, to make water flow through the contraption.
To complement the Boundless Energy exhibit, we have Feeling the Heat: The Climate Challenge, which shows the other world of energy: fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and their effect on the environment. In addition, it looks at the steps we can take to decrease our negative impact on the environment.
There’s Something About Seahorses is an exhibit dedicated to that unusual variety of fish. The exhibits contain over a dozen species of seahorse and their relatives, like the pipefish, and seadragon. There’s even a seahorse nursery, where you’ll see the funny little baby seahorses. The aquarium is also a leader in seahorse breeding, and provides seahorses for other aquariums and zoological gardens, removing the need to capture seahorses from the wild.
Next is ElasmoBeach, a 13,000 gallon tank containing sharks and rays from the tropical reefs. Learn about these fish that live close to the shore, and why they are important to sea ecology. Visit during feeding times for an extra-special display.
The Birch Aquarium’s Coral Display is fascinating, with both an interesting display of colors and texture, and the peculiar sea life that make it their home (such as lionfish, giant clams, and chambered nautilus). The exhibits investigate the rapid shrinking and degradation of the world’s coral, and what scientists are doing to reverse this trend, as well as potential medical uses for coral. Other parts of the exhibit explore how coral reefs contain a record of the climate, and why they’re significant parts of the ocean ecosystem. The aquarium additionally has a significant coral propagation program, giving cuttings to other aquariums, removing the need to harm naturally growing ocean coral.
The Tide Pool Plaza contains three tidal pools, where visitors such as yourself can learn about, see, and even touch a bunch of different sea creatures that live in the tidal areas, such as starfish, lobsters, sea cucumbers, anemone, and hermit crabs. These animals have an interesting life, being baked on the sand in the sun, covered in water with the tides, poked with sticks by grubby little children, and occasionally a bird may swoop in on its prey.
All in all, the Birch Aquarium as an excellent, well-rounded collection of exhibits and displays that will keep you engaged, entertained, and help you appreciate the incredible dwellers of the ocean.
The aquarium is open from 9 am—5pm each day, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Admission is $17 for adults,$14 for teens, and $12.50 for children.
Address: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA 92037