San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay (AOTB) is a wonderland filled with sea creatures, storytelling and science at your fingertips. Located on the historic San Francisco waterfront at PIER 39, the Aquarium is home to 24,000 animals, which represent over 150 species, and unique underwater tunnel systems that reveal dazzling displays of sea life. Highly respected and a Smithsonian-affiliate, the Aquarium has been a proponent of conservation stewardship and environmental education for the past 25 years, but a new slate of thought-provoking experiences and interaction opportunities reflect the Aquarium’s progressive leadership in stewardship and inspiration to save our seas.
Underwater Magic + NFTs
In addition to the Aquarium’s outstanding Bay Ecotarium EcoXpeditions (epic trips to conservation sites across the globe), their on-site programming is playful, engaging and cutting-edge. Take for example, Avery Fisher, a young adventurer enthralled with marine biology. Not only did she get PADI certified as a diver at age 10 allowing her to swim with the sharks in the Aquarium of the Bay exhibit, she recently became the youngest underwater scuba magician in the world at age 12. Avery performed her magic tricks in a tank at the Aquarium of the Bay. And while her underwater antics were entertaining, her commitment to the ocean reveals a deeper purpose. As Aquarium of the Bay President and CEO George Jacobs relays, “It is the efforts of the younger generation like Avery, who bring attention to the rich marine biodiversity in the San Francisco Bay and the need to protect the fragile ecosystems that sustain life.”
Avery’s father, entrepreneur, Jon Fisher, is also ushering in cutting-edge conservation tactics with the development of eco-friendly NFTs and crypto auctions to raise funds and awareness about the Aquarium. These NFTs or Non-Fungible Tokens can be anything uniquely digital (such as drawings, music and more), but a lot of focus is on employing technology to sell digital art. The Aquarium of the Bay is now auctioning off 80 NFT pieces, single video frames of a leopard shark swimming in the bay. Anyone who buys one, priced at $2,500, becomes part of the Aquarium’s Feed Funders and has a chance to win a VIP experience, such as participating in a shark feeding at the Aquarium of the Bay.
Keeping climate change in mind, these NFTS use a Polygon blockchain that consumes only a fraction of energy, thus leaving behind a smaller carbon footprint. Fisher also donates 10% of his proceeds from other NFT projects to environmental groups like the Aquarium of the Bay.
“Jon and Avery’s fundraising efforts have been immensely vital to the success of the Aquarium. It has allowed us to continue our research, conservation and education efforts in and around San Francisco Bay,” adds Chris Grace, the Aquarium’s Diver Safety Officer.
New Exhibits + Wildlife
The Aquarium also has launched some new exciting exhibits. Keep an eye out for the newly redesigned Discover the Bay gallery that highlights sharks of the bay and the research that AOTB is involved in. “Aquarium of the Bay is at the forefront of shark conservation research,” explains Melissa Schouest, Director of Animal Care. “In particular, we have been studying the broadnose sevengill shark, the largest apex predator that resides in San Francisco Bay. Very little is known about them, but you can see them on display in the Sharks of Alcatraz Tunnel and our research is highlighted in the new exhibit.”
It’s hard to miss the life-size Megaladon jaws from the largest shark that ever lived that hang in the gallery. And be sure to watch the new video footage of great white sharks, as well.
The animal population is thriving at the Aquarium. Several new babies grace the waters, delighting both staff and visitors. In the Bay Lab, there are opportunities to interact with juvenile bat rays born in the tunnels as they can be gently touched. In addition, there are juvenile leopard sharks to interact with in their tanks. The Aquarium’s sailfin sculpin recently laid eggs which hatched, but as they are extremely small and sensitive, the babies are being cared for behind the scenes and will be exhibited when larger. “We also share the marine life from these reproductive events with other institutions,” adds Schouest. “As this is an important goal for AOTB as we are an AZA Facility (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the USDA across the country, less than 10% are AZA-accredited. So institutions like us are the gold standard of animal care, conservation and research in the country.”
Speaking of research, the Aquarium is also making waves in the academic space as Senior Biologist, researcher and animal care Biologist Meghan Holst won an award for her presentation on empowering Aquarium biologists to make the most ethical, end-of-life decisions for their octopuses. Her research has recently been published and can be found here.
“We are really proud of the work Meghan did in helping us be better informed in assessing the welfare of our animals as this is the most important thing that we do,” explains Schouest. “That the animals in our care are living in the best possible way and thriving is paramount to all the decisions that we make.”
Interested in helping out? Any certified SCUBA diver over the age of 18 that has a minimum of 10 dives is eligible to join the AOTB’s Volunteer Dive Team. Dive volunteers are an extremely important part of the Animal Care department, as they do over 90% of the husbandry and maintenance dives in our Near Shore and Sharks of Alcatraz tunnel exhibits. Tasks range from cleaning the acrylic tunnel, gravel vacuuming the bottom to target training the two Giant Black Sea Bass or feeding Peacock Wolfeels. “We ask for a weekly commitment of at least six months and many of our divers continue after that point. Several divers that have been with us for nearly 10 years,” says Diver Safety Officer Grace.
The Aquarium of the Bay offers locals and visitors alike a chance to experience the beauty of the bay and the animals that call it home. Volunteering, buying an NFT, signing up for an EcoXpedition or just wandering through the doors are all viable ways to support this important nonprofit that is dedicated to conservation and preserving the bay as a healthy ecosystem for all of the marine life and humans.
It’s a magical place in so many ways!