Inside the Aquarium’s Animal Care and Rescue Center

A bustling block of Fayette Street in Baltimore’s historic Jonestown neighborhood houses some unlikely neighbors: some of the National Aquarium’s most vulnerable rescued marine animals live on the block, finding a home inside a brand new, 56,000-square-foot facility, the recently opened Animal Care and Rescue Center.

Washington FAMILY’s sister publication, Baltimore’s Child, was invited to tour the center. Here’s what they found out.

The center is home to more than 1,000 animals, including animals rescued from the wild, which often need to be treated in isolation for up to three months in their quarantine unit. In its main rehabilitation space, there are roughly 60 individual life support systems, such as tanks and other habitats. The other main components include labs, food prep, holding, fabrication and rescue.

The center has been open for more than a year, but now aquarium members and other groups will get the opportunity to tour the ACRC with a trained guide and learn about the individualized care and state-of-the-art equipment available for each animal.

One current resident is a map pufferfish named Duncan, who “revels in the individual attention and is known to appreciate a gentle head scratch,” according to center staff. The center also houses leading-edge rehabilitation suites for rescued seals.

Duncan the map pufferfish (Photo Credit: National Aquarium) 

The aquarium’s animal rescue team has rehabilitated and released more than 200 animals over the last 27 years. But certain precautions need to be taken in the care of these wild animals, according to Stehle Harris, a tour and experience specialist at the ACRC. For starters, human contact is limited to rescue animals.

“When an animal is destined for a return to the ocean, being overly familiar with humans can be dangerous for them. We do things like wear masks, because we don’t want them to see us as a source of food,” she says. “When seals come to us, they are dehydrated. They are not eating if they are dehydrated. So that’s concern number one. So, we use a nice big syringe of fresh water with a tube.”

To replicate environments and ecosystems spanning from arctic to tropical, the center can also produce up to 15,000 gallons of purified fresh and saltwater monthly.

Ready for another cool fact? The new space also features the aquarium’s exhibit fabrication workshop, where exhibit elements are hand-crafted to recreate the world’s aquatic habitats.

“For exhibit and design, it’s a tough job. They have to consider the needs of the animal and bring these ecosystems to life,” Harris says. “We have to make sure that it’s safe enough for the animal and we need it to serve the function that it would out in the ocean, whether it be a coral for them to hide in or kelp for them to sleep in. It has to serve the animal, but also be visually interesting and useful to our guests.”

(Photo Credit: National Aquarium) 

It’s also important to teach the animals tools for survival. And, the fabrication workshop can help with that.

“For our giant Pacific octopus, they are incredibly intelligent animals, so when we are feeding them, we like to be very creative. We always want to encourage natural behaviors like foraging and hunting,” Harris says. “So our artists designed an artificial crab puzzle that the octopus has to manipulate and pull apart to get to the food that is hidden inside of it. So, it’s really neat. The crab is so realistic, but it’s just a puzzle feeder or an enrichment object built for the octopus.”

How cool is that?

Center tours last two hours. Tickets are $35 for National Aquarium members and $45 for nonmembers.


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